Audibles: NFC South Week 16 preview

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

New Orleans Saints (7-7) at Detroit Lions (0-14), 1 p.m. ET

At this point, the Saints are playing for pride. After all they've been through, with injuries and inconsistency, they still have a shot at a winning season.

They also have a shot at getting embarrassed. That's what losing to the winless Lions would amount to. It's unlikely because the Lions are as bad as advertised, but that's what makes it scary for New Orleans.

The Saints have shown a unique ability to play at the same level as their competition, which has the potential to make this game truly ugly. The best thing -- really, the only thing -- the Saints have going for them is quarterback Drew Brees.

He still has a shot at a 5,000-yard passing season. The Saints haven't been consistent all year, so they might as well go into Ford Field and turn Brees loose.

San Diego Chargers (6-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-5), 1 p.m. ET

A couple of weeks ago, the Bucs were in control of the NFC South and seemed destined for at least the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Now, they're scrambling just to get a wild-card berth.

Two straight losses have shown the Bucs have lots of problems. Their run defense fell apart against the Falcons and Panthers and, now, they've got LaDainian Tomlinson coming to town. The good news is the Bucs appear to be getting healthier on the defensive line.

But this is a team at a crossroads. Win this one and next week's game at home with Oakland and the Bucs will head to the playoffs with momentum. Lose this one or the next and they might not even be going to the playoffs.

Atlanta Falcons (9-5) at Minnesota Vikings (9-5), 4:15 p.m. ET

The Falcons need a little help -- like Tampa Bay or Dallas stumbling -- to get to the playoffs. But there's not much the Falcons can do about that. They just have to take care of their own business against a Minnesota team that has a lot to play for.

With a home game next week against St. Louis, the Falcons are pretty much guaranteed a 10-win season, but they want to make it 11. Rookie quarterback Matt Ryan didn't have his best game last week, but the Falcons still were able to win against Tampa Bay.

They'll need a big performance out of Ryan this week because the Minnesota defense is No. 1 in the league against the run and running back Michael Turner might have a tough time putting up big numbers.

Carolina Panthers (11-3) at New York Giants (11-3), 8:15 p.m. ET Sunday

Essentially, this is a playoff game because the winner gets the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the NFC.

That should provide plenty of incentive for a Carolina team that seems to be peaking at the right time. For the last month or so, the Panthers have been playing the best they have since their 2003 Super Bowl season. The offensive line and the running game are clicking.

But the Giants may try to load up on the running game and put the game in the hands of Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme. That might not be a bad idea because Delhomme has had some shaky games this season.

But there's one huge downside to putting all your effort into stopping Carolina's running game: leaving wide receiver Steve Smith without enough defensive attention. Delhomme always has shown the ability to get Smith the ball in big games.

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