NFC South: NFC South

Geno Smith and Matt RyanUSA TODAY SportsGeno Smith's Jets and Matt Ryan's Falcons will try to bounce back from a disappointing Week 4.
If the Atlanta Falcons were in desperation mode last week against the Patriots, now they're in an all-out panic as they prepare to face the New York Jets on ESPN's "Monday Night Football."

The Falcons limp into the matchup at 1-3 despite being touted as a Super Bowl favorite. Quarterback Matt Ryan admitted not being as sharp as he wanted to be the last time out. Now, Ryan has to keep the locker room together as the Falcons try to stay afloat against the always-entertaining Rex Ryan and his Jets (2-2).

ESPN.com Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure and his Jets counterpart, Rich Cimini, discuss the matchup.

McClure: I was talking to Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux the other day about the mindset when facing a rookie quarterback. He admitted Geno Smith was somewhat similar to Carolina's Cam Newton, a player the Falcons have had trouble containing. Can Smith cause problems for the Falcons or is his confidence shaken?

Cimini: Smith and Newton are different because Smith isn't nearly as dangerous as Newton in terms of making plays outside the pocket. He'll scramble on occasion, and they might call a read-option play here and there, but he's a pure pocket passer. I'd say, yes, his confidence has to be shaken. He's coming off a bad day against the Titans -- four turnovers, bringing his total to 11. He's making bad decisions and being careless with the football. Ryan said he's not considering a change at quarterback -- with Mark Sanchez out, there's no viable option -- but there will come a point where he'll have to do something if the turnovers continue. What's up with Matt Ryan? This hasn't been a vintage Ryan season so far.

McClure: No, not by any means. And fans around here are starting to turn on him, for some reason. I understand their passion, but I wouldn't give up on Ryan. I actually give him credit for owning up to his mistakes against the Patriots. He threw a few bad passes on the Falcons' last desperation drive and missed Roddy White wide open for at least a first down on a fourth-and-2 from the Patriots' 7-yard line. Ryan ranks 23rd in the NFL in fourth-quarter passing with a 75.3 QB rating. Maybe he's rushing his throws as a result of protection issues. It doesn't help when your receivers drop a handful of passes, either. At least Ryan seems to have established a rhythm with tight end Tony Gonzalez. So, how will the Jets approach defending Gonzalez based on his 149-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Patriots?

Cimini: I think Rex Ryan is asking himself that same question, Vaughn. He joked about Gonzalez this week, saying, "Quite honestly, I wish he would've retired." The Jets have done a good job defending tight ends, but they haven't faced anyone close to his caliber. I think a lot of the responsibility will fall to second-year safety Antonio Allen, but that would be trouble waiting to happen. Allen is a "box" safety, not known for his coverage skills. In years past, Ryan put cornerback Antonio Cromartie on athletic tight ends for a few plays here and there, but he needs Cromartie on Julio Jones or Roddy White. In other words, I could see Gonzalez having another monster game. A lot will depend on how they defend the running game. What's the latest on Steven Jackson?

McClure: Although Jackson was on the field Tuesday talking with the trainers, he still hasn't practiced since suffering a hamstring injury in the first quarter of the Rams game (Week 2). It was initially called a three-week injury and with the bye following the Jets game, I see no reason why the Falcons would rush Jackson back out there Monday night. In fact, Jackson recently went on his personal blog to update fans on his status and said he wanted to be 100 percent before returning. Not being on the field with his teammates might be hurting him more than the pain from the injury. I see the Jets are banged up at receiver. How will they compensate?

Cimini: You're right, they're banged up. Santonio Holmes (hamstring) won't play, and I'd be stunned if Stephen Hill (concussion) plays. So we're talking about Jeremy Kerley and Clyde Gates as the starting wideouts, with seldom-used rookie Ryan Spadola as the No. 3 and David Nelson (signed Tuesday) as the No. 4. This is the definition of "patchwork." They can compensate by leaning more on the running game, which has been reasonably effective. Bilal Powell is tied for the AFC lead with 292 rushing yards. I think you'll also see more two-tight end sets with Kellen Winslow and Jeff Cumberland. Ryan said he might install the wishbone. He was joking -- I think. What's wrong with the Falcons' defense? I see they've been giving up some big pass plays.

McClure: Yes, they've given up seven plays of 40-plus yards, including four Sunday. Against the Patriots, the Falcons actually allowed Tom Brady to convert a third-and-19 from his 12 because they failed to get the proper depth on their drops. Such mental errors seem inexcusable, but defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is doing some "patchwork" of his own without Kroy Biermann (Achilles) or Sean Weatherspoon (foot) available and with Asante Samuel (thigh) still ailing. Three rookies -- cornerbacks Marcus Trufant and Robert Alford as well as linebacker Joplo Bartu -- are being asked to come of age rather quickly. And the pass rush has been pretty much non-existent even with the addition of Osi Umenyiora, who leads the way with two sacks. Speaking of the rush, what type of pressure will the Jets bring at Matt Ryan?

