As the NFL season kicks off tonight (FINALLY), it’s time for my annual NFC South season preview, guaranteed to be as wrong as you can get! (Yes, last year I had the Panthers going 7-9 and the Saints winning the division…oops)
It’s been a long, long road – 214 days, actually – since we saw our last real NFL action. You all remember, right? Von Miller made Cam Newton look like a pedestrian who accidentally wandered on to the biggest stage in all of sports, then we watched Newton act like a petulant child in the post game press conference. Meanwhile, Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset a two time Super Bowl champion, leaving the Denver Broncos in a state of quarterback confusion.
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Man…those were some good times.
Carolina’s second Super Bowl failure ensured that the Saints and Buccaneers remained the only NFC South teams with Super Bowl rings, while the Panthers and Falcons have combined to go 0-3 in the big game.
But what is in store for this division this year? When I sat down to do mu predictions, I noticed an uncomfortable trend – I was giving teams more wins than I thought they will, or should, have. Meanwhile, finding it very difficult to find one team in particular any wins at all.
All we know is based off of last season as well as preseason this year. It never fails. You think you know how a team will do because they were this good or bad last year, addressed this or that problem to help, and are supposed to build off recent success.
It never works that way, though, does it?
Prediction pieces are fun to do, fun to read, fun to debate, but in the end are a complete crap shoot. I mean, they play the games for a reason, right? If everyone predicted the Steelers and Cardinals to play in the Super Bowl, they wouldn’t cancel the season. Any given Sunday, you play to win the game, etc.
All that being said, here is my week by week predictions for the entire NFC South…
Feb 7, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller (58) forces a fumble as he hits Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Carolina Panthers at Denver Broncos
Ah yes, the official kickoff to the NFL season could only be the Super Bowl rematch from 214 days previous. This time, it’s a bit different. No Manning or Osweiler. Instead, Trevor Siemian takes the snaps for Denver. The Broncos’ defense will remain strong, but Carolina’s is no slouch. Cam may be slowed down, but not enough for Siemian to overcome Luke Kuechly and company. Panthers start strong in 2016.
Panthers 24 Broncos 13
Oakland Raiders at New Orleans Saints
Things don’t get much louder in professional sports than they do in New Orleans. Unfortunately, the crowd will be kept pretty quiet by AC/DC and Latavius Murray. Derek Carr and Amari Cooper may wind up being one of the best one-two punches in the NFL before too long and the Saints’ defense is still atrocious, allowing Oakland to spoil the home opener for Drew Brees and the Saints.
The return of Mike Smith to the “dirty south” will be fun to say the least. Well, fun for Buccaneers fans, that is. Atlanta started off hot last season but we’ve seen a steady regression from quarterback Matt Ryan over the past few seasons. “Matty Ice” has gone from being one of the best young quarterbacks in the league to “freezing” at the biggest moments. His 57% completion percentage in the red zone is alarming and it better get fixed, or the Falcons are in for a long season. Jameis Winston and Mike Evans start off strong in this one, erasing that bitter season opener they had a year ago.
Nov 1, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) reacts after throwing his seventh touchdown pass of the game during the fourth quarter against the New York Giants at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Giants 52-49. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
New Orleans Saints at New York Giants
In a game that sorely lacked defense in 2015, the Saints squeaked out a 52-49 victory over the New York Giants. This time, the game is in the Meadowlands and likely won’t be reminiscent to that of a college game. The Giants are under new leadership and are looking to content in a wide open NFC East. With Tony Romo going down, the Eagles rolling with Carson Wentz, and the Redskins likely unable to replicate last season’s surprise success, the Giants should feel like the division is theirs to lose. In order to not lose it, these are the games they have to win. Eli and OBJ do their thing and the defense does enough to send the Saints home at 0-2.
Giants 28 Saints 20
San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers
We’re not going to dive in to what a dumpster fire the entire 49ers organization is right now. All you need to know is that they’re really, really bad. From Firing Harbaugh to bringing in Chip Kelly to the quarterback issues (both in terms of play and controversy), this team is a mess. Flying coast to coast isn’t going to help. Cam and the Panthers’ defense are fantasy owners’ dreams this week.
Panthers 31 49ers 10
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Arizona Cardinals
The team that made it to the NFC Championship last season will show no signs of slowing up this year. The first true test for this Buccaneers team under Koetter and Smith, well, won’t go well. Facing a team of Arizona’s caliber on the road so soon into the season is not a favorable matchup and the Bucs are gonna struggle in this one.
