NFC South: Green Bay Packers

Falcons vs. Packers Preview

December, 5, 2014
12/05/14
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When: 8:30 p.m ET, Monday. Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay. TV: ESPN.

The Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons have experienced very different seasons, but they both have plenty to play for when they meet on "Monday Night Football" at Lambeau Field.

The Packers (9-3) have the No. 1 seed in the NFC in their sights, while the Falcons (5-7) somehow have the NFC South title still within reach.

ESPN NFL Nation Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure and Packers reporter Rob Demovsky preview the matchup:

Demovsky: This game features a couple of the best receiver duos in the game -- Julio Jones and Roddy White for the Falcons (assuming White plays), Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson for the Packers. What makes the Jones-White combo so effective?

McClure: I agree that this duo can have a tremendous impact on any game, but it's not the same tandem we saw back in 2012 when Jones and White combined for 2,549 yards and 17 touchdowns. White, who turned 33 last month, knows his body isn't the same as it used to be. He has missed two games this season due to the injury, although he vowed to be healthy down the stretch despite tweaking his left ankle two games ago. Jones, who just surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for the season and leads the NFC with 1,169 yards, is capable of being a one-man wrecking crew, as he proved against humbled Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson. Yet the Falcons don't have to rely solely on Jones, when third receiver Harry Douglas puts up 100-yard games, and when Devin Hester poses a threat as yet another target for Matt Ryan. I still believe the Falcons are at their best when they're playing up-tempo with those four receivers on the field, which creates significant mismatches for opposing defenses.

We just talked about how dynamic Jones can be at receiver. I'd like to know what you think the Packers will do in defending him Monday night. It looks like when they tried to go one-on-one with Sam Shields against Calvin Johnson in Week 3, Johnson took advantage immediately. Surely the Packers will roll safety help for Jones, right?

Demovsky: This has to be an area of concern for the Packers, especially since Shields is coming off a concussion on Sunday against the Patriots. However, the good thing is the Packers don't often try to match Shields -- or any other defensive back -- on one player for an entire game. Their days of matching up that way ended when Charles Woodson's time in Green Bay were done. They're more likely to play sides, so that means guys such as Tramon Williams, nickel back Micah Hyde, dime back Casey Hayward or even Davon House (who would play on the outside if Shields can't go) would take turns on Jones. But the biggest thing is the help they'd get from their safeties, which are playing far better in coverage this season than they did last year thanks in part to rookie first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

As long as we're discussing matchup problems, the Packers had to prepare for Hester's magic in the return game for years when he was with the Bears. Is he as dangerous in the return game as he once was, and what kind of role, if any, does he have on offense?

McClure: Hester scored his first-career touchdown on an 84-yard punt return in Lambeau Field, so I'm sure Monday night will bring back some fond memories for him. That was eight years ago, but Hester continues to be a dynamic return man at the age of 32. He should have had a 70-yard punt return score against Arizona last week, but the officials blew the call and whistled him for a face mask when he threw an open-hand stiff-arm at the punter before reaching the end zone. I'm sure Packers special teams coach Shawn Slocum saw the replay and realized Hester still has his burst and wiggle. Offensively, Hester definitely has a role and has accepted it. I think it was hard for him at first because he wasn't getting the amount of touches he had hoped to receive. The Falcons know what Hester is capable of with the ball in his hands, so they've been creative with bubble screens and reverses. Hester averages 10.7 yards per touch on offense with two touchdowns -- one rushing and one receiving.

I've seen how dominant Aaron Rodgers can be, particularly when teams give him time to move around. Like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, he has success with whatever weapons he has. So tell me about this new weapon he has in rookie Davante Adams and how he fits with the other pieces Rodgers has at receiver?

Demovsky: When the Packers picked Adams in the second round out of Fresno State this year, there were immediate comparisons to James Jones because of their size. But House told me early on that Adams actually reminded him more of Greg Jennings because of his precise route-running ability. Jennings was one of the best route runners the Packers have had over the past two decades, so that's quite the compliment. Adams has benefited from the extra attention teams have had to pay to Nelson on the outside. If you try to play Nelson in man coverage without help, you’re asking for trouble. So what happens quite a bit is Adams get one-on-one coverage on the backside. Adams still has a ways to go as far as understanding the nuances of the offense and where Rodgers wants him to be at times, but he looks like the next in what has been a long line of productive Packers receivers who have come by way of the draft.

