NFC South: Final Word

Final Word: 49ers at Falcons

January, 18, 2013
» NFC Championship: 49ers-Falcons » AFC Championship: Ravens-Patriots

Five nuggets of knowledge about Sunday’s NFC Championship Game between the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons:

[+] EnlargeTony Gonzalez
AP Photo/Perry KnottsWill the 49ers see Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez line up in the slot or as a tight end in the NFC title game?
Staying grounded: San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick is not a good matchup for the Atlanta defense. Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards against the Packers in the divisional round. The Falcons had problems with mobile quarterbacks in the regular season and against Seattle’s Russell Wilson in the divisional round. Quarterbacks have averaged a league-high 8.9 yards per carry against the Falcons. Including the playoffs, the Falcons have faced 42 read-option plays (second-most in the league), according to ESPN Stats & Information. On those plays, the Falcons have done a good job when the quarterback hands off. Running backs averaged 3.9 yards against Atlanta on the read option. But quarterbacks have averaged more than 20 yards per carry.

Been a long time: The Falcons and 49ers have met just once before in the postseason. That was in the 1998 season in a divisional playoff game, which was the first game back for Atlanta coach Dan Reeves after quadruple-bypass surgery. The Falcons won that game 20-18 and went on to make the only Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. The Falcons and 49ers were NFC West rivals until the NFC South was founded in 2002. Since then, the teams have had four regular-season meetings, and the Falcons have won all four.

Comeback kids: The Falcons got the ball with 31 seconds remaining and rallied for a win against Seattle. That marked the third time this season the Falcons started a game-winning drive in the final minute of the fourth quarter. The rest of the league combined for eight such drives. In the past 10 years, the only other teams with multiple game-winning drives that started in the last minute of regulation were the 2010 Jets and 2010 Jaguars, each with two.

Tight end or receiver? Technically, Tony Gonzalez is Atlanta’s tight end and Harry Douglas is the slot receiver. But that’s not always how they line up. Gonzalez has had 55 receptions when lined up in the slot, including three in the divisional playoff.

Red-hot Crabtree: Wide receiver Michael Crabtree has become much more of a factor since Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith as the starting quarterback. When Smith was starting, Crabtree averaged 4.9 receptions and 56.7 receiving yards per game, and had four touchdowns. With Kaepernick, Crabtree has averaged 6.3 receptions and 89.3 yards per game, and has caught seven touchdown passes.

Final Word: Seahawks at Falcons

January, 11, 2013
» NFC Final Word: Packers-49ers | Seahawks-Falcons » AFC: Ravens-Broncos | Texans-Pats

Five nuggets of knowledge about Sunday’s game between the Seahawks and Falcons:

No. 1 doesn’t matter: The Falcons earned the NFC’s No. 1 seed, but recent history says being No. 1 doesn’t carry the clout it once did. From 1990 through 2006, No. 1 seeds were 17-0 in the divisional round of the playoffs. But the No. 1 seed has lost in four of the past five seasons, including the Falcons in 2010.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
AP Photo/John AmisMatt Ryan and the Falcons will try to get their passing game cranking Sunday against Seattle.
The 200 Club: Here’s a stat that might help explain why Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan has yet to win a playoff game: In his three playoff starts, Ryan has yet to have a 200-yard passing game. Now, more than ever, I’m convinced it’s crucial for Ryan to come out winging the ball on Sunday.

Beware of the option: With quarterback Russell Wilson, the Seahawks use the read option at times. That’s something the Falcons have seen a fair amount of. Only four defenses had more read-option rushes against them in the regular season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But Atlanta’s experience, mostly against Carolina’s Cam Newton, isn’t necessarily a positive. The Falcons allowed an average of 7.3 yards per rush on read-option plays.

The Triplets: The Falcons need to keep receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez on the field as much as possible. On plays when all three were on the field at the same time in the regular season, Ryan threw an interception once in every 61.9 attempts. But Ryan was picked off once in every 20 attempts when all three weren’t on the field.

