Hitting the NFC South hot spots

Let’s take a look into the mailbag and see where today’s hot spots are in the NFC South.

Anthony in Atlanta says (and I’m cleaning this up generously so we can use it here) I put too much emphasis on team wins instead of individual passing and statistics in this piece about Matt Ryan. He also said I was “promoting a statistically mediocre to slightly-above-average quarterback.’’

Pat Yasinskas: Last time I checked, team wins are the only statistic that really matter. Ryan goes out and wins games and that’s his job. He’s done it pretty well. Put him in a system like Peyton Manning plays in and he might put up some kind of the numbers you prefer. But the Falcons don’t play offense that way. Put a lot of other quarterbacks in Atlanta’s offense and they don’t run it as efficiently as Ryan does and they don’t win as many games. There’s not a quarterback out there with more wins than Ryan this season, so yeah, I’ll include him on the “elite’’ list. Quite honestly, I say Ryan has had a better season than Drew Brees. And I still think Brees is an elite quarterback.

Risden in Raleigh, N.C. pointed out Steve Smith was bowing to the crowd at the end of Sunday’s home finale and asked if this could be the end of an era for the wide receiver in Carolina.

Pat Yasinskas: I think we all know Smith is a very emotional guy and you could read from his actions that he might be out of Carolina after this season. But one thing I’ve learned about Smith is it’s best not to try to read his mind. Although I don’t think anyone would blame him if he asked to be traded to a winning team with a prolific quarterback, there are no indications he has told management he wants out of Carolina. Maybe that’s coming. But maybe it’s not. It's pretty much up to Smith.

Ethan in New York points out that this is going to be one of those rare seasons when the NFC South’s general rule of “worst to first’’ does not apply.

Pat Yasinskas: Good point. But if I’m the Carolina Panthers, I still look at what happened this season as a positive for next year. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 3-13 last year and they’re not going to win the division. But they also will not finish any worse than 8-8. A swing of five wins or more in the NFL is huge. This will be only the second time since the NFC South came into existence in 2002 that a team hasn’t gone from last place to first place. The other was in 2008, when the Atlanta Falcons went from 3-13 to 11-5 and a playoff berth.

Guy in Asheville, N.C. asked about the relationship of Carolina coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney and if it deteriorated over time. He also asked a similar question about the relationship between Fox and owner Jerry Richardson.

Pat Yasinskas: That’s a question I’m glad somebody asked. It would probably take a book, or at least more room than we’re allotted for mailbags to properly detail those situations. I might try to do a more extensive post on that before Fox is gone at the end of the season and I’ve touched on some of it in the past. I’ll try to summarize as concisely as possible here. Yes, Hurney and Fox were once joined at the hip. Hurney led the coaching search and Fox was his guy, although the Panthers gave some consideration to Tony Dungy, who was ticketed for Indianapolis, and a few others. But Fox was the guy Hurney wanted, and they were friends going back to their days working for the San Diego Chargers. In the early years in Carolina, Fox, Hurney and Richardson were a very tight-knit group. I can tell you Fox and Richardson won’t be exchanging Christmas gifts this year or in the future. But Hurney and Fox have not had a falling out. There are certain things they haven’t seen eye to eye on, particularly the team’s youth movement and how to execute it, but they still have a friendship. It might not be what it once was, but there is no bitterness between Hurney and Fox. Hurney, in some ways, has been caught in the middle between the owner and coach. Again, there’s a lot more, and I’ll try to do something more extensive later on. But I think this is simply one of those cases where a group that functioned very well together at one point, might have stayed together too long. Things got stale and people didn’t stay on the same page. The other thing I'd point out in this one is that nobody was completely wrong or completely right here. Fox, Hurney and Richardson all contributed, in different ways, to things falling apart in Carolina.