Four weeks in -- 2015 NFL season -- NFC South


Carolina (4-0)

Carolina is going to win this division. And they are going to put up 12 or 13 wins while doing it.

I like the swagger they’re showing this season. It’s a confidence thing. For me, it’s a result of beating Arizona in the playoffs last year. Sure… they were 7-8-1 and a division winner hosting a playoff game. Sure… Arizona started a quarterback you don’t remember. (It was Ryan Lindley.) Look at the bigger picture.

(Really. It was Ryan Lindley.)

The 2014 Carolina Panthers were the first team in the ten-plus year history of the NFC South to win the division back-to-back years. Go ahead. Look it up. No team had won the division in consecutive seasons until Carolina in 2013 and 2014.

And… it was a playoff victory.

Cam Newton has control of the locker room and is getting great press as the team leader. Offense is scoring and defense is playing well.

The trouble is, I can’t decide which team is better, Carolina or Arizona. Probably the Panthers… and there’s your number two seed.

But I don’t see them as a strong 12 win team. They are not a dominant team. They just beat Tampa Bay 37-23, but scored 20, 24, and 27 against Jacksonville, Houston and New Orleans. Yeah… that’s good… but in the past two weeks they’ve given up 22 and 23.

Want to know why I find them difficult to judge? Jacksonville… Houston… New Orleans… Tampa Bay. Who the heck have they played? I don’t know if they match up well against a great defense. I don’t know if they can stop a great offense. As of this week, they’ve played four games and honestly haven’t faced stiff competition.

And with Seattle (struggling and not looking nearly as great this season) and Philadelphia (another team with question marks all over the place) as the next opponents, I don’t know if we’ll have a real read on Carolina any time soon.

Circle November 8th. The Panthers are hosting the Packers. That should give you an idea of where they really stand.

Atlanta (4-0)

The Falcons needed 14 points in the fourth quarter to get a comeback victory against the Giants. That one was strange… and yet, also shows the questions I have about Atlanta.

Defense is giving up over 20 a game. So while the offense is potentially explosive (Julio Jones… for my money, best receiver in the game today), if they aren’t in rhythm and struggle, this team could find themselves in trouble against teams that don’t play Jekyll and Hyde the way the Giants have so far this year.

Atlanta is a quality club. Just shy of Carolina… and could be better than Carolina. But, for now, 10 or 11 wins and a wild card team. Do not be surprised if they make it to the playoffs and advance though. Because I think they’re in that conversation with Arizona and Carolina as one of the better NFC teams right now. And in a season where so many teams are starting to look average (and a few look dreadful), potentially explosive offense works.

Tampa Bay (1-3)

I can’t think of a single nice thing to say here.

I want to. I want to say nice things. But this is just a year for playing out the string.

Shredded by Tennessee and Carolina, and beaten by Houston. Houston. They lost to Houston.

So there you go.

New Orleans (1-3)

The Saints concern me. I just haven’t seen them play well, for more than a game or two here and there, since 2013. They aren’t playing well at home. They aren’t closing out or winning games they should win.

The thing is… if Carolina or Atlanta cools off, this is the team that might be able to sneak back into the playoff mix. I doubt it. I don’t see it happening. But…

Brees is a quarterback that I think knows how to win. Didn’t show it last year. He’ll need to hold up on the field though, as obviously he’s had troubles with that this year. And those troubles find him looking to play a bit differently this season. Smarter. More veteran, if you will.

Rob Ryan really hasn’t had a truly dominant (or even scary) defense here in New Orleans, but there have been glimpses at times.

So why do I think they have a shot?

Check out this stretch to end the year… at Houston, Carolina, at Tampa Bay, Detroit, Jacksonville, and at Atlanta. Yeah… that’s right. They should go at least 4-2 to end the year. So if they can work their way to 5-5 or 6-4, there is a chance that December will provide meaningful games for the Saints.

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