Tell me this: Is the NFC South as bad as it looks?

McClure: In a Charles Barkley voice, I'd call the division "terrible." The four teams are a combined 2-11-1 against the AFC this year, with the Buccaneers and Saints somehow managing to take down the Steelers (7-5). No NFC South team is above .500 at home. And here is the stat that really gets me: The Falcons had a five-game losing streak yet remain undefeated in division play at 4-0. There was talk about a five-win team winning the division, but that's not going to happen now with the Falcons and Saints both 5-7 and facing each other again Dec. 21. All four NFC South teams surrender 24.9 points or more per game. The Saints and Falcons rank second-to-last and last in total defense, respectively, yielding 390.5 yards and 403.2 yards per game. It has been a comedy of errors watching these teams, but somebody's got to win it.

One of the storylines going into this game is sure to be the first NFL matchup between Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and his cousin, Falcons rookie left tackle Jake Matthews. I know Clay had made a transition to inside linebacker. Tell me how that’s going for him. I know he still rushes in certain packages. But does he miss playing outside linebacker?

Demovsky: He won't come right out and say it, but you get the sense he does miss his old job. Shortly after the change last month he said in a perfect world, he'd line up on the outside and pass rush on every snap. But he knows it doesn't work that way. The interesting thing is that since this change, which came after the bye week, defensive coordinator Dom Capers has come up with a new look for Matthews almost every week. The first time, it was simply Matthews lining up at inside linebacker in the base and nickel packages and at outside linebacker in the dime package. Then, instead of playing outside linebacker in the dime, the next week he actually lined up outside of the outside linebacker. And then last week against the Patriots, he played the lone inside spot in the dime, a position he had never before played. His sack total is down, but he might be having a bigger impact on this defense.

Panthers vs. Packers preview

October, 17, 2014
10/17/14
8:00
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Two teams coming off games that went down to the wire last week will meet Sunday at Lambeau Field. The Green Bay Packers (4-2) escaped with a last-second victory over the Miami Dolphins, and the Carolina Panthers (3-2-1) avoided defeat when the Cincinnati Bengals missed a field goal as overtime expired, leaving the game in a tie.

Will there be any carryover effect?

ESPN NFL Nation reporters Rob Demovsky, who covers the Packers, and David Newton, who covers the Panthers, discuss the matchup:

Demovsky: David, when the Packers tied the Vikings last season, it almost felt like a victory, considering they didn't have Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn came on in relief and rallied them from a 16-point, fourth-quarter deficit. But the Panthers were in a different situation when they tied the Bengals on Sunday. Now that they're several days removed from that tie, how do they feel about it now and what impact will it have?

Newton: As coach Ron Rivera said Monday, he's "still kind of ambivalent" to it. The Panthers had chances to all but put the game away late in the third quarter and didn't. They also had a chance to win it in overtime, but Jerricho Cotchery let a touchdown get through his hands. So from that standpoint they look at it as a missed opportunity. But the way the game ended, with Cincinnati missing a short field goal, it was almost a sense of the same relief you mentioned above. And, as the Packers found out last season, half a game can mean the difference in making the playoffs. So the Panthers are trying to focus on the positives. There weren't a lot defensively, but the return of quarterback Cam Newton as a running threat in a way has overshadowed the downside of the missed opportunities.

Rodgers appears to be playing at an MVP level again, but he has been sacked 15 times. Is pressure the only way to slow him down? Or can he be slowed down the way he's playing?

