The NFC South has been wacky this year, with each team determined to defy expectations. The New Orleans Saints have returned to form after being mediocre last year, but we kind of expected that kind of turnaround with Sean Payton coming back. The Buccaneers have been horrendous after being picked as a dark horse playoff team in the preseason, with internal turmoil between the players and coaching staff and seemingly infinite quarterback controversy stifling any potential the team might have had. The Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers have experienced changes as well, and those changes will play a key role in their Sunday afternoon matchup.
The Falcons’ offense was feared throughout the entirety of the NFL of last year, with offensive firepower of Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez propelling them to the top spot in the NFC. In contrast, the Panthers’ defense was above-average at best, and that’s only on a good day. The unit finished well statistically, but they repeatedly fell apart in big moments, especially the secondary. This year, however, is an entirely different story, with each respective unit heading in opposite directions. The Falcons’ offense has been unbalanced without a solid running attack from an oft-injured Steven Jackson, and the passing game has withered behind a weak offensive line.
One of the most important tenets in all of team sports is to build from the inside out, and it is no more true than in football. The Panthers have been a prime example of that principle: once they drafted Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short to address the problems with their defensive interior, the defense became one of the most dominant in football. That vaunted front seven looks to take advantage of a Falcons O-line that got dominated last week against the Cardinals. The strength of Carolina’s front seven should allow them to keep seven in box and concentrate on the passing game, doubling both White and Gonzalez. If the Panthers can contain those two players then they will win in dominant fashion.