NFC South Preview: Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints vs. New York Giants
In Week 14, it’s a packed Sunday for the NFC South. The NFC-best Atlanta Falcons (11-1) will play the Carolina Panthers (3-9). After already grabbing the NFC South division, the Falcons will continue their march toward the conference’s No. 1 seed and a sixth straight win over the Panthers.
The New Orleans Saints (5-7) will travel to play the New York Giants (7-5). Both teams are frantically trying to make the playoffs. With a loss for the Saints, they’ll see their postseason hopes pretty much come to an end while a Giants’ loss will end their NFC East lead.
Game No. 3 has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6) hosting the lowly Philadelphia Eagles (3-9). I’m not sure what type of magic the Eagles can bring on Sunday for a win to end their eight-game skid. The bettors don’t know either and give the nod to Tampa Bay (-7 with 48 over/under).
Falcons vs. Panthers
For these two teams, their seasons have gone in opposite directions under talented quarterbacks: Matt Ryan has led his team to one of its best seasons in franchise history with an eye on a long-awaited Super Bowl while the Panthers have suffered from a Cam Newton sophomore slump, coaching changes and frustration.
In last week’s 23-13 win against the Saints, Ryan had an unusual off week after four straight weeks of 400-yard games. He went 18 for 33 passes, a season-low 165 yards and one touchdown. His offense still sits as No. 7 in the NFL for scoring with its 26.4 points but his defense showed up for the Saints win with five Brees interceptions.
The Falcons own the Panthers with their five consecutive wins. This has included 11 Ryan touchdowns and two picks (103.9 passer rating) while running back Michael Turner has averaged 99.4 rushing yards and seven total touchdowns, reported ESPN.
For the Panthers, defensive end Greg Hardy trash talked this week that his team is better than the Falcons but sitting at the bottom of the division implies a different story.
Newton has improved lately and last week, he had 232 passing yards, a season-high three touchdowns and 78 yards on the ground. In his last three games, he’s had no picks and eight total scores (two running).
But his defense needs to improve as they’ve allowed 30 points during this time.
As for Sunday’s game, look for a Falcons win No. 6 (-3 with 48 over/under).
Saints vs. Giants
The Saints have faced a lot of challenges this season and after a three-game November win streak, it appeared they were turning things around. But with a third consecutive loss this week, they’ll see their season approaching its end.
Brees has still managed to have a great season sans the last two weeks. Against the San Francisco 49ers, he had two pick 6s and in the following week, he had a career-high five interceptions and clock mismanagement that resulted in a loss of points.
The quarterback said of his recent play via ESPN, “I understand the importance of taking care of the football. Certainly the last two weeks there have been an inordinate amount of turnovers. That’s something that can’t happen and something I have to fix.”
Fortunately for Brees, he plays well against the Giants. He has 1,055 passing yards (68.5 percent), 11 touchdowns, no interceptions, one sack over four winning games.
Opposing quarterback Eli Manning needs some consistency. In his last seven games, three of Manning’s six touchdown passes came in Week 12’s 38-10 win over Green Bay. Next up was last week’s 4-yard touchdown pass toss to Martellus Bennett.
Manning will look to wide receiver Hakeem Nicks to have a good game along with Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle.
The Giants defense will also need to step up as it has allowed opponents in its last four games to convert 45.7 percent of third downs and endured no sacks in their last two of three games.
One team will get a reality check on their season Sunday afternoon and it will be the Saints as the Giants get the win (-5 with 53 over/under).