No rookie jitters: Logic would say the Falcons have a huge edge because Wilson, a rookie, is coming into a loud and hostile environment. But Wilson is no ordinary rookie. He did struggle in his first five road games, throwing four touchdowns and eight interceptions. But, in his past four games on the road, including a playoff win at Washington, Wilson has thrown six touchdowns and no interceptions.

Final Word: NFC South

December, 28, 2012
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about the Week 17 games:

The record book. Although his play has been dismal recently, Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman can make a lasting impression if he throws a touchdown pass against Atlanta. He needs just one scoring strike to set a new franchise record for career touchdown passes, which tells you a lot about the history of this franchise and its quarterbacks. Freeman currently is tied with Vinny Testaverde with 77 touchdown passes. A touchdown pass would also give Freeman the franchise record for touchdown passes in a season. He currently is tied with Brad Johnson, who set the team record (26) in 2003.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
AP Photo/John BazemoreMatt Ryan has put together a stellar record in the Georgia Dome, going 33-4 there in his career.
At home in the Georgia Dome. The Falcons haven’t lost at home this season. In fact, they’ve won 11 straight home games dating back to last year. That’s the longest streak in franchise history and the longest active winning home streak in the NFL. Quarterback Matt Ryan is 33-4 at home in his career. Since 2008, the Falcons are 23-1 at home against teams that did not finish with a winning record.

Touchdown machine. In his last five games, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has been responsible for 14 touchdowns (passing and rushing). That’s the most of any player in the league in that span. Newton also has a shot at Peyton Manning’s record for most passing yards in the first two seasons of a career. Manning threw for 7,874 yards in his first two seasons. Newton has thrown for 7,672 yards.

A (bad) place in history. We’ve talked all season about New Orleans’ struggles on defense. There were a few minutes later in the season when it looked like things were starting to improve slightly. But this defense has a chance to set an NFL record for most yards allowed in a season. If the Panthers can manage 282 yards, the Saints will break the record (6,793 yards) set by the Colts in 1981.

The 5,000 club. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees currently has 4,781 passing yards on the season. If Brees reaches 5,000 yards, he’ll be the first player in history to hit that mark three times. He went over 5,000 yards in 2008 and last season.

Final Word: NFC South

December, 21, 2012
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about the Week 16 games:

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
AP Photo/John AmisQuick starts have been the norm over the years for Matt Ryan and the Falcons.
It’s how you start: Starting fast, like they did with an interception and a quick touchdown last week against the Giants, has become a trademark of the Atlanta Falcons. Since coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan arrived in 2008, the Falcons have scored more points (224) on their opening drive than any other team in the league.

Nickel and dime: Look for the Falcons to keep extra defensive backs on the field for almost the entire game with Detroit. The Lions have called for a designed pass on 67.2 percent of their offensive plays, most in the NFL. Reserve defensive backs Robert McClain, Christopher Owens and Dominique Franks all could see increased playing time.

Padding the résumé: New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees probably already has done enough to make himself a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But he can add another impressive line to his bio against the Dallas Cowboys. Brees needs 165 passing yards to reach 4,500 for the season. If he gets there, Brees will become the first player in NFL history with three consecutive seasons of at least 4,500 passing yards.

On a roll: Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has been hot in recent weeks. In the past four games, Newton has been responsible for 12 touchdowns (passing and rushing). That’s the highest total of any player in the same span. Newton also has accounted for 1,309 yards of offense in those four games, the third-highest total in the league.

Closing in on history: The Bucs are leading the league by allowing an average of 310.6 passing yards per game. That puts them on pace to finish the season with 4,970 passing yards allowed. That would shatter the NFL record (4,796 yards, set by Green Bay last season).