Cimini: The Jets aren't the defense we thought they'd be. By that, I mean they're blitzing less than expected, and the reason is because they've been getting good pressure from their front three/four. In fact, they've sent five or more rushers on only 33.1 percent of the opponents' dropbacks, which ranks 17th in the league. With Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and rookie Sheldon Richardson up front, I think they'll be able to pressure Ryan without having to dial up exotic blitzes. Rex Ryan's defense has evolved. When he had Darrelle Revis, the secondary was the strength of the unit, but now the strength is up front with the big boys. The Falcons can counter by running an up-tempo offense with quick throws -- that style causes problems for the Jets. Frankly, it blows my mind the Falcons, with all that skill-position talent, are struggling in the red zone. Most Jets would be happy with one of those weapons, let alone three. What's the deal?

McClure: Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and Matt Ryan are trying to figure that out as we speak. The Falcons managed only one touchdown in six red-zone trips against the Patriots. For the season, they rank 29th in the league in terms of red-zone efficiency. Koetter took the blame for some bad play calls and vowed to cut one or two plays out of game plan. The fact that White has recovered slowly from a high ankle sprain hasn't helped. And the blocking has been abysmal, at times, in goal-line situations. Once everyone gets healthy, I expect more production and high-scoring games for the Falcons. If Monday night becomes a shootout, can the Jets compete?

Cimini: They're a pass-oriented offense under Marty Mornhinweg, but it would be hard for them to win a shootout, especially on the road. I know the Falcons have their own issues on defense, so I think the Jets can score points on them. But Smith is too mistake-prone, and the receiving corps is too banged-up for me to think they can walk into Atlanta and outscore the Falcons. Their best chance is to shorten the game, playing ball control with Powell and the running game. I'd be surprised if the Jets win a game in the 30s.

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Southern Exposure for Week 12

November, 25, 2011
11/25/11
12:17
PM ET
The Atlanta Falcons are going to easily lead the NFC South in TV exposure Sunday.

Look for the blue in the map on the506.com for the early Sunday games and you’ll see lots of it.

The Falcons and Vikings will air through much of the South and Midwest. They’ll also get strong play in Western states like Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and parts of Nevada. This game also will air in the large Philadelphia television market and through most of New England.

The other two Sunday NFC South games won’t get nearly as much exposure. The game between the Panthers and Colts will be limited mostly to North Carolina, South Carolina and Indiana.

The Buccaneers and Titans will be shown primarily in Florida and Tennessee.

The New Orleans Saints host the New York Giants on Monday night and that game will be televised nationally on ESPN.
LANDOVER, Md. – Umm, did you really think the Saints were going to lose this one?
Seriously. Yeah, I know they got outplayed and their banged-up secondary was horrible. But they were playing the Redskins and even though it took more than 60 minutes to sort out, the better team won.

Call it luck. Call it destiny or call it whatever. I’m not sure what to call it except to say the Saints still are undefeated.

I’m heading downstairs for post-game interviews. I’ll be back in a bit.
Just a quick reminder that the weekly NFC South chat will be held Friday at 1 p.m. ET. Here's the link to get there.

Countdown Daily Huddle: NFC South

October, 6, 2009
10/06/09
9:56
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

We'll continue our NFC South positional rankings today with running backs.

Here is my top 10:

1. Michael Turner, Atlanta. Falcons just have to be careful not to overuse him this year. Give him 325 carries and he'll give you 1,500 yards.

2. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina. He's still something of a secret to a lot of people. But that's not going to last much longer.

3. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina. His power is perfect complement to Williams' speed.

4. Derrick Ward, Tampa Bay. I'm projecting a bit here because we don't truly know Ward's role. But I think he's going to be the primary ball carrier in an offense that runs often.

5. Pierre Thomas, New Orleans. A lot of people like to make it sound as if the Saints didn't have a featured back last year. They did. It was Thomas and he's solid.

6. Earnest Graham, Tampa Bay. He's still going to get plenty of carries in a ball-control offense and could even get some time at fullback.

7. Reggie Bush, New Orleans. No, he's not a true running back. But he still can hurt you out of the backfield, at times, as much as any running back in the league.

8. Jerious Norwood, Atlanta. Has shown flashes in a limited role, but you get the feeling the Falcons are going to watch Turner's carries closely this year and that could mean more for Norwood.