Demovsky: The sack numbers are a little deceiving. He almost never turns the ball over, so where some players might have higher interception totals, Rodgers' sack numbers might be a little higher, but it's a trade-off the Packers happily accept because they don't have to worry much about interceptions. His only interception this season came in Week 1 on a ball that went off the fingertips of Jordy Nelson. It's a big reason the Packers are tied with the Patriots for the NFL lead in turnover differential at plus-9. Rodgers is on a 40-touchdown, 2.7-interception pace. And if you want to try to blitz Rodgers, he’s usually pretty good at picking that apart, too.

What was different about Cam Newton against the Bengals? Why did he run so much more than he had early in the season, and how much do you think he'll try to do more of that against a Packers defense that has had all kinds of trouble with the read-option?

Newton: The difference was the Panthers finally let him run the read-option. They've been overly protective of the left ankle that was surgically repaired in March, going strictly by what the trainers said. They finally felt it was strong enough this past week to turn him loose. It's as simple as that. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula never planned to run Newton 17 times, but when you're getting 6-7 yards a carry, as he averaged on his final 14 attempts, it's a pretty easy call. The threat of Newton running the read-option will be more valuable than anything. It could keep the Packers on their heels and open up the rest of the offense. Carolina's best chance might be to outscore Green Bay. Having said that, the Panthers have struggled against the 3-4 schemes of Pittsburgh and Baltimore when Newton wasn't a running threat.

Since we're on Green Bay's run defense, Rob, why has it been so porous?

Demovsky: It's a multifaceted problem, to be sure. Part of their problem against the run has been missed tackles. Only four teams have more missed tackles than the Packers do this season, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Part of the Packers' problem is they don't seem to know what to play against the run. Early in the season, defensive coordinator Dom Capers -- a longtime proponent of the 3-4 defense -- actually played more 4-3, but they haven't played any of that in the past couple of games. And then there’s this: They might not have the right players suited to stop the run. They decided they wanted to get longer and more athletic up front, so they dumped their big-bodied defensive linemen, and so far it hasn't worked. Losing their lone big-bodied veteran (B.J. Raji) to a season-ending injury in the preseason hasn't helped, either.

Speaking of defense, what's happened to Carolina’s the past few games? I know the Panthers miss defensive end Greg Hardy, but giving up 37 points or more in three of the past four games can’t be attributed to missing just one player, albeit a great one, can it?

Newton: Well, yes. To a degree. The one thing Rivera has said repeatedly the past four games is players are trying to do too much and losing gap control. They are trying to do too much, in my opinion, because they are trying to make up for a player who led the team in sacks with 15, was a great run-stopper and could drop into coverage. I liken it to Green Bay losing Rodgers last season. You take a weapon like that out of the mix and it has an impact. I also blame the secondary. This group hasn't meshed as well as the one last season.

A player the Panthers could have used with Hardy gone is Julius Peppers. How has Carolina’s all-time sack leader fit in with Green Bay?

Demovsky: Peppers hasn't been dominant by any means -- he has only 1.5 sacks in six games -- but he has made enough big plays (a strip sack and fumble recovery in Detroit, an interception return for a touchdown against Minnesota) to be the difference-maker the Packers had hoped for when they signed him in free agency. It has taken some pressure off Clay Matthews, who in the past has been about the Packers' only big-play threat from the front seven. The Packers are actually getting good balance in production from their outside linebackers, which Peppers is a part of now after playing mostly defensive end in a 4-3 in his career.

Video: Accuscore on Saints-Packers

September, 29, 2012
9/29/12
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Prim Siripipat goes inside the numbers for the Saints-Packers matchup.

Wrap-up: Chiefs 27, Saints 24 (OT)

September, 23, 2012
9/23/12
5:10
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Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 27-24 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday:

What it means: Last week, I said it was time for the Saints to panic. My point was that they needed to do something dramatic before this season got out of control. They might be at that point now. They controlled things for most of the day in a game in their own stadium and they still ended up losing. The Saints are 0-3 and in sole possession of last place in the NFC South. The Saints have dug themselves a big hole and it’s not going to be easy to climb out of. The last time the Saints started 0-3 was 2007, when they lost their first four games and failed to make the playoffs. It probably remains a little too early to say the Saints' season is over, but look at the next opponent on the schedule (at the bottom of this item) and it's tough to imagine New Orleans suddenly turning things around.

