The NFC South finally found its champion during Week 16 of the 2020 NFL season. The New Orleans Saints clinched the division during the first game of the week on Christmas Day when they defeated the the Minnesota Vikings 52-33.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers clinched their first playoff berth since the 2007 season by defeating a head coach-less, starting quarterback-less Detroit Lions. As far as the bottom dwellers go, the Carolina Panthers ruined the Philadelphia Eagles season and subsequent playoff hopes, and the Atlanta Falcons lost to the Kansas City Chiefs due to a last-second missed field goal.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the NFC South during Week 16 and how we rank them going into the final week of the NFL season:
1. New Orleans Saints
New Orleans has clearly been the best team in the division this season after winning five of their first five divisional games, with Carolina the only remaining divisional game in the final week of the season. It only seemed like a matter of time before the Saints locked up the division. They clinched the division in spectacular fashion on Christmas Day as the offense laid over 50 points on the Vikings and running back Alvin Kamara rushed for six touchdowns and subsequently, into the NFL record books.
The Saints proved that they are ready not just to fight for the top seed in the NFC but also sweep the division in Week 17. New Orleans implemented unique (to their offense) schemes to their offense against the Vikings. Head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees implemented play action, heavy runs and deep shots. It was starkly different from the efficient dink-and-dunk offense the Saints have become known for. This was potentially a show-and-tell for Payton and Brees for future opposition to see what they are capable of heading into the playoffs. Week 16 was very good to the Saints.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
While the Saints were busy clinching their fourth consecutive divisional championship, the Buccaneers were busy clinching their first playoff berth since 2007. Tom Brady and his Bucs faced a depleted Detroit Lions team on Saturday that featured an interim-interim head coach and Chase Daniels in as backup after a Matthew Stafford injury early on in the game. Subsequently, Brady threw for 348 yards and 4 touchdowns in the first half and was rested for the entirety of the second half.
Just like the Saints, there is not much to takeaway from the offensive performance considering the depleted opposition they faced. What we can takeaway from Tampa Bay’s performance is that Brady seems to be getting on the same page as his receivers, and it showed in the first half. Additionally, tight end Rob Gronkowski is starting to find his rhythm and become another weapon for Brady heading into the playoffs.
The Buccaneers will face the Falcons in Week 17 as they jockey for Wild Card seeding in the playoffs.
3. Carolina Panthers
With not much to play for after being eliminated from the playoffs weeks ago, Carolina was still able to shakeup the NFC playoff picture. With a win over the Panthers in Week 16 the Washington Football Team would clinch the NFC East. Instead, the Panthers defeated the WFT to the tune 20-13, forcing the NFC East to become a wide open race in Week 17, as well helping the WFT to make the decision to cut quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
Heading into the season there was a lot hype and confidence surrounding this Carolina team. For all the things that went wrong this season for the Panthers, they went right in Week 16. While this game held little meaning for the team, they will be able to takeaway that they beat a very good defense who had everything to play for. This will bode well for the team heading into the 2021 season. They have most of the pieces they need to be competitive, but this team and coaching staff are young and lack chemistry. Week 16 of the 2020 season proved they may just be coming around.
4. Atlanta Falcons
Since their 28-3 debacle in Super Bowl 51 against the New England Patriots this team has become known for blowing leads and close games. In typical fashion, the Falcons kept it close in Week 16 against the reigning Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs. With a chance to send the game to overtime, Atlanta kicker Younghoe Koo, who has been incredibly consistent this season, missed a last second 39-yard field goal attempt. Subsequently, the Falcons lost and only improved their draft position.
In fact, had they won in Week 16 we would have likely moved them up to number three in this rankings for the sole fact that they have looked pretty good since the Week 6 firing of head coach Dan Quinn. Adding the Chiefs to their victory column would have been incredibly impressive for the team that has the talent to be successful but can’t win close margin games or keep a lead. But, until they figure out how to close out games they will remain in the basement of the NFC South.
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