9. Ovie Mughelli, Atlanta. He's a fullback, but he belongs on this list. He kept a lot of hits off Turner and quarterback Matt Ryan last year.

10. Brad Hoover, Carolina. Hoover's not quite as dominant a blocker as Mughelli, but he's been very solid and dependable for a long time.

Proof that NFC South is best division

December, 30, 2008
12/30/08
3:48
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

All season long, a lot of you have been arguing about what division is the strongest.

The argument almost always came down to the NFC South and the NFC East, and a final answer always was open for debate. But now that the regular season is over, we may have a final answer.

Colleague KC Joyner is a big numbers guy and he relies on a pretty basic equation to decide the NFC South is the best division. Joyner goes by overall winning percentage and that puts the NFC South in first place.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Thirteen games into it -- make it 14 in the case of the New Orleans Saints -- and no one has run away with the NFC South title or completely fallen out of the playoff picture.

It's a logjam of a division with a race so tight that no one can clinch the division this weekend and, even at 7-7, the Saints still are not mathematically eliminated. Carolina is 10-3, Tampa Bay is 9-4 and Atlanta is 8-5.

There have been arguments made the NFC South is the best division in the NFL, but there's not much clarity. The NFC South could end up sending three teams to the playoffs or it could end up with only one representative.

What has been called the NASCAR Division is heading for a furious final lap with all sorts of scenarios possible.

"I hate the scenarios,'' Tampa Bay guard Davin Joseph said. "I hate to look too far in advance.''

That's the nature of uncertainty, but there are five things we do know for certain in the NFC South:

1. The Carolina Panthers, who still have a shot at the No. 1 seed with a game against the New York Giants looming next week, can at least clinch a playoff spot this week. Initially, there were six scenarios for the Panthers to get in, but Chicago's victory against New Orleans on Thursday night, eliminated two of those.

That leaves the Panthers hosting Denver and needing any of the following to clinch a spot:

a. A Carolina win against Denver, combined with a Dallas loss or tie.
b. A Carolina win, combined with an Atlanta loss or tie.
c. A Carolina loss, combined with a Dallas loss, plus a Philadelphia loss or tie.
d. An Atlanta loss, combined with a Dallas loss, plus a Washington loss or tie.

2. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, even after an ugly loss to Carolina on "Monday Night Football," have a chance to clinch a playoff spot this week. That loss took Tampa Bay out of control of the division race, at least for the moment, but the Bucs still can put themselves in the playoffs. Two scenarios will do that.

a. A victory Sunday at Atlanta, combined with a loss or tie by Dallas.
b. A victory Sunday at Atlanta, combined with a loss or tie by Philadelphia.

"Making the tournament is a great accomplishment," Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said. "I saw a team last year (the New York Giants) win the whole thing getting this position in the tournament. We've got to take care of business -- we've got to win a game. We haven't had a two-game losing streak this season; we want to maintain that. It's very important that we bounce back from a loss. I think that's what good teams do. But our goal is always to make the tournament. That gives you a chance to win the Super Bowl if you're in the tournament."

3. The Falcons have a chance to get into the playoffs, too. They just can't clinch anything this week. But Atlanta, one of the most surprising teams in the NFL, has a chance at anything from the division title to a wild-card spot. For Atlanta to win the NFC South, the Falcons would have to win their three remaining games and Tampa Bay and Carolina would have to lose out.

That's a long shot, but Atlanta could make itself an almost-certain playoff team if the Falcons can win all three games. Even if they win two, the Falcons would be 10-6 and have a shot at a wild-card spot.

4. The Saints might as well start getting ready for next year. They'll probably be mathematically eliminated by the end of the day Sunday. The Saints entered the season with perhaps more talent than any team in the division. But injuries and a brutal schedule have held them back.

There still will be some intrigue in the final two games as quarterback Drew Brees chases Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a season. But the Saints should start looking ahead to next year and finding ways to put a solid team around Brees so that something like this doesn't happen again.

5. The home field means almost everything. Maybe it's a good thing Carolina, Tampa Bay and Atlanta can't clinch the division this week. That means they all are still fighting for the title or, at least, a high wild-card spot. Either of those could get them a home game or games and that could be critical.

In case you haven't heard, NFC South teams are almost unbeatable at home. So far this season, they're 24-2 at home. Division teams have six home games left and, if Atlanta and Carolina win Sunday, the NFC South will clinch at least a tie for the best combined home winning percentage ever.

Beyond that, nothing else is certain in the NFC South this week. That's what makes the division so interesting.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

With a lot of help from the Saints, the NFC South stayed on pace to set a new record for a division winning its home games.