Cardinals 31 Buccaneers 20
Atlanta Falcons at Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders face NFC South teams in back to back weeks to open the season. Lucky for them, the results are the same. The Falcons don’t have the fire power to keep up with Oakland in the black hole. Although Julio Jones is an elite talent, the rest of the team won’t be good enough to showcase him properly. Oakland cruises.
Jan 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) runs against New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) during the second half at the Georgia Dome. The Saints defeated the Falcons 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers
Wow…what a mess the Vikings became so quickly. They shipped a first and conditional fourth round pick to the Eagles for Sam Bradford, which has panned out so well for the other teams that wasted their time on him, right? Fortunately for Minnesota, they still have Adrian Peterson, who could go down as the greatest running back of all time. Unfortunately for the Vikings, all they have is Adrian Peterson and the Panthers’ defense is going to stack ten in the box and stop him at all costs. It’ll work.
Panthers 24 Vikings 14
Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jeff Fisher is not a good coach. The quarterback is a mess. The only redeeming value of the offense is Todd Gurley o later, rinse, repeat on the Panthers/Vikings game. The Bucs will stack the box to stop Gurley and force the Rams’ quarterback du jour to beat them. Throw in a cross-country trip for the Rams and it’s a recipe for disaster. Yes, the Rams whooped up on the Bucs last season in their Thursday night matchup (I was so disgusted after the opening second half possession, I opted to go see Star Wars instead), but that was a Bucs team with no defensive direction, no Vincent Jackson, and starting a rapid season ending decline. Times have changed and this time, it’s the Bucs doing the whooping.
Buccaneers 28 Rams 7
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints (MNF)
In a prime time showcase, the country will be exposed to exactly how bad the Falcons truly are. The Saints are hard enough to beat at home – not as hard as they were a few years ago, but the Dome is still not an easy place to play in – and the Falcons don’t have the talent or leadership to keep up with Brees and the boys in the bayou.
Dec 27, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) carries the ball after a catch pursued by Carolina Panthers free safety Kurt Coleman (20) in the third quarter at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons
In a game that turned into the biggest spoiler of the 2015 NFL season, the Atlanta Falcons are looking to replicate their success from the last divisional matchup between these two in the Georgia Dome. Spoiler alert: not gonna happen. The defense can’t stop Carolina’s offense and the Panthers’ defense hits Ryan early and often, keeping him uncomfortable the entire game. It’s a cake walk for the defending South champs.
Panthers 30 Falcons 13
Denver Broncos at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Y’know, when the schedule was released, this game seemed like a loss. No, Mark Sanchez is no Peyton Manning – or even Brock Osweiler – but he is competent enough to not screw the offense up so much that the defense can’t win games. Now, with Sanchez gone, the Broncos are looking at a rebuilding season as Paxton Lynch gets ready. It’s not going to be pretty, but the Buccaneers find a way to squeak out a win. I don’t expect Siemian to lead the Broncos on any touchdown drives, but won’t be the least bit surprised to see Denver get the ball from Winston, who has turnover problems when trying to force big plays.
Buccaneers 17 Broncos 13
New Orleans Saints at San Diego Chargers
Going east to west is no easy task, but it is a little easier than west to east. San Diego might be one of the few teams in the NFL worse than the Atlanta Falcons. It won’t matter that they’re home, the Chargers’ defense is atrocious. Brees is going to take it up an extra notch – as he tends to do against San Diego – and make them remember how big of a mistake they made.
Jan 3, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) is tackled by Carolina Panthers linebacker Ben Jacobs (53) in the fourth quarter. The Panthers defeated the Buccaneers 38-10 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Week Five (New Orleans Saints Bye Week)
Atlanta Falcons at Denver Broncos
With issues still at quarterback for Denver, the Falcons are able to find a way to get one in the win column. The offense is able to remain almost mistake free and the defense capitalizes on Siemian’s mistakes to earn their first win of the NFL season.
Falcons 24 Broncos 20
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers (MNF)
The biggest test of the season for the Bucs pits them against a team they haven’t beaten since November 18, 2012. Yes, the Panthers have won six straight since Dallas Clark‘s game winning touchdown in overtime and lead the head-to-head series 20-11. For some reason, no matter how good or bad either team is, the Panthers seem to have Tampa’s number. One thing we know, though, is Jameis shines brightest when the stage is the biggest. This won’t be another beat down by the Panthers. No. It’ll come down to the leg of the second round pick out of Florida State in the closing seconds. Big upset in Charlotte on national television.
