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NFL Power Rankings 2014: Saints Improve, but Defense remains a Weakness

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With a great home win against the vaunted Green Bay Packers, New Orleans moved up in the rankings, in every category except yardage allowed. Let's take a look at how the Saints, and the rest of the NFC South, stack up to the rest of the league categorically.

We've gathered some key stats for the NFC South, to track where the New Orleans Saints and their division opponents each rank among all 32 teams in the league. This series of posts will continue throughout the season.

Current NFL Rankings: (NFC South)

Team Offense
(Yards)
Defense
(Yards)
Passing
Yards
Rushing
Yards
Offense
(Points)
Defense
(Points)
Record Point
Differential
Turnover
Differential
Saints 2 28 (↓7) 2 7 (6) 5 (↑5) 26 (2) 3-4 +11
-5
Falcons 8 (↓2) 31 (↓1) 7 (↓2) 26 (↓3) 14 (↓2) 28 (2) 2-6 -29
-1
Panthers 24 (↓4) 21 (↑6) 17 (↓5) 27 24 (↓8) 25 (4) 3-4-1 -41
+5
Buccaneers 32 (↓2) 32 28 (↓4) 29 (↓1) 27 (↓2) 32 1-6 -90
-2

For each statistical category, the extent to which each team has improved or worsened since last week is given in parenthesis. Throughout the year, this value will show the difference from the prior week's rankings.

With a win against the Packers on Sunday night, the Saints have finally broken through the point differential barrier, moving from a (-10) to a (+11) this week.  With their Week 8 losses, the other three NFC South teams continue to fall in this category.  New Orleans was also the only team to improve their turnover differential, by two, while the Buccaneers worsened theirs by the same amount during their loss in Minnesota.

While the NFC South continues to be the worst division in the league, the Saints may be turning their season around.  The division lead, meager as it may be, could change hands on Thursday night, for the first time since the Panthers took sole possession of it in Week 2.  As we're only halfway through the season, any team in the NFC South could theoretically end with a winning record; and only Tampa Bay is precluded from getting double digits in the win column this year.  But neither the Falcons nor the Buccaneers have won since September.  So the way things are going, it looks like the Panthers will be the only team with which New Orleans may have to contend for a playoff berth


Saintshelmet_medium New Orleans Saints (3-4):
This past Sunday night, Saints fans let out a collective groan, and variations thereof, as the Packers quickly exploited the New Orleans defense for a quick touchdown to start the game.  The Saints defense didn't allow another touchdown, however, until the fourth quarter.  They gave up plenty of yards; but when the secondary only had to cover an area within the red zone, they were able to prevent the Packers from getting in the end zone.

And while the New Orleans offense was able to match Green Bay point for point throughout the first two quarters, the home team really shined in the second half of the match. Scoring four touchdowns to Green Bay's one, the Saints gave the Who Dat Nation plenty to cheer about.

Sunday night's game has also given the fans hope for the season.  If the Saints can pull out a win in Carolina, especially on such a short week, prospects for the second half of the season will look as good for New Orleans as any 4-4 team could hope.  Thursday night's game isn't a must win for either team; but it may be the most significant game of the season to date, at least for any team in the NFC South.

In terms of yardage, Carolina's overall stats are very similar to those for the Packers heading into Sunday night's match.  While Green Bay currently sits at 9th in the NFL, in terms of passing yards allowed per game (at 225.8), the Panthers are 18th in the league, allowing an average 243.3 yards through the air.  And while Mark Ingram's impressive 172-yard performance helped put Green Bay's run defense at the bottom of the NFL (allowing 153.5 yds per game), Carolina's 135.3 rushing yards allowed per game puts them at No.28 in the league. What's the difference in total rushing yards allowed through eight game for those two defenses? Only 146 yards separate the two teams, so another Ingram performance like last week could leave the Panthers defense much closer to that bottom-ranked squad from Green Bay.

While the Saints opponents for Sunday night and Thursday night are not terribly far apart in terms of yards gained and allowed per game, they are further apart in the rankings when it comes to points per game.  In terms of points per game, however, the Panthers aren't nearly as impressive, on either side of the ball. While the Packers were ranked 6th and 9th in terms of points gained and allowed when they headed to New Orleans, the Panthers are currently ranked 24th and 25th, respectively.

The Saints currently have the worst pass defense in the NFL, however, so Steve Smith's move to the Ravens will be a big boon for the black and gold, at least until the Monday before Thanksgiving.