Final Word: NFC South

December, 7, 2012
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about the Week 14 games:

Magic number: The Falcons have won their past five games against the Panthers. But the amazing thing is Atlanta’s point total has been either 30 or 31 in each of those games, including a 30-28 victory against Carolina in Week 4.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Geoff Burke/US PresswireMatt Ryan, who faces the Panthers in Carolina on Sunday, boasts the best Total QBR in road games this season.
Better on the road: One of the knocks against quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons is that they’re not as good outdoors. Well, this season’s numbers dispute that. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Ryan has an NFL-best 87.5 Total QBR in road games this season. He also has thrown 15 touchdown passes with four interceptions on the road. At home, Ryan’s Total QBR is 53.5, and he’s thrown seven touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Bouncing back? After a rough start, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has been pretty solid recently. In the first seven games of the season, Newton turned the ball over 11 times. In the past five games, he’s had only two turnovers. Newton also has been more effective on downfield passes recently. In his past two games, Newton has completed six of 10 throws of more than 20 yards.

A record they don’t want: The Buccaneers are on pace to become an unflattering part of history. Through 12 games, they’ve allowed an average of 309.4 passing yards. The NFL record is 299.8 yards per game by the 2011 Green Bay Packers.

Giants are Brees’ favorite team: New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees has struggled recently, throwing seven interceptions in the past two games. But there might be some good news on the horizon. Brees has been stellar when facing the Giants in the past. He is 4-0 against New York and has thrown 11 touchdown passes with no interceptions. That ties him with Drew Bledsoe (against the Cardinals) for the most touchdown passes without an interception against one opponent in NFL history.

Final Word: NFC South

November, 30, 2012
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge for the Week 13 games:

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Elsa/Getty ImagesCam Newton is just 54 yards shy of eclipsing 500 rushing yards for the season.
Newton making history: Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is 54 yards short of 500 rushing yards. If he reaches it, he will become the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 500 yards in each of his first two seasons.

Enjoying the road: The Panthers have a chance to win their third consecutive road game, at Kansas City on Sunday. Carolina has won its past two road games after ending a streak of four straight road losses. The Chiefs are 0-6 at home this season. That’s their first 0-6 home start since 1976. Kansas City never has started 0-7 at home.

Next man up: Call it bad luck that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a league-high $37.89 million in salaries on injured reserve this season. That total is led by the high salaries for guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, linebacker Quincy Black, and offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood. But also give credit to the Bucs for having a winning record and being in the playoff hunt despite missing a bunch of key ingredients.

Strength on strength: Denver’s defense has allowed a league-low eight completions on throws of more than 20 yards downfield. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman has completed a league-high 22 passes of more than 20 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Headed for the record book: Tampa Bay rookie running back Doug Martin is second in the NFL with 1,382 yards from scrimmage. No rookie has led the league in yards from scrimmage since Eric Dickerson in 1983. Martin needs 59 yards to break Warrick Dunn’s franchise record for yards from scrimmage by a rookie.

Final Word: Saints-Falcons

November, 29, 2012
Five nuggets of knowledge about Thursday night’s game between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons:

Chasing history. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees leads the league with 31 touchdown passes. He’s on pace to finish with 45. He could become the first player in NFL history to have back-to-back seasons with 40 touchdown passes.

November’s team. The Saints have won 14 of their past 15 games played in the month of November. Their only loss in that stretch came last week against San Francisco.

Defense still struggling. The Saints held an opponent under 400 yards of total offense for the first time this season when San Francisco finished with 375 yards. But the Saints remain on pace to give up 7,200 yards of total offense. That would shatter the NFL record for yards allowed in a season. It’s held by the 1981 Baltimore Colts (6,793 yards).

Soft schedule: The Falcons have played the league’s easiest schedule so far. Their opponents have a 47-74 combined record for a .388 winning percentage.

