- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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Let's take a look at the top headlines from around the division:
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
NBC reportedly gave strong consideration to “flexing’’ the Dec. 2 game between Tampa Bay and Denver to prime time. But the network elected to keep the game between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles. So why stick with a game that features a mediocre team (Dallas) against a horrible one (Philadelphia) when the Bucs and Broncos are very much in the playoff race? It’s simple. Dallas and Philadelphia are huge markets and audience size is the key.
Dory LeBlanc compares the start of the Greg Schiano era to the early days of former Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy. There are a lot of similarities between the two. But there also is a big difference. Schiano had his first team playing competitively right from the start and the Bucs are very much in playoff contention early in the second half of the season. Dungy’s first team started very slowly and didn’t show progress until the second half of the season while finishing 6-10.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
In his weekly film study, Mike Triplett writes that the Saints did a lot of mixing and matching and running different plays out of different formations at Oakland. That creates good matchups and the Saints had pretty close to a flawless outing Sunday. This looked like the New Orleans offense of recent years. But let’s curb the enthusiasm a bit by remembering that the Saints were playing the Raiders.
The team released kicker Justin Medlock and replaced him with Graham Gano. Oh, like it matters at this point? Medlock missed his last three field goal attempts, but the Panthers said they were looking at the long term when they chose to keep Medlock over veteran Olindo Mare in the preseason. But I don’t think anyone in Carolina is thinking about the long term right now.
D. Orlando Ledbetter writes that the Atlanta run defense has had too many missed tackles and too many missed hits in the past couple games and that the Falcons face a big challenge with Tampa Bay rookie running back Doug Martin on Sunday. But I see a common thread in recent weeks. The Falcons have been without injured outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and there are indications he could return Sunday. That could go a long way in fixing Atlanta’s run defense. Weatherspoon is arguably the best player on the Atlanta defense. Without question, he’s the leader of the defense. Just having him on the field could make a significant difference because Weatherspoon is very good at making sure everyone around him is doing what they’re supposed to do.
The Buccaneers caused a stir early in the season when their defense still was going all out even as other teams were taking a knee at the end of games. Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said the Atlanta offensive line will be prepared to play hard right up to the final whistle.