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NFC South Report: Saints still on top, Panthers right behind with a backup QB story of their own.

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A weekly look into the rumblings inside the rest of the NFC south

NFL: OCT 13 Saints at Jaguars Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints are looking to strengthen their grip on top of the NFC South fresh off of a victory in Jacksonville. As they prepare for another stiff road test against the Chicago Bears, we take a look around the division to see how the rest of the south is shaping up.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Record: 2-4

What’s going right: Chris Godwin

Carolina Panthers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

When the Buccaneers hired Bruce Arians there were several initial predictions about what his presence would do for a Bucs offense loaded with talent but needing maturity and consistency. But the biggest prediction involved former 2017 third round pick Chris Godwin, who Arians immediately spoke highly of as Godwin would transfer to playing heavy snaps out of the slot.

Some immediately remembered how much Arizona Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald thrived in that role, having some of his best years under Arians. We’re still too young in the season to determine if Godwin can duplicate a season similar to Fitz, but six weeks in he’s off to a roaring start.

Godwin added to his breakout season Sunday against the Carolina Panthers in London catching ten receptions for 151 yards. If you’ve seen Tampa Bay play it’s hard to formulate a reason Godwin won’t continue playing a high level even next to Mike Evans. Opportunity is one of the biggest reasons, and that leads us to our next subject.

What’s going wrong: The defense

NFL International Series-Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This could easily be a long soliloquy regarding Jameis Winston, but the Bucs problems extend way further than Winston’s turnover habits.

Teddy Bridgewater had the best game of his career against the Buccaneers two weeks ago. While everyone was right to applaud Teddy, the Buccaneers defense provided quite the helping hand.

They didn’t stop with the donations against Carolina. While Tampa continues to be stout against the run with a terrific blend of run stuffers along the defensive line, and speed at linebacker, their secondary leaves a ton to be desired.

Tampa ranks dead last in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game at 304.5 and with an extremely young secondary, not too many breaks appear to be on the horizon. They will try to get things patched up as they’re on a bye for week 7 as they prepare for a trip to Tennessee and week 8 matchup against the Titans.

Carolina Panthers:

Record: 1-5

What’s going right: Kyle Allen

NFL International Series-Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

They’re 4-2 and seemingly find new ways to win every week led by their resurgent defense and MVP candidate running back Christian McCaffrey. But the real story here is backup quarterback and undrafted sensation Kyle Allen.

The Panthers moved to 4-0 Sunday under Allen as the second pro continues to play win, play well, and take extremely good care of the football.

Allen’s play and Carolina being in the thick of things throughout the NFC has brings comparisons of Marc Bulger, Kurt Warner, and maybe even Tom Brady if you want to go there. The issue at hand is, all of those quarterbacks replaced good/great veterans, which is never easy and can go either one or two ways.

What’s going wrong: Quarterback controversy?

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It’s difficult to complain about anything involving Carolina right now, you could point to the workload of McCaffrey, or the offensive line if you truly want to find potential flaws. The real headache however hasn’t arrived yet, and could depending on the health of a former MVP’s foot.

Cam Newton is no stranger to criticism, controversy, being doubted. But he arguably finds himself there again, a situation which could have huge ramifications on the Panthers season.

As Allen has continued to play, well the subject of Newton as a winner has come into conversation, some question if the Panthers could be better without him.

A Panthers team without Newton however, just doesn’t seem right. Newton was on his best season in 2018 as a passer while healthy. A shoulder injury soon limited Newton and we never saw the same quarterback. Injuries continued to haunt Cam to start this season as the three time pro-bowler suffered a foot injury in the preseason.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers
Could we have seen the last days of Cam Newton in Carolina?
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

A quarterback controversy can divide a locker room while being a huge distraction, but Newton’s resume deserves his place leading Carolina when healthy even if head coach Ron Rivera is tight lipped on what his decision could be.

If Newton doesn’t return to form, that’s when the true frustrations could set in, as one loss in the NFC can shift the entire landscape in a congested playoff race.

Newton is expected back practicing next week after Carolina’s bye week, what happens next is anybody’s guess.

Atlanta Falcons

Record: 1-5

What’s going right: The offense

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the offense looks dangerous again. The Falcons were firing on all cylinders against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday as their run game, intermediate, and deep passing game were all on display. We saw Devonta Freeman and Austin Hooper have their best games of the season.

Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones joined them with additional solid performances completing the best evening of Matt Ryan’s season. We must take into account the opponent, and the struggles Arizona possess defensively, but there’s argument when the Falcons are clicking like they were Sunday, the matchup matters it’s least.

If their offense can continue to perform they’ll have a chance at competing with anyone. But unfortunately, football is a two side game, it takes more than even the strongest of offenses, to win games.

What’s going wrong: They’re experiencing the innocent bystanders of a bad defense.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Due to the rules of rivalry it’s never not a good time to sulk in the failures of the Falcons. But as you look deeper into Atlanta, they’re going through something Saints fans can relate to. Yes, the Falcons finally have something in common with the Saints.

It makes sense, in non playoff years during the Payton/Brees era, the Saints looked how Atlanta does now. Injuries, lack of talent, and questionable fits plagued New Orleans in their years of struggle, and it’s precisely what Atlanta is journeying through presently.

The pressures of a underperforming defense reflect everywhere. They cause offenses to press and gamble, coaches second guess themselves more, and we get uncharacteristic failures from those we never expected.

The Falcons will look to dig any hope left out of disappointing season as the Los Angeles Rams and the newly acquired Jalen Ramsey come to town in week 7.