In the wide-open NFC South, the defending Super Bowl champions are fighting for their playoff lives against a strong Atlanta Falcons team and a surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers team. The only thing that’s been constant is the continued ineptitude of the Carolina Panthers.
Atlanta Falcons Midseason Report (5-2)
The Falcons and Matt Ryan have been winning games to start the season, but they haven’t been blowing opponents away. They only have one win by over ten points (at home against Arizona), but they have been consistently able to pull out the wins.
Matt Ryan is quietly having a great season, throwing 12 touchdown passes to only five interceptions. Unfortunately for the Falcons, Atlanta’s pass defense is 27th in the league. Atlanta is going to need their defense to step up if they want to win what has turned out to be a surprisingly competitive NFC South.
Total Offense: 370.9 yards/game (6th)
Total Defense: 356.1 yards/game allowed (23rd)
Atlanta Falcons Midseason Grade: B+
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Midseason Report (5-2)
Last season, Tampa Bay only managed to win three games. Although the Buccaneers haven’t blown away their opponents in terms of total statistics, they have been able to capitalize on their opponents’ mistakes. The Bucs are tied for the best turnover differential in the NFC (+8).
The Buccaneers’ schedule for the 2nd half of the season could be good for the team’s playoff hopes. They play five games against teams that had a record below .500 in 2009, although one of those teams (the Seattle Seahawks) currently has a winning record in 2010.
Total Offense: 321.7 yards/game (21st)
Total Defense: 359.9 yards/game allowed (25th)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Midseason Grade: A
New Orleans Saints Midseason Report (5-3)
The defending champions haven’t looked quite like themselves for most of the season so far. Their offense has been relatively stagnant, but their defense has been playing much better than the porous crew they had last season.
The Saints’ success in the 2nd half of the season will largely depend on the health of their running backs (both Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush have missed a lot of the time due to injuries) and the play of quarterback Drew Brees. In New Orleans’ five wins, Brees has thrown for 9 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. In New Orleans’ three losses, Brees has thrown seven touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Total Offense: 365.1 yards/game (9th)
Total Defense: 287.3 yards/game allowed (3rd)
New Orleans Saints Midseason Grade: B-
Carolina Panthers Midseason Report (1-6)
The Panthers have been one of the worst teams in the league so far in 2010. They have the worst total offense in the entire NFL and also sport the worst turnover differential in the league (-10). Neither Matt Moore nor rookie Jimmy Clausen has been effective as Carolina’s starting quarterback. The team’s defense ranks in the top 5 in the NFL, but that’s partially because the offense routinely turns the ball over, giving their opponents good field position. There’s not a lot to be optimistic about concerning the Panthers’ future.
Total Offense: 251.4 yards/game (32nd)
Total Defense: 301.7 yards/game allowed (4th)
Carolina Panthers Midseason Grade: D-
NFC South 2010 Midseason Predictions
It’s tough to tell who will win the division, but it’s starting to seem likely that the NFC South will be where both NFC Wild Card teams come from. The Falcons have played the strongest of the four NFC South teams, and I think they’ll finish at 11-5 and win the tiebreaker over the Saints for the division title by winning the head-to-head matchups. The bulk of the Saints’ remaining schedule looks relatively easy, and I think they finish at 11-5 or 10-6. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will struggle against superior teams, but they should be able to scrounge up a few more wins and finish at 10-6. The Panthers, one of the weakest teams in the league, will struggle to win more than one more game and finish at 2-14.
All stats and standings from espn.com
All records and statistics are accurate through Week 8 of the 2010 NFL Season