Defensive woes continue: Kansas City wasn’t supposed to be an offensive powerhouse and, early on, it looked like a New Orleans defense that struggled in its first two games was going to be all right. But the defense collapsed, particularly the run defense. Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles carried 33 times for 233 yards, including a 91-yard touchdown run. Matt Cassel threw for 248 yards. The Saints could have survived that if their run defense had just kept Charles in check. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's been taking a lot of heat from fans. What happened Sunday isn't going to stop that.

What happened to the offensive line? I’m not going to put the blame for the collapse of the offensive line solely on the loss of guard Carl Nicks to Tampa Bay in free agency. I certainly think the loss of Nicks was a factor. But I think some other members of the offensive line are underachieving. The Chiefs aren’t a team known for generating much of a pass rush. They came up with a strong pass rush against Drew Brees and even scored a safety late in regulation by sacking Brees in the end zone. Brees has had to face too much pressure so far this season. He banged up his ankle last week and there were times on Sunday when Brees seemed to be limping a bit after taking big hits from the Chiefs. If Brees suffers any sort of injury, whatever is left of the Saints’ season is over.

What’s next: The Saints travel to Lambeau Field to play the Green Bay Packers next Sunday.

Bucs reach out to Mike Sherman

January, 3, 2012
1/03/12
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TAMPA, Fla. -- As expected, one of the first coaching candidates the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are reaching out to is Mike Sherman.

ESPN’s John Clayton reports that the Bucs have made contact with Sherman and are working to schedule an interview in the next few days.

Sherman, 57, most recently was the head coach at Texas A&M and was fired Dec. 1. But Sherman also has extensive NFL experience. He was head coach of the Green Bay Packers from 2000 through 2005 and was an assistant with the team before that. He also worked as an assistant with the Houston Texans before taking the Texas A&M job in 2008.

Sherman went 57-39 in his six seasons in Green Bay and his stint included five consecutive winning seasons. Sherman also uses the same agent as Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik, who is heading the coaching search.

The Buccaneers fired coach Raheem Morris on Monday. In the NFL, teams often go in the opposite direction after firing a coach and Sherman is quite opposite Morris, who was only 35, came from a defensive background and wasn’t known as a disciplinarian.

Sherman comes with an extensive offensive background, which is important to the Bucs, who want to get quarterback Josh Freeman back on track. He also is known for expecting his players to stay clear of trouble and has strong organizational skills.

Live from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
5:45
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NEW ORLEANS -- I’m settled into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the Detroit Lions' bus just arrived. The players are walking across the field to the locker room.

I’ll be back with inactives and any other pregame news or notes that come along.

Meantime, I’m watching this game between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers. A lot of people have been talking about how the Saints may be close to being as good as the Packers. If Green Bay ends up losing this one, that theory could grow. After all, the Saints blew out the Giants on Monday night.

Of course, the Saints will have to do their part and win against the Lions Sunday night for that argument to even have a chance.

Morris addresses QB trade talk

August, 26, 2009
8/26/09
4:29
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla. -- There could be even another element to the quarterback situation for the Buccaneers.

The team could be looking to trade one of its quarterbacks for a draft pick. Coach Raheem Morris wouldn't confirm an NFL.com report that the Bucs are shopping three of their quarterbacks for a trade, but he didn't deny it either.

"Oh, man, they're Nostradamus," Morris said when asked about the report. "Everybody in this league, all 32 teams around this time start calling front offices. I can't control who calls us. Everybody's interested in everybody's roster and everybody's looking to nit-pick off everybody's roster. Everybody has talent and you're trying to accumulate the best talent on your football team. That's just all that talk is what that is."

But it makes total sense for the Bucs to at least try to find out what the market value might be for Byron Leftwich, Luke McCown or Josh Johnson. They're not about to let go of rookie Josh Freeman, who they call their franchise quarterback.

But that's likely in the future. For now, it appears the Bucs will open the season with either Leftwich or McCown as their starter. They're about even at this point and a potential trade could play into Morris' decision, although the Bucs likely would be able to get only a late-round pick (at best) for any of their quarterbacks.