Dec 6, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) shakes hands with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) after their game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Panthers defeated the Saints 41-38. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Week Six (Tampa Bay Buccaneers Bye Week)
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
Coming off a short week and a heartbreaking loss, the Panthers come out flat in this one. Not a great place – or opponent – to do that with. The Saints strike early and often, using their speed to expose the sluggish Panthers defense still reeling off a Monday night loss. The Panthers fight back, but it’s too little too late.
Saints 30 Panthers 28
Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks
Atlanta to Denver to Atlanta to Seattle. The NFL schedule makers are not Falcons fans. They surprised the Broncos, but the Seahawks prove which bird is superior – and it’s not even close. The vaunted Seahawks defense tees off on Matt Ryan all day long and the Falcons can’t get anything going at all during a long, long afternoon.
Aug 31, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) and quarterback Jameis Winston (3) work out in the rain prior to the game during the Tropical Storm Hermine against the Washington Redskins at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Week Seven (Carolina Panthers Bye Week)
New Orleans Saints at Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs look like the team that can very well come out of the AFC West as champions this year and Arrowhead is easily one of the toughest places to play in the NFL. The Chiefs’ defense will be able to keep Brees and the offense at bay, while doing just enough offensively to get the job done. Not a high octane offense in Kansas City, but one that compliments their top-five defense well enough to make them contenders.
Chiefs 17 Saints 14
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at San Francisco 49ers
Flying from east to west coast is never an easy task, but the 49ers are such a bad team that the flight doesn’t affect the Buccaneers too much. The 49ers are a team with no direction and no leadership – including from the coaching staff. Bucs win this one easily.
Buccaneers 20 49ers 3
San Diego Chargers at Atlanta Falcons
The Chargers are outmatched in a big way in this one. As many shortcomings as the Falcons have, Phillip Rivers will be suffering this season because of the horrendous defense in San Diego. Matt Ryan and Julio are clicking in this one while this marks one of Freeman’s better games of the season. The dirty birds roll in the dirty south.
Jan 24, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) is brought down by Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) and defensive back Cortland Finnegan (26) during the third quarter in the NFC Championship football game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Oakland Raiders at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In a showdown of what could be the future faces of the NFL, we have Derek Carr and Amari Cooper facing off against Jameis Winston and Mike Evans. These very well could be the two best one-two punches in the league for the next five-plus years. It’s a back and forth game that ends up coming down to the wire. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, it’s not the kicker they took high in the draft with the chance to win it – it’s one taken even higher by the Raiders.
Raiders 23 Buccaneers 21
Seattle Seahawks at New Orleans Saints
The first of two trip by the Seahawks to the homes of NFC South teams, the Hawks enter the stadium that put the most fear into opponent’s hearts until the rise of the “12th Man”. For Seattle, it’s easy pickings. The Saints defense can’t hold up the way Seattle’s does, allowing the Seahawks to steal a big rod win.
Seahawks 27 Saints 17
Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons
You know those weeks where you pick up every player from one team off your fantasy waiver wire to play the matchup? This is that game. Get all the Packers. It’ll be a blowout in the Georgia Dome where Aaron Rodgers puts on a clinic for the Falcons’ faithful in attendance and there is a possibility we won’t see the Packers punt once. Falcons are just relieved when this one hits zero.
Packers 41 Falcons 14
Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers
In a rematch of the teams who fought to represent the NFC in Super Bowl 50, the Cardinals again make the trip to Charlotte to take on the Panthers. Carson Palmer – who will be having an MVP caliber season to this point – will have flashbacks to January 24th where he completes as many passes to the Panthers as he does his own receivers. The Panthers get him on the ground early and often, taking Palmer out of his own game and making him look foolish all afternoon. Panther cruise to get back on track.
Dec 6, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) celebrates as he scores the game winning touchdown during the second half against the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay defeated Atlanta 23-19. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (TNF)
In a game where former Buccaneers star John Lynch will be enshrined in the Ring of Honor, the Buccaneers are looking for a little retribution for these teams’ last meeting on Thursday Night Football. You remember – the 56-14 drubbing of the Bucs at the hands of the Falcons. The team will be hyped, the stadium will be filled, and emotions will be high. The Bucs start fast and the Falcons never recover. Another Thursday night snooze-fest…for people who aren’t Bucs fans, anyway.
Buccaneers 34 Falcons 13
New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers
The Chargers will be bad this season, but they still won’t be the worst team in California. That distinction will go to the Niners. New Orleans has no issues with the travel or time change as they put it on San Francisco early. The Niners stage a comeback, but it’s not enough.
