Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
I was going to start this by saying this is the biggest regular-season weekend in NFC South history. But I think that goes without saying.
To one degree or another, all four teams will be putting their season on the line. Tampa Bay and Carolina will play Monday night for first place in the division and, perhaps, the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Atlanta travels to New Orleans on Sunday and the Falcons are only one win behind the Panthers and Buccaneers. Even the 6-6 Saints remain in it. New Orleans must win four straight to have a shot at the playoffs. Lose to the Falcons and the Saints are done.
The moral victory that was the early part of the Falcons' season is over. It was a nice story to see those cute little Falcons, who are so young and were so bad last year, go out and win a few games. But the story's gone way beyond that now.
The Falcons have eight wins and they are pretty much guaranteed a ninth with a season-ending game against St. Louis. You do the math, but 10-6 usually is good enough to get you into the playoffs. The Falcons basically have to win one of their next three games to get into the tournament.
But it's not about getting into the playoffs anymore; the Falcons have a chance to exceed that. They're close on the heels of the Panthers and Buccaneers and one of those teams is going to lose Monday night.
Win against the Saints and the Falcons keep their worst-to-first hopes alive in the NFC South. And they've got Tampa Bay coming to the Georgia Dome next week.
We've already established this as the biggest weekend in NFC South history. Let's go one step beyond that and declare this the biggest game in NFC South history. Two teams with 9-3 records and some pretty good history meeting on a national stage on a chilly Monday night.
If this one lives up to the hype, they won't be able to call the NFC South the "NASCAR Division'' any longer because the phrase "best division in the league'' might get in the way.
There's been a lot of talk about the possibility of the NFC South sending three teams to the playoffs. That would be nice. But the winner of this game is going to have an open door to the division title and probably the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
That'll get you a week off and a home game and put you a step or two ahead of the teams that go in as wild cards.