Leftwich, a former starter in Jacksonville, probably has more trade value because of his experience. McCown has only seven starts. Johnson, a second-year pro, has yet to play in an NFL game and probably wouldn't bring much in a trade.
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Something happened in Green Bay on Wednesday that I'm sure was followed closely in Atlanta. Packers receiver Greg Jennings signed a big contract extension.

It's a three-year deal reportedly worth $27 million and includes $16 million in guaranteed money. So what's that mean to Atlanta?

A lot. The Falcons have been having some talks with receiver Roddy White about a new deal, but it doesn't sound like anything is close to happening. The Jennings deal sets some new parameters the Falcons and White could work with.

But we're only talking loose parameters. Fact is -- and I'm sure White's agent will make the Falcons aware of this -- White's been more productive than Jennings. White went to the Pro Bowl last season and Jennings was an alternate.

There's one other factor at work here. Although White's contract is scheduled to expire after this season, he can only become a restricted free agent next year. So there's not an extreme urgency for the Falcons to do anything here.

They could play hardball with White and work the system. But I think the Falcons will make an honest effort to get White a new deal before the start of the season. They don't want one of their best players disgruntled and there's no doubt they want to keep White for the long term.

Morris has set himself up for success

February, 19, 2009
2/19/09
1:00
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  Getty Images
  New Bucs coach Raheem Morris, center, has surrounded himself with coordinators who have head-coaching experience.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla. -- Jim Bates walked into a room full of people he had never met Wednesday morning, smiled a few times and started talking. Within a minute or two, there was a comfort level.

A day earlier, Jeff Jagodzinski did the exact same thing.

If nothing else at this point, it's pretty easy to see the new offensive and defensive coordinators of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are extremely poised, polished and very good at communicating. Yeah, they also have long histories of drawing X's and O's pretty well, but Raheem Morris' decision to hire these two guys to run his offense and defense was about more than drawing up plays.

When you're a 32-year-old, first-time head coach, who never truly has even been a coordinator in the NFL, you need help from those who have been there before. When you're trying to build credibility, one of the smartest things you can do is surround yourself with it.

That's precisely what Morris did when he hired Bates and Jagodzinski.

It's not exactly a new concept. Think Mike Tomlin (one of Morris' best friends) working with veteran defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh and winning the Super Bowl in their second year together. Think Atlanta's Mike Smith going out and getting offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and turning around a dismal franchise in their first season. Or even think back into Tampa Bay's history and remember when first-time head coach Tony Dungy tabbed Monte Kiffin as his defensive coordinator and the duo made the NFL's worst franchise into an annual playoff contender.

"I think Raheem is jumping all over this opportunity," Bates said. "He's hired an excellent coaching staff, and it's our job to help us win games. If we win games that's all to be decided. Raheem will do a great job in his role. Age is not a factor. Sometimes a younger guy can get closer to the team than some of us older guys."

 
  Cliff Welch/Icon SMI
  Jon Gruden's inability to relate to players contributed to his downfall in Tampa.

In large part, Morris, who was Tampa Bay's defensive backs coach last year, was promoted because ownership believes he can relate to players. An inability to do that turned out to be a fatal flaw for predecessor Jon Gruden, who has been bashed by multiple players since his firing.

There's an old adage in the NFL that if you fire a fat coach you go out and hire a skinny one. Morris may be Gruden's opposite in that he's capable of being a buddy to his players, some of whom are older than he is.

But the bigger question is whether Morris knows how to be a head coach. That answer will play out. But the smartest move Morris has made so far is surrounding himself with two guys who have been head coaches and coordinators and that's an excellent start.

"If I can share some things that can help Raheem, I will," Jagodzinski said. "That's what a staff is supposed to do. They wouldn't call it a staff if you could do it all yourself."

Morris has mentioned Tomlin, Gruden and Herm Edwards (coaches he's worked with in the past) as his role models. Those guys aren't with him now, but Bates and Jagodzinski give Morris two guys who have been in his shoes.