Saints 28 49ers 24
Carolina Panthers at Los Angeles Rams
The East/West road trips continue, but the Rams pose no threat to the defending NFC champs. The Panthers start off sluggish, but have more than enough talent to overcome a weak Rams team in LA. It won’t be pretty, but Kuechly and the defense shut down Gurley for the majority of the day, allowing Cam and Greg Olsen to connect for a few scores.
Sep 14, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) catches a pass past Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Byron Maxwell (31) in the fourth quarter at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Denver Broncos at New Orleans Saints
By this point in time, I fully expect Paxton Lynch to be the Broncos’ quarterback, but that isn’t going to go without some growing pains. Facing New Orleans in New Orleans is no easy task for a rookie. The Saints will continue to find a way to overcome their poor defense and win games – putting them firm in the conversation as a surprise team in 2016. We all know what Brees can do, but the defense plays much better than people expected. They aren’t elite by any means, but serviceable and not the detriment many believed they would be. Saints coast at home.
Saints 23 Broncos 14
Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles
The offense shines for the Falcons in this one, looking like the team that was contending in the NFC just a few short years ago. The Eagles are going to be a mess with Carson Wentz at quarterback while being in full rebuild mode. The Falcons feast on the Eagles in the city of brotherly love during the rough first season under new head coach Doug Pederson.
Falcons 34 Eagles 13
Kansas City Chiefs at Carolina Panthers
The Chiefs defense will be cementing their place as one of the best in the NFL and going into Bank of America stadium and shutting Cam Newton and the Panthers down will be no small task. But the Chiefs find a way to make it look easy. The Chiefs get after Cam in a way reminiscent of the Broncos in Super Bowl 50, causing him to become extremely uncomfortable and taking him out of the game plan early. Chiefs get a big time win on the road.
Chiefs 17 Panthers 13
Chicago Bears at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Lovie Smith found a way to go 0-2 against his former team while in Tampa, despite the Bears being a bad team during those seasons. Jay Cutler will be, well, Jay Cutler. He will make some dazzling throws creating big plays, then he’ll turn around and make awful mistakes that make you scratch your head. That’s what Cutler does. Doug Martin runs wild through the Bears’ front seven and is easily the player of the game in this one.
Sep 27, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart (28) runs the ball during the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium. Carolina defeated the Saints 27-22. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Week Eleven (Atlanta Falcons Bye Week)
New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers (TNF)
In another NFC South prime time matchup, the Saints head to Carolina on a short week. The Saints come out flat and sluggish while the Panthers jump out to a quick lead. The tempo tapers off, allowing the Saints the opportunity to get back in the game, making for an interesting game down the stretch. In the end, the Panthers are too much for the Saints as they get a much needed division win.
Panthers 27 Saints 21
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Kansas City Chiefs
The Buccaneers get one of their biggest tests of the season as they head into Arrowhead to face off against the best team in the AFC West. The Bucs run a lot of hurry up to try to keep the CHiefs defense in a base formation and keep them from making substitutions, but it doesn’t hold up long enough for the Bucs to steal one on the road.
Nov 30, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) calls a play at the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter of their game against the Arizona Cardinals at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons won 29-18. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons
The Arizona Cardinals are legitimate Super Bowl contenders and the Falcons aren’t going to be a team that gets in their way. Bruce Arians’ high octane offense showcases talent from every position with David Johnson, John Brown, and Larry Fitzgerald leading the charge in a rout of the Atlanta Falcons. Other than your weekly dose of Julio Jones, the Falcons’ offense is stagnant the whole day, leading to a walk in the park for the Cards.
Cardinals 31 Falcons 13
Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints
In another snooze fest for the NFC South this week, the Saints put a beating on the Rams that reminds us of the dominant force they used to be. Brees is on fire and the defense makes some big plays over the course of the game. Rookie Michael Thomas is Brees’ receiver of choice in this one, using his speed to embarrass the Rams’ secondary.
Saints 31 Rams 16
Seattle Seahawks at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is arguably the most important game on the schedule for the Bucs. The Seahawks have been a measuring stick in the NFC for the past four years and on Thanksgiving weekend, they make the longest trip in the NFL to Tampa Bay. The vaunted Seattle defense throws everything they can at Winston and the Legion of Boom gets two picks off the quarterback. It’s a tough fight but in the end, the Bucs just aren’t ready to compete at that level yet.
Seahawks 23 Buccaneers 17
Carolina Panthers at Oakland Raiders
I realize its been talked about a lot, but these cross country road games are no joke. The Panthers learn that this week. The Raiders have built a solid foundation – both offensively and defensively – that will lead them back into contention sooner than later. The Panthers appear to be the present, but the Raiders are one of the teams of the future