Tough sledding for Turner. Although Atlanta’s Michael Turner (247 pounds) is listed as 51 pounds heavier than Jacquizz Rodgers (196 pounds), Turner hasn’t been gaining as many yards after contact as his teammate. Turner is averaging 1.6 yards after contact. Rodgers is averaging 2.1 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Rodgers also has averaged 3.5 yards when running between the tackles, while Turner is averaging 3.1.

Final Word: Panthers-Eagles

November, 24, 2012
Five nuggets of knowledge about the Monday night game between the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles:

Hard road ahead. The Panthers are 1-3 on the road this season, but their three losses have come by a total of nine points. The game at Philadelphia is the start of a stretch in which the Panthers will play four of their final six games on the road.

[+] EnlargeCameron Newton
Jeff Siner/Getty ImagesCam Newton has struggled in his second year in the NFL.
Sophomore slump. A quick look at Total QBR might be the best way to sum up Carolina quarterback Cam Newton’s second NFL season. After ranking 17th in the league with a 55.0 Total QBR his rookie year, Newton ranks 29th this season with a 40.4 Total QBR. He’s had four games this season with a Total QBR lower than 20 after not having any games below that mark last season.

No need to blitz. The Eagles don’t blitz a lot to begin with. According to ESPN Stats & Information, no team has rushed four or fewer defenders more often than the Eagles, who have used that tactic 80.5 percent of the time over the past two seasons. But the Eagles might be wise to scrap the blitz completely against the Panthers. Newton has struggled far more against a pass rush of four or fewer than he has against the blitz. Over the past two seasons, Newton has a minus-4 touchdown-to-interception differential when facing four of fewer pass-rushers (only three quarterbacks have a worse differential). Over that same span, Newton has a plus-8 touchdown-to-interception differential when opponents have blitzed.

Milestone time. In a season in which there have been few positive milestones, the Panthers should hit one Monday night. Steve Smith needs just 12 receiving yards to become the fourth active player with 11,000 receiving yards. The only players ahead of him are Randy Moss (15,124), Tony Gonzalez (13,988) and Reggie Wayne (12,711).

Fourth-quarter woes. Over the past two seasons, the Panthers have lost five games in which they’ve held a lead entering the fourth quarter. But the good news is the Eagles have squandered a fourth-quarter lead six times in that same span. The Eagles and Dolphins are tied for the league lead in losing games in which they led at the start of the fourth quarter over the past two seasons. The Panthers are tied for third with the Cleveland Browns.

Final Word: NFC South

November, 23, 2012
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about the Week 12 games:

A Super omen? A victory against the Falcons would give the Buccaneers their first five-game winning streak since the 2002 season. Yep, that’s the same season the Bucs went on to win Super Bowl XXXVII.

[+] EnlargeJosh Freeman
David Eulitt/Kansas City Star/MCTCan quarterback Josh Freeman guide the Buccaneers to a Week 12 win against the Falcons?
Something’s got to give: Perhaps the biggest key to the game between the Falcons and Bucs will be Tampa’s running game, led by rookie Doug Martin, against an Atlanta run defense that has struggled lately. Poor tackling has been a problem, and the Falcons have allowed a league-worst 2.2 yards per rush after contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That’s got to change or the Falcons could be in big trouble because Martin is averaging 2.3 yards after contact, which puts him fourth in the league among players with at least 75 rushing attempts.

Can’t afford a repeat: The last time the Saints and 49ers met was in January, when San Francisco eliminated New Orleans from the playoffs. One of the reasons San Francisco won that game was that the pass rush was all over Drew Brees. He was under duress on 29.9 percent of his drop-backs. San Francisco’s pass rush, led by Aldon Smith, has been very good so far this season, and that’s a major concern because right tackles Zach Strief and Charles Brown both are banged up.

Strength on strength: On passes of at least 15 yards downfield, Brees has thrown a league-high 13 touchdowns this season. But the 49ers rank first in the league with only one touchdown allowed on passes of 15 yards or more.