Start with Bates. He's 62 and has a grandfatherly presence. Sure, Bates can get as excited as anyone in the heat of a game, but he does it with the coolness of a guy who has been coaching for 37 years. Bates has been a head coach -- on an interim basis -- and players rallied for him to get the full-time job. He got that same kind of support from the players in Green Bay when he interviewed for the Packers' job in 2006, but the team elected to go with Mike McCarthy.

Bates has been a defensive coordinator for the Falcons, Dolphins, Packers and Broncos. There have been plenty of times when Bates' name came up as a possible head coach, but those days probably are over at a time when the NFL trend is to hire young head coaches.

"It was close," Bates said about his opportunities to be a head coach. "There's no bitterness. I'm glad to be where I'm at. I'm happy to be defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Bucs. I am in the best situation Jim Bates could be in right now."

Jagodzinski's got a similar, although shorter, history. He's been a head coach, although not in the NFL, and a history as an NFL coordinator. Jagodzinski, 45, was Boston College's head coach the last two years, but was fired when, against the school's wishes, he interviewed for the head job with the New York Jets in January.

"I don't think it's a step back,'' Jagodzinski said.

Maybe not. There's little doubt Jagodzinski will have control over the offense. Morris' experience is on the defensive side. A little bit of success could help Jagodzinski, who has been a coordinator in Green Bay, become an NFL head coach.

But that's down the road. For now, a large part of the job for Jagodzinski and Bates is to make sure Morris succeeds as a head coach and their roles will go way beyond drawing up new playbooks and calling plays.

"Yes, X's and O's are important, but a lot of times it is, "Can you work with the guy? Do you feel comfortable with him?" Jagodzinski said. "That's one of the most important things I learned about being a head coach. You better surround yourself with the best possible people that you can. It wasn't a popularity contest, it was the best possible people."

Only time will tell if Morris succeeds. But it sure looks like he's surrounded himself with the best possible people. That's a great start.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Former Carolina defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac spoke with the Wisconsin media and elaborated a little bit on his departure from the Panthers.

Carolina had offered Trgovac a new contract to stay, but he backed out of that and, curiously, took a job as Green Bay's defensive line coach. Trgovac said he wanted to be a position coach right now.

Here is the most interesting of what Trgovac had to say:

"My goal is to someday be a coordinator again," Trgovac said. "I don't want to want to do that right now. One of the things that my wife said to me, if you work for a defensive head coach it is a little bit harder than when you work for an offensive head coach. She said, 'You haven't seemed happy the last year.'

"When she said that to me, it just made me realize that my kids are growing up and maybe I was taking my work home with me. That's why I wanted to just take a step back and coach a position again. That's one of the things you miss as a coordinator, just the day-to-day interaction that you have with one specific position group. I wanted to get back into that again."

I think that part about not seeming happy the last year is very telling. It's been common knowledge for a long time that head coach John Fox has extensive influence over Carolina's defense. I've said it before and I'll say it again, maybe all those people who have been pointing the finger at Trgovac when Carolina's defense struggled were pointing at the wrong guy.

Hmm, anybody think defensive end Julius Peppers, another unhappy Carolina camper, could end up reunited with Trgovac and playing in the 3-4 defense in Green Bay?

Audibles: NFC South Week 13 preview

November, 28, 2008
11/28/08
3:06
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Carolina Panthers (8-3) at Green Bay Packers (5-6), 1 p.m. ET

  

In Charlotte, a town that's capable of overreacting, there's a sense of doom among fans after the Carolina Panthers lost a single game.

The Panthers went down to Atlanta, got thumped and fell to 8-3. That still doesn't sound like a bad spot to be in, but there might be some justification for all that gloom. Even in the two games before that, victories against Detroit and Oakland, the Panthers didn't look particularly impressive. Quarterback Jake Delhomme has struggled of late and a defense that seemed dominant early in the season has been ordinary recently.

A lot of folks are worried about Tampa Bay or Atlanta taking the NFC South title because Carolina has the toughest remaining schedule. This week's trip to Green Bay may sound grim because visits to Lambeau Field always are tough.

