The Falcons are not necessarily dead in the NFC South race. But they’re 4-3 and three games out with nine games left. The New Orleans Saints are 7-0 and seemingly have only three difficult games left on their schedule: Patriots, Cowboys, Falcons. So let’s just say something unexpected has to happen.
Other than Reggie Bush’s little slip up last week, the Saints have done a good job not overreacting to the 7-0 start and tempering the we-can-go-unbeaten talk. They have an easy reference point. The only other time they started 7-0, they went 4-5 in the final nine in 1991, and then lost in the first round of the playoffs (to the Falcons).
No, I didn’t peek. I wrote that before I saw that Drew Brees said this: “There are a lot of things we can improve on. You’ve seen teams in the past,they go through these stretches being undefeated and the pressure mounts and at the end of the season there’s self-destruction and they get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. But you know what? We are so much locked into this one-game-at-a-time [mind-set], not letting this undefeated thing get to us. It’s all about the next opponent.”
Here’s the math: The rest of the Falcons’ schedule includes road games at the Giants and Jets and home games against the Saints and Eagles. The best they probably will go is 6-3, which means a 10-6 season. New Orleans would have to go 3-6 to drop into a tie. (Let’s not get into tiebreakers just yet.) It’s possible but not probable. So just in case, here’s a look at the NFC wild-card standings. I’m listing tied teams in order of how the NFL lists them in their official standings, although, like I said, tiebreakers are too difficult to decipher at this stage.
Projected division champions: Philadelphia (East), Minnesota (North), New Orleans (South), Arizona (West).
WILD-CARD STANDINGS Dallas 5-2 N.Y. Giants 5-3 Falcons 4-3 Green Bay 4-3 Chicago 4-3 San Francisco 3-4 Carolina 3-4 Washington 2-5 Seattle 2-5 Detroit 1-6 St. Louis 1-7 Tampa Bay 0-7
OK, I lied. Let’s get into tiebreakers. The Falcons already have lost to Dallas. They have the Giants coming up soon. Head-to-head could be a factor.
So what do you think? Is the race for first place dead?
Are the Panthers waking up?
They beat Arizona, 34-21, Sunday (granted, just a week after losing to Buffalo). At 3-4, they’re not out of it. And seeing Jake Delhomme throw a touchdown pass to Steve Smith at least makes everybody in Charlotte feel nostalgic.
The Panthers entered the game with the NFL’s worst turnover differential (minus-14). They were a plus-six against Arizona (thanks to five interceptions by Kurt Warner, my Fantasy League starter). If the Panthers can play some defense, they’re not going anywhere. Why? Because they can run the ball. After running for 270 yards against Arizona, they rank fourth in league in rushing (153.3 per game).
What’s more likely: That the Saints go 16-0 or the Buccaneers go 0-16?
Tampa Bay had a bye Sunday but actually dropped in status — St. Louis and Tennessee both won, leaving the Bucs as the last winless team. Safe to say this isn’t a subject coach Raheem Morris likes discussing.
“Embarrassment would be your word,’’ Morris said. “There’s never a sense of embarrassment. The only thing we do … I’m not interested in sharing misery with anybody else in the league. I’m not interested in who else doesn’t have a win, I’m interested in getting our own win. That’s our job, that’s what we have to do. We’re responsible to go out and win every day. I’m not interested in sharing anything with the Rams, with the Titans, whoever else is. That’s not my job. Our job is to go out and get our first victory. That’s the only thing you can look at.’’