New Orleans' victory over Atlanta now puts the NFC South at 23-2 in home games. That's a .920 winning percentage. The Saints have one more home game, while Carolina, Tampa Bay and Atlanta each have two.

Here's a look at the best combined home winning percentages by a division since 1970:

Best Combined Winning Percentages by a Division (Since 1970)
SeasonDivisionW-L-TPct
2003 NFC West 26-6-0 .813
1988 AFC Central 25-7-0 .781
1971 AFC West 20-6-2 .769
1988 AFC East 30-9-1 .763

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla. -- Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Bryant just echoed the sentiments of many NFC South fans, who've been saying the division gets slighted by the national media in favor of the NFC East.

"It's sickening because they look for any little thing," said Bryant, who previously played for the Dallas Cowboys. "For instance, they look for the Pacman [Jones] situation and everything with that. They try to find positives with things and negatives with things and look for anything and nitpick about it when you've got Tampa Bay over here second in the NFC and nobody's really acknowledging that."

But Bryant said that's not necessarily a bad thing.

"It's cool," Bryant said. "As the season goes along, more and more teams begin to be eliminated and their opportunity to further along their season dwindles, then we're going to have to deal with some type of attention, so all we can do is play hard, play football and continue to find ways to win games."

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

If you're looking for a common thread on why the NFC South has been so successful this season, you might want to start with sack differential. That's the difference between sacks recorded and allowed by a team and all four NFC South teams are in positive territory. Here's a look at the league rankings:

By the Numbers: Sack Differential
Rank

Team

SacksSacks allowed
Sack Differential
1.Tennessee34
8 26
2.
Dallas40
18
22
T-3.
NY Giants3615 21
T-3.
Philadelphia3918 21
T-5.Denver22
8
14
T-5.
New Orleans
2410
14
7.NY Jets
35
23
12
8.Atlanta
24
13
11
9.Indianapolis
19
12
7
T-10.
Arizona
25
19
6
T-10. Carolina
2418
6
T-10.Pittsburgh
42366
T-13.Miami
28
23
5
T-13.Tampa Bay
25
205
15.
San Diego
23
19
4
16.Baltimore
26
23
3
17.
Chicago2422
2
T-18.Cleveland
15
15
0
T-18.Minnesota
33
33
0
T-20.Green Bay
20
25-5
T-20.Seattle
26
21
-5
T-20.
Houston
20
25
-5
T-23.
Buffalo
21
28 -7
T-23.
Oakland25
32
-7
25. Jacksonville22
33
-11
26.
Washington
19
32
-13
27.
St. Louis21
37
-16
28.
New England2340-17
29.
San Francisco
22
43
-21
30.
Detroit
23
45
-22
31.
Kansas City
6
32 -26
32.
Cincinnati
1343
-30

Video: Breaking down the playoff races

December, 2, 2008
12/02/08
12:25
PM ET

Kordell Stewart and Jamal Anderson discuss the playoff races in the AFC East, NFC North, AFC North, and NFC South.

NFC South continues record home pace

December, 1, 2008
12/01/08
3:48
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

With Tampa Bay's win against New Orleans, the NFC South remains on pace to shatter the record for best combined home winning percentage by a division. The NFC South is now 22-2 in home games this season and eight home games remain. That's a .917 winning percentage. Here's a look at the best home winning percentages by a division since 1970.

Best home winning percentage since 1970
 W-L-TWinning Pct.
2003 NFC West26-6.813
1998 AFC Central25-7.781
1971 AFC West20-6-2 .769
1988 AFC East30-9-1.763

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

The NFC South remains on pace to post the best home winning percentage by a division since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Heading into this weekend, the NFC South teams are a combined 21-2. That's a .913 winning percentage.

The record for best home record by a division is 26-6 (.813) by the NFC West in 2003. The three next-best seasons were 25-7 (.781) by the AFC Central in 1988, 20-6-2 (.769) by the AFC West in 1971 and 30-9-1 (.763) by the AFC East in 1988.

The only two home losses by NFC South teams this year came when Atlanta dropped a game to Denvert in the Georgia Dome and when the Saints squandered a fourth-quarter lead in the Superdome against Minnesota.

NFC South stays on record pace

November, 16, 2008
11/16/08
7:23
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

With the Panthers and Buccaneers doing their part Sunday, the NFC South remains on a record pace when it comes to winning at home.

Although the Falcons lost in the Georgia Dome for the first time, the NFC South is a combined 19-2 at home this season. That's a .905 winning percentage.

Thanks to ESPN Stats & Analysis, here's a look at the best combined home records by a division in history:

Year Division W-L Pct

2003 NFC West 26-6 .813

1988 AFC Central 25-7 .781

1971 AFC West 20-6-2 .769

1988 AFC East 30-9-1 .763

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