But maybe there's some good news among all the clouds for Carolina fans. The Packers might be struggling even more than the Panthers.

Consider these numbers: In Week 12, the Packers and Panthers combined to allow 96 points, 808 total yards, 42 first downs and 13 touchdowns.

The bright side? If you've got to go into Lambeau Field, this might be the right time to do it.

New Orleans Saints (6-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-3), 1 p.m. ET

  

In NFC South circles, the quarterback talk has been all about New Orleans' Drew Brees and Atlanta's Matt Ryan. Understandable since Brees is on pace to set the single-season record for passing yards and Ryan is having the best season of any rookie since Dan Marino.

But, very quietly, Jeff Garcia has been one of the NFL's best quarterbacks for the last six weeks. After being benched early in the season, Garcia and coach Jon Gruden seem to have patched up their differences and Garcia's again playing like the Pro Bowl quarterback he was a year ago.

Garcia is 5-1 in his last six starts and ranks third in the league in passer rating in that span. At 38, he's also starting to show signs of the mobility that helped him prosper earlier in his career.

With Brees coming to town and Tampa Bay's running back situation a bit shaky with Earnest Graham lost for the year, the Bucs are going to need Garcia to be even better than he's been in the last six games.

Atlanta Falcons (7-4) at San Diego Chargers (4-7), 4:05 p.m. ET

  

There's been a lot of talk about how this game is a showdown between Michael Turner and LaDainian Tomlinson. That's understandable because Turner spent four seasons as Tomlinson's backup before signing with the Falcons this year. Turner has better numbers than Tomlinson, and he also is a guy with plenty of pride and there probably is a part of him that would like to show the Chargers how good he is.

But the fact is, the Chargers and the rest of the league already know Turner is a top-notch back. Turner and Tomlinson were -- and still are -- friends, so this isn't truly a grudge match. Turner and the Falcons are beyond that.

They're a team in the thick of a playoff race and they need a victory far more than Turner needs to prove anything. But let's just say Turner goes out there and hangs 150 yards on a struggling San Diego defense.

There might be a little sense of vindication involved.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen just had his chance to talk about the whole Brett Favre saga. What Allen had to say was dramatically different than the numerous media reports stating the Bucs were a serious player in trade discussions before Favre wound up with the New York Jets.

"There was no negotiations,'' Allen said. "There was never any substantive talk about what they would take to trade him. All of that was speculation. From the beginning, I think it was clear that it was a bad situation in Green Bay and they had to deal with it any way that they could.''

Allen denied the Bucs made an offer to the Packers and downplayed Tampa Bay's interest as nothing more than minor curiosity.

"It really never got to that,'' Allen said. "We always look at any type of scenario we can find that can help the Buccaneers. That's our No. 1 priority, helping this team -- if it was going to be a double trade or a triple trade or in any form that we can help the Bucs. We will always listen.''

That's contrary to statements from Favre and agent Bus Cook yesterday that they were in talks with the Bucs and the Jets and those were the only teams involved.

"There's quite a few players in the league that have an interest in coming to Tampa Bay,'' Allen said. "Without getting into the tampering rules of the league, I think that's a credit to what we're doing. The system would fit a lot of players. I'll let him talk about his situation. There were, I think, about 18 teams that had permission to talk to him. The fact that people want to play here, we consider that a credit.''

Breaking down the NFC South

July, 30, 2008
7/30/08
11:11
AM ET

Pat Yasinskas and Mike Sando broke away from training camps briefly Tuesday to discuss the NFC South and NFC West.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

JACKSON, Miss. -- Still not completely believing the Bucs are out of the running for Brett Favre.

Although the Jets have been given permission to talk to Favre, who plans to report to Green Bay's training camp this weekend, this situation's not over and Tampa Bay could be a player.

This could be a way to drive up Favre's price tag. As one general manager told me earlier this week, the Bucs may be willing to give up the most for Favre.

NFL Insiders James Walker, Pat Yasinskas and KC Joyner discuss the latest in the Brett Favre saga as well as other news and notes around the league.

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