TAMPA, Fla. — With their street win over the Indianapolis Colts final week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers improved to 8-3 and grabbed a three-game lead within the NFC South for the primary time since Week 13 within the 2007 season.
The Bucs have one remaining sport towards the Atlanta Falcons (Sunday), one towards the New Orleans Saints (Dec. 19) and two towards the Carolina Panthers (Dec. 26 and Jan. 9), however barring a meltdown, they need to clinch the division, and possibly extra, as they’re presently the No. 3 seed within the NFC and tied for the second-best document within the NFL.
“I imply it is both going to [be] you may lock it up or be in a dogfight all the best way to the tip,” coach Bruce Arians mentioned Wednesday, whereas implying that this race isn’t over.
“The Saints have had a ton of accidents. We have had some accidents additionally. However there’s nonetheless a protracted strategy to go. The Saints are a hell of a soccer staff. That protection — I will by no means cross them out. Carolina has performed good and dangerous, and Atlanta is a sport out of the playoffs. Three-game lead proper now — we have a protracted strategy to go.”
Right here’s a more in-depth take a look at what has occurred within the division, beginning with the Falcons, whom the Bucs defeated 48-25 in Week 2.
Atlanta Falcons (5-6)
The Bucs’ objective towards Atlanta is to make them one dimensional, and that begins with stopping Cordarrelle Patterson, who’s having fun with a breakout season at age 30, averaging 91.1 yards from scrimmage per sport — which is tied for twelfth within the NFL via 12 weeks.
It’s additionally limiting rookie tight finish Kyle Pitts, who has change into a focus of the Falcons’ offense since their first assembly in Week 2. His 661 receiving yards ranked third amongst tight ends via Week 12.
Quarterback Matt Ryan has thrown 5 interceptions in his previous three video games. On the season, he’s averaging simply 237.9 passing yards per sport, his lowest since 2010. Large receiver Calvin Ridley, who stepped away from the staff to deal with his psychological well being, has not returned, so that they’ve needed to lean extra closely on Russell Gage as a No. 1 receiver. He scored his first landing since Week 7 final week towards the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Defensively, they’re nonetheless struggling to disrupt the quarterback. Dante Fowler leads the staff with 3.5 sacks. Professional Bowl linebacker Deion Jones additionally missed the final sport with a shoulder harm. Cornerback A.J. Terrell has proven development from 12 months 1 to 12 months 2, however as an entire, the Falcons’ protection is giving up 27.5 factors per sport — second most within the NFL. General, they want extra items.
New Orleans Saints (5-7)
Whereas quarterback Trevor Siemian beat the Bucs in Week 8 after Jameis Winston went down with a torn ACL, he has been unable to copy that magic since, going 0-4. His substitute, Taysom Hill, had a disastrous outing towards the Dallas Cowboys throughout a Thursday Evening Soccer loss, 27-17, when he threw 4 interceptions.
Nevertheless it’s not simply the quarterback place ravaged by accidents. The Saints had been with out defensive finish Marcus Davenport, operating again Alvin Kamara, left deal with Terron Armstead and proper deal with Ryan Ramczyk on Thursday night time, along with having extensive receiver Michael Thomas and cornerback C.J. Gardner-Johnson on injured reserve.
Their protection — as soon as thought of one of many higher defenses within the league — has taken a tumble, too. Within the 4 video games heading into Thursday, they’d given up a median of 30.25 factors per sport, fifth most within the league, whereas in Weeks 1-8, they had been surrendering 18.29 factors per sport, fourth greatest. Nonetheless, they’ve had the Bucs’ quantity, even with quarterback Tom Brady, outscoring them 128-83 in 4 video games over the previous two seasons (together with the 2020 divisional playoff), which implies they’ll by no means be counted out.
Carolina Panthers (5-7)
The Panthers began off 3-0 earlier than a four-game shedding streak. They did handle to upset the staff with the perfect document (9-2) within the NFL within the Arizona Cardinals in Week 10.
Quarterback Sam Darnold went on injured reserve due to a shoulder harm after Week 9. The Panthers then began P.J. Walker towards the Cardinals, earlier than re-signing Cam Newton. Newton took over because the starter in Weeks 11 and 12, however he was then benched through the Week 12 loss to Washington after a poor begin with Walker stepping in.
Their offensive line continues to wrestle, giving up 31 sacks to date this season, tied for sixth most within the NFL. Working again Christian McCaffrey — the focus of Carolina’s offense, even with all of the velocity they’ve at extensive receiver — is out for the season with an ankle harm. The Panthers are 4-3 with him and 1-4 with out him this 12 months.
Defensively, they’re giving up 21.08 yards per sport — eighth within the league. However they did give up 198 yards on the bottom to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 6, 190 towards Washington in Week 11 and 151 to the New England Patriots in Week 9. They’ve additionally gotten to some extent the place coach Matt Rhule is benching wholesome gamers, like defensive deal with Derrick Brown, their 2020 first-round draft choose, and an irate Brian Burns blew up at teammates on the sideline towards Miami.
Cornerback Donte Jackson was additionally simply positioned on injured reserve due to a groin harm. They’re utilizing Stephon Gilmore — acquired midseason from the Patriots to assist fill the sneakers of injured first-round choose Jaycee Horn — extra, however he’s working his approach again from a quadriceps harm and has been primarily used on third downs.