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NFC South 2017 Mid-Season Review

As a division that is consistently unpredictable but highly successful, the NFC South has had a complicated start to the 2017 season. Here’s a look at how the first half of the season has treated each team and how they can improve their chances of success in the last half.

New Orleans Saints

Mid Season Stats:

6-2 overall / 2-0 division

*6 game winning streak

1st in NFC South

The Saints are on fire right now. After losing their first two games, New Orleans has dominated their opponents throughout their last six. The most impressive wins coming against the Packers, Dolphins, and division rival Panthers. 

With Drew Brees averaging a season QB rating of 100+ and 13 TDs/4 INTs, the 38-year-old looks as youthful as ever. Management’s decisions to pick up and ultimately let go of Adrian Peterson seemed to have neatly self-corrected for both parties. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara are a much better running one-two punch for the Saints. Ingram, with 541 yards already, could be towing the line of a 1,000-yard season. 

On the other side of the ball, the Saints have surprisingly been a top ten pass defense this season with the help of rookie Marshon Lattimore. So far the Saint’s have tallied 23 sacks to their opponents eight. Seven of those sacks belonging to defensive end Cameron Jordan. New Orleans is proving for the first time since almost 2009 that they are a defensive force to be reckoned with.  

Key To Successful 2nd Half:

Using the run game to keep the pressure off of Brees will be key. Dominating performances like the week 9, 30 to 10 victory over the Buccaneers will help keep New Orleans atop this division. Maintaining the defensive front that has powered them through the last 6 games will make them contenders for the NFC title.

Carolina Panthers

Mid Season Stats:

6-3 overall / 2-1 division

2nd in NFC South

The number one question in the NFC South is,“What is wrong with Cam Newton and the Panthers?” Even if you don’t count Newton’s off the field distractions including his issues with the media and losing best friend Kelvin Benjamin as a teammate, Carolina’s in-game situation is no better.

Obviously still trying to shake off the lingering rust from shoulder surgery, Newton looks nothing like his 2015 Super Bowl condition. So far this season the Panthers have been flip-flopping between being contenders and pretenders. 

First, they couldn’t get a touchdown against the Bills, then they beat New England in Foxborough, but lost to the struggling Bears by 14 points. The inconsistency on offense is further shown by the fact that Newton is often Carolina’s leading rusher with 241 yards on the season already. That’s only second to Jonathan Stewart who as a running back only has 350 rushing yards so far. Newton was also Carolina’s leading rusher with 86 yards in the week 9 division game against the Atlanta Falcons. 

A thin receiving corps ravaged by injury and trade hasn’t left much room for a vertical, long range game. Most notably missed were the injured Greg Olsen and traded Kelvin Benjamin. Although generally ranked in the top 10, Carolina’s performance has been sub-par.

Key To Successful 2nd Half:

Despite all their faults, the Panthers are 6-3. The offensive line needs to tighten up, keep Newton in the pocket and off the top 10 most-sacked QB list. 

Getting back key players like Greg Olsen and Luke Kuechly should help shore up inconsistencies on both offense and defense. Kuechly who returned week 9 after suffering a concussion in week 6, posted a team-high 11 tackles giving life to the defense. With the loss of Kelvin Benjamin, Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey need to play at a much higher level if the Panther’s want to succeed on offense. Reviving the run game and picking up gameplay tempo can propel Carolina into the postseason. 

Atlanta Falcons

Mid Season Stats:

4-4 overall /0-1 division

3rd in NFC South

No matter what anyone says to the contrary, Matt Ryan and the Falcons are still reeling from the most traumatic loss in Super Bowl history. Although it seemed like they were putting the past behind them by winning their first three games, after losing the next 3 it was clear Kyle Shanahan’s absence is felt. 

Atlanta’s attempt at redemption against the New England Patriots was thwarted in their week 7 matchup. Even with Julio Jones finally getting his first touchdown of the season, the 23 to 7 loss put on full display the sluggishness and “can’t do” cloud that’s hanging over Atlanta.  In their first division game of the season, the Falcons let Carolina come back from a 10-point deficit. This buried any hope Atlanta may have had. 

With one of the hardest schedules of the second half, Atlanta still must face the up-trending Cowboys and the always dominate Seahawks in Seattle. 

Key To Successful 2nd Half:

The lack of production from Julio Jones, only one touchdown so far this season, has to change fast if the Falcons want to be league and division contenders. Finding the end zone and restoring the defensive front that all offenses feared just a year ago will be the key to Atlanta turning the tide and their mindset. Also, winning a few division games couldn’t hurt.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Mid Season Stats:

2-6 overall / 0-2 division

*5 game losing streak

4th in NFC South

After what looked like a promising start to the season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have arguably been the biggest disappointment in the league. 

Under-performing on offense, DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans seem to have left their skills in the preseason. Tampa’s run game is no better, consistently ranked in the bottom five in rushing yards per game this season. Running back Doug Martin is still struggling to find the same success that he had in 2015. After serving a three-game suspension to start the season, he has had plenty of touches, but no production. 

As bad as the Buccaneers offense has been this first half, the defense has been worse, ranking last place in the league in defense. 

The week 9, 30-10 division loss to the Saint’s was simply terrible. Going into this game Quarterback Jameis Winston was already struggling with a sprained AC shoulder joint sustained in week 6 and re-injured week 7 against Buffalo. Winston re-injured the shoulder and would sit out for the second half of the game. After further examination, Tampa Bay has announced Winston will miss the first start in his 3-year career. As one of the lowest performing teams in the league, the Buccaneers have a long journey to a winning record.   

Key To Successful 2nd Half:

Better defensive play of the front seven and more consistent positive plays on special teams will limit Tampa Bay’s embarrassment. Preventing negative plays such as turnovers on key drives can help to get and keep momentum in their favor. From what I’ve seen from the Buccaneers so far this season I’d recommend they also start strategizing for the draft!

Vivien Lewis

Author Vivien Lewis

Vivien Lewis is a California Bay Area native born with sports in her veins. After recently graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno, Vivien moved to Los Angeles, Ca to put her Communications degree and sports knowledge to good use.

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