NFC South Preview: Atlanta vs. Arizona, Tampa Bay vs. Carolina

Last week, the New Orleans Saints (4-5) disrupted the Atlanta Falcons (8-1) ride to an undefeated season with a 31-27 win. This week, the Falcons will need to regroup as take on the Arizona Cardinals (4-5); they have lost five consecutive games.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one of this season’s surprises with its new coach and players. At 5-4, they sit in the second spot for the division and they’ll play the Carolina Panthers (2-7) who are having a disappointing year.

The third division game is the Saints (-5) vs. the Oakland Raiders (3-6).

Atlanta vs. Arizona

Falcons QB Matt Ryan

The Falcons held onto their undefeated season until Week 10, which was impressive. They are tied with the Houston Texans for the NFL’s best record and until there’s a Super Bowl win, this team may not be happy.

A loss was likely to happen sooner than later as many of its wins had been close ones. On Sunday, they should be able to get back on the win train but they do have some problems.

The team sits at No. 20 for giving up 365.6 yards per game. They will need to improve and this week may provide a good opportunity as the Cardinals are No. 31 for total offense at 295.4 yards per game with 16.0 points.

It’s worse for the running game: the Cardinals sit at the bottom with 76.2 yards per game.

Arizona will need to shake things up as well and this week coach Ken Whisenhunt said he may make some changes in his lineup.

The Falcons have been hit with the injury bug and its sophomore wide receiver Julio Jones (ankle) didn’t practice the entire week. If he doesn’t play look for Harry Douglas, Drew Davis or Tim Toone to see some action. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (ankle) was also absent from practice but has already missed two consecutive games; he is questionable.

Running back Michael Turner (groin) is questionable but did have limited practice on Friday.

The bettors see Arizona continuing its loss streak with the Falcons at -9 and a 44 over/under.

Tampa Bay vs. Carolina

Bucs RB Doug Martin

In the teams’ first meeting this season, the Bucs won 16-10 and with a second win, they could advance their win streak to four.

Quarterback Josh Freeman has improved throughout the season. Last week in the 34-24 win against the San Diego Chargers, he was 14 for 20,  210 yards and two touchdowns. In the team’s last four wins, it has averaged 37.5 points with a minimum of 28 points for a franchise-record five straight games.

Perhaps one of the team’s biggest storylines is its rookie running back Doug Martin. In his first game against Carolina, he had 24 carries for 95 yards but his performances have improved. Martin is now 138 yards shy of being Bucs player No. 11 to have 1,000 rushing yards and No. 4 as a rookie to do so.

For the Panthers, the have have lost their last six of seven games and after their recent loss against the Denver Broncos, the team fired special teams coordinator Brian Murphy on Monday. Last month, the Panthers gave its general manager Marty Hurney his walking papers.

Sophomore quarterback Cam Newton is having a rough season after a phenomenal rookie year. Last week he had two passing touchdowns–only the second time this season–but he also had two picks. This has been a problem for Newton as he’s had five in the last four games.

In five of their games, the Panthers have had 14 or less points.

Running back Vincent Jackson has been a good offensive weapon with his 769 yards and six touchdowns but there’s not a lot of bright spots for this team.  If they continue down this losing path, coach Ron Rivera could see his job come to an end.

The bettors see a close one this week at -1 for Tampa with 48 over/under.


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