Current Panthers (3-4-1) Rankings:
Offense (Yards) - 24th; Defense (Yards) - 21st; Passing - 17th; Rushing - 27th
Offense (Points) - 24th; Defense (Points) - 25th

Falconshelmet_medium Atlanta Falcons (2-6):
After taking a 21-0 lead against the Detroit Lions in London, England, this past Sunday, the Falcons decided not to try to add another score in the final minutes before halftime, and then allowed 22 unanswered points in the second half.  As heartbreaking as the last-second Lions field goal must have been for Atlanta fans to watch, it was an unsurprising finish to an inexplicably slow, clock-stopping effort by Mike Smith to stumble his way through a four-minute drill in two minutes of game time.  After that showing, fans were emphatically calling for their coach's head, and Arthur Blank seemed to consider giving it to them.

When the Falcons return from two weeks of licking their wounds, knowing the entire NFL is mocking them, and enduring the humiliation of rival Saints fans stumping for their coach to keep his job indefinitely, they head to Tampa Bay to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  And while the rest of the NFL may not understand just how hard even the worst NFC South teams always play division opponents, that won't lessen the pain and humiliation Atlanta would feel if they drop to the subbasement of the division with the worst collective record in the league.

Current Bucs (1-6) Rankings:
Offense (Yards) - 32nd; Defense (Yards) - 32nd; Passing - 28th; Rushing - 29th
Offense (Points) - 27th; Defense (Points) - 32nd

Panthershelmet_medium Carolina Panthers (3-4-1):
After getting beaten at home by the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday afternoon, the Panthers host the Saints on Thursday night.  The silver lining for Carolina is that they will be playing at home, and they will will do so with about eight more hours of rest and recovery than the team who will be trying to take the division lead from them.  And while New Orleans has a more potent offense, their defense isn't as strong as Seattle's.  Especially without the Superdome crowd backing them up and giving the opposing offense fits.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said this week that having Roman Harper's experience with the Saints offense, and defense, has helped them prepare for this week's match.  Hopefully the Saints will be able to exploit Harper in turn, rather than add to the three interceptions he has already nabbed this year.  Regardless of the stats, though, these two teams can be expected to attack each other hard, especially with the division lead hanging in the balance.  If New Orleans can follow last week's victory with a significant victory on the road, things should definitely be looking up for the Who Dat Nation.

Current Saints (3-4) Rankings:
Offense (Yards) - 2nd; Defense (Yards) - 28th; Passing - 2nd; Rushing - 7th
Offense (Points) - 5th; Defense (Points) - 26th

Bucshelmet_medium Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-6):
Against a defense which was ranked 14th in the league going into the weekend, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers managed to fall another two ranks to land as the worst offense in the NFL, in terms of yardage gained.  In fact, the above table shows the Buccaneers falling through every category in which they are not already the worst team in the league.

Following this past weekend's loss at home, the Bucs travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns.  Cleveland's ground game is comparable to Tampa Bay's last opponent, but Brian Hoyer has been leading a passing game which is much more formidable than Minnesota's.  So, considering that Lovie Smith's current pass defense is worse than his run defense, the Buccaneers will likely improve their position in next year's draft even further this weekend.

Current Browns (4-3) Rankings:
Offense (Yards) - 12th; Defense (Yards) - 29th; Passing - 18th; Rushing - 12th
Offense (Points) - 16th; Defense (Points) - 13th

Lagniappe: The Best and the Worst in the NFL

Who currently holds the best and worst ranks in the NFL in each category?


Best
(Current #1 Rank)


Worst
(Current #32 Rank)


Offense

(Points)


Denver Broncos
Last Week: Broncos
Jacksonville Jaguars
Last week: Jaguars

Offense

(Points)

Defense

(Points)

Detroit Lions
Last week: Lions
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last week: Buccaneers

Defense

(Points)

Offense

(Yards)

Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: Colts
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (↓2)
Last week: Raiders

Offense

(Yards)

Defense

(Yards)

Detroit Lions
Last week:Lions
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last week: Buccaneers

Defense

(Yards)

Passing

(Yards)

Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: Colts
New York Jets (↓1)
Last week: Vikings

Passing

(Yards)

Rushing

(Yards)

Dallas Cowboys
Last week: Cowboys
Oakland Raiders
Last week: Raiders

Rushing

(Yards)

.