No connection: There are many reasons why Carolina’s offense has struggled this season. But here’s one of the bigger ones: Cam Newton and Steve Smith haven’t been connecting on the deep ball. When targeting Smith more than 10 yards downfield, Newton has completed only 47.6 percent of his passes and only one has been a touchdown. As a rookie last season, Newton completed 57.9 percent of his passes to Smith on throws that went more than 10 yards downfield, and Smith had seven touchdowns in those situations.

Final Word: NFC South

November, 16, 2012
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about the Week 11 games:

Piece of history: The Falcons have a chance to be a part of history that would be nice for them, but it would put Arizona quarterback John Skelton in some pretty bad company. Skelton has thrown an interception in each of his past 12 games. Who was the last quarterback to throw an interception in 13 straight games? Ryan Leaf, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

[+] EnlargeDoug Martin
Cary Edmondson/US PresswireThrough nine games, Bucs RB Doug Martin has rushed for 862 yards and seven touchdowns.
Numbers game: We’re about to find out if nine really is an unlucky number for the Falcons. Last week, they had a chance to start 9-0, but lost to New Orleans. On Sunday, they’ll have a chance to run their home winning streak to nine consecutive games. That would be the longest streak since the Falcons won 10 straight at home between the 1997 and ’98 seasons.

Who needs Nicks? A lot of people thought Tampa Bay’s offensive line would crumble when All-Pro guard Carl Nicks went out with a season-ending injury. Surprisingly, the loss of Nicks doesn’t seem to be having a negative impact on rookie running back Doug Martin. In the two games since Nicks went out, Martin has averaged 8.3 yards per carry when running up the middle or to his left.

Missing the deep ball: You can put some of the blame for this on a battered and struggling offensive line, but Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who showed a big arm as a rookie last year, hasn’t had much success throwing downfield this season. Newton has 31 pass attempts of more than 20 yards without a touchdown. That’s the most in the league, by far. Minnesota’s Christian Ponder is next with 16 downfield attempts without a touchdown.

Rally cry: The Saints have become just the 10th team since 1966 to start 0-4 and rally to win at least four of their next five games. But their playoff chances remain slim. Of the nine other teams to rally like that after an 0-4 start, only the 1992 San Diego Chargers made it to the playoffs.

Final Word: NFC South

November, 9, 2012
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about the Week 10 games:

King of the NFC South: The Atlanta Falcons are running away with the division. But the title doesn’t officially belong to them yet. The Saints won last season’s division title and they’ve won a lot against the Falcons in recent years. The Saints have won three straight against Atlanta and six of their past seven meetings. Over the past 12 contests, the Saints have won 10 times.

[+] EnlargeDoug Martin
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesDoug Martin could surpass Walter Payton's three-game yardage record with a big day.
Doubting the Falcons? If you fall into that category, you might like this offering from ESPN Stats & Information. Based on the current record of opponents, the 8-0 Falcons have faced the easiest schedule in the NFL. Their opponents are a combined 24-41 (a .369 winning percentage). But you should also consider that number might be skewed a bit because everyone who has played the Falcons has one built-in loss. By the way, the Buccaneers have the second-easiest schedule, with opponents combining for a .388 winning percentage.

Positive Carolina stat: These are a rarity these days, so I try to share anything positive about the Panthers that I spot. The Panthers are 2-1 against Denver quarterback Peyton Manning in his lengthy career. That’s a .667 winning percentage, which ties Carolina with Chicago and Green Bay for the best winning percentage against Manning. So the Panthers have that going for them, which is nice.

With or without VJ. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers has struggled on deep throws after losing Vincent Jackson to the Buccaneers in free agency. On throws of 20 yards or more, Rivers has completed 30 percent of his passes this year, almost a 10 percent drop from last year. He also had 19 touchdown passes on such throws last year, but only one this season. But Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman is benefiting from Jackson’s arrival. Freeman already has a league-high 17 completions on throws over 20 yards. He had only 12 completions on such throws all last season.

Chasing Sweetness. Tampa Bay rookie running back Doug Martin has 486 yards from scrimmage over the past two games. That’s the most in a two-game span since Walter Payton in 1977. Martin is within striking distance of the NFL record for a three-game span (593 yards), set by Payton in 1977.

Final Word: NFC South

November, 2, 2012
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

Surprising stat: The Falcons, who have been known for being great in the Georgia Dome for most of the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era, haven’t been very dominant at home this season. They’ve won their three home games by a combined 11 points. On the road, Atlanta has outscored opponents by 15 points per game.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
AP Photo/Mel EvansMatt Ryan is completing 78.8 percent of his passes in the final two minutes of each half.
Two-minute master: Here’s another sign that Ryan has taken a step into -- or near -- elite status. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he has completed 78.8 percent of his passes in the final two minutes of the half (we’re talking both halves) this season. That’s the best percentage in the NFL. In his first four seasons, Ryan completed only 49.8 percent of his throws in those situations.

Historically bad: A lot of people thought the Panthers might make history this season. They are, but it’s for all the wrong reasons. The Panthers have lost five straight games, which gives them the longest active losing streak in the NFL. They're 1-6, and another loss would drop them to 1-7 for the fifth time in their history. Sad part is, the Panthers didn’t even hit 1-7 in their expansion year. But they started 1-7 in 2010, 2004, 2001 and 1998.

Another O-line shuffle: With All-Pro left guard Carl Nicks lost to a season-ending injury, the Bucs are going to have to make yet another change to their offensive line. That could slow rookie running back Doug Martin, who has been on a roll lately. Martin has averaged 4.5 yards when running to his left and 4.4 yards up the middle, but is gaining only 3.2 yards per carry when running to his right. Those numbers could fall, because whichever backup lineman the Bucs insert at left guard is likely to be a big drop-off from Nicks.

A positive note on the Saints: These have been tough to come up with this season. But this bodes well for the Saints on Monday night against the Eagles: The Saints have won seven straight “Monday Night Football’’ games. That’s the longest active streak in the NFL. The Saints also have won 11 straight games played in the month of November.

Final Word: NFC South

October, 26, 2012
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 8:

[+] EnlargeAsante Samuel
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireFalcons defensive back Asante Samuel will face his former team in the Eagles this week.
Samuel’s homecoming: It’s pretty safe to assume Atlanta cornerback Asante Samuel will go into Philadelphia with a chip on his shoulder. Samuel always carries some swagger, but I’d expect it to be even more obvious against the team he played for from 2008 through last season. He had 23 interceptions in his time with the Eagles, tying him for second in the NFL in that span. But it was reported that Philadelphia coach Andy Reid decided to trade Samuel because he was in "steep decline." That could come back to haunt Reid. Samuel is a guy with a lot of pride and you can bet he’ll be giving everything he has against the Eagles.

Remember the Georgia Dome: This game is in Philadelphia, but the Falcons should just close their eyes and imagine they’re at home and think back to last season. In Week 2 of 2011, the Eagles had a 31-21 fourth-quarter lead on the Falcons, but Atlanta rallied to win. That marked the start of a really bad thing for the Eagles. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Eagles have a league-high seven fourth-quarter blown leads since the start of the 2011 season, and the first one came in Atlanta.

Throw it deep: There’s a reason why New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees has looked better the past three games than in the first three. He’s throwing the deep ball better. In the past three games, Brees has completed 75.6 percent of his throws of 10 yards or more with seven interceptions and just one touchdown. In the first three games, Brees completed just 47.8 percent of throws of 10 yards or more with only two touchdowns and four interceptions.

Manning and the bye: The Saints will be going against New Orleans native Peyton Manning and Denver on Sunday night. Manning’s coming off his bye week and that’s not good news for the Saints. Manning has won his past six starts after a bye week, throwing for 15 touchdowns with three interceptions while his team has averaged 33 points per game.

Can’t beat the good ones: As he approaches the halfway point of his second season, one troubling trend has emerged for Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. In games against teams that have a .500 or better record since the start of last season, Newton and the Panthers are 2-12. And let’s keep in mind that Newton’s seven career wins include six victories in 2011 against the Jaguars, the Buccaneers (twice), the Texans with T.J. Yates, the Redskins with John Beck and the Colts with Curtis Painter.

Final Word: Buccaneers-Vikings

October, 25, 2012
We usually run our Final Word post on Fridays and it includes nuggets on all the NFC South teams that are playing on Sunday or Monday.

We will still do that this Friday, but we need to have a special (slightly abbreviated) edition of Final Word because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are playing the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night:

Three nuggets of knowledge about the Bucs and Vikings:

The deep game: I think the Bucs are starting to learn to play to the strengths of quarterback Josh Freeman, and that’s why I think you’ll see a fair number of deep passes against the Vikings. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Freeman has completed 56 percent of his passes of 20 yards or more down the field. That percentage ranks second in the league. Freeman’s chemistry with Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams and Tiquan Underwood seems to continue to get better, so why not ride the hot hand -- or hot arm?

Strength vs. strength: The area that’s turned around most dramatically since the arrival of coach Greg Schiano has been the run defense. It was a major problem under Raheem Morris. But the Bucs now have one of the league’s best run defenses. The Bucs have allowed a league-low 3.0 yards per rush between the tackles. But they’re in for a big challenge. Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson has run between the tackles 90.4 percent of the time this season. Peterson is particularly hot right now. He’s coming off a 153-yard rushing game against the Cardinals.

A hint for Schiano and his defensive staff: The Bucs might be wise to line their defensive backs very close to the line of scrimmage, or at least the defensive backs that are going to be covering Percy Harvin. He leads all NFL receivers with 27 receptions at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Final Word: NFC South

October, 19, 2012
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 7:

[+] EnlargeAaron Kromer
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneAaron Kromer will coach his last game as the Saints' interim head coach this week at Tampa Bay.
Kromer’s last stand: This will be the final game as interim head coach for New Orleans’ Aaron Kromer. Coincidentally, Kromer spent three seasons as an assistant with the Buccaneers before joining the Saints in 2008. The Saints are 1-4 under Kromer, and a win could go a long way in helping his chances of eventually landing a full-time gig as a head coach. Kromer had a good reputation around the NFL before this season, and he has handled a difficult situation without any major problems. But adding another win can only help his résumé. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt will take over the team when he returns from his suspension after Sunday's game.

Dallas domination: The Panthers defeated the Cowboys the first time the teams ever met in the regular season. But Dallas has dominated the regular-season meetings since then, winning eight straight against the Panthers. That’s the longest active streak the Cowboys have against any opponent.

Go for the goal line: According to ESPN Stats & Information, Carolina’s Cam Newton is one of only two starting quarterbacks who have not completed a pass in the end zone this season. All four of Newton’s touchdowns have been completed before the end zone. Tennessee’s Jake Locker is the only other quarterback who hasn’t completed a pass in the end zone.

Back to being Brees? After a rocky start, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees has come on strong the past two games. In the first three games, Brees completed 54.7 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and five interceptions while compiling a 34.8 Total QBR. In the past two games, Brees has completed 64.6 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and one interception while posting an 83.0 Total QBR.

A positive Bucs stat: It’s been hard to come up with a lot of positive numbers on the Bucs for the past year or so, but here’s one. Tampa Bay has won four of its past six home games against NFC South opponents. So much has happened in the interim that it might be tough to remember that the Bucs won at home against Atlanta and New Orleans last year. But the bottom fell out after the Bucs intercepted Brees three times that day. Tampa Bay lost its final 10 games of the season, costing then-coach Raheem Morris his job.