Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Nation [Print without images]

Friday, October 7, 2011
Final Word: NFC South

By Pat Yasinskas

» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

Matt Ryan
The Falcons have an opportunity to avenge last season's playoff loss to the Packers in the rematch Sunday.
Playoff rematch. The Atlanta Falcons clearly haven’t been the same team as they were when they went 13-3 in the regular season last year. You can trace all their troubles back to the devastating home playoff loss to the Packers. That game weighed heavily on the minds of the coaches and players during the offseason. Maybe so heavily that the Falcons haven’t recovered. Sunday night’s rematch might be an opportunity for the Falcons to climb back on the horse and exorcise some of the ghosts from that playoff loss.

Paging Mike Williams. The Buccaneers have been starting slowly on offense and haven’t shown a lot of consistency. One way to fix that might be getting receiver Mike Williams more involved. He was clearly Tampa Bay’s No. 1 receiver as a rookie, but he’s been very quiet so far this season. The Bucs, who play at the 49ers on Sunday, say Williams is drawing more attention from defenses and there’s truth in that. But true No. 1 receivers find ways to deal with coverage. Plus, it would help if Arrelious Benn and Preston Parker show enough to take some of that coverage away from Williams.

Saints are well-grounded. On paper, the game between the Saints and Panthers looks as if it should be a shootout between Drew Brees and Cam Newton. It could be. But don’t be surprised if the Saints run the ball a lot. They had great success with the run last week, putting up 177 yards against Jacksonville. The trio of Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas is working quite nicely so far this season. It could work even better against a Carolina defense that hasn't stopped the run (31st in league, 143.8 yards per game).

Turning point? It’s obvious the Panthers are way better than they were last season. Newton has made the offense exciting, and the Panthers have lost some close games, including last week in Chicago. They’re 1-3, but you get the sense the Panthers are close to turning the corner. They have a chance to officially make that next step. Defeating the Saints would send a message to the rest of the NFL that the Panthers are for real.

Time for Big-Play Ray. Defensive end Ray Edwards hasn’t recorded a sack since signing with the Falcons in the preseason. Edwards was supposed to beef up an Atlanta pass rush that hasn’t come up with a sack in the past three games. This game is a chance for Edwards to make a statement. He’s very familiar with the Packers because he used to play for their division rival, the Minnesota Vikings. Edwards produced two-sack games in two of his past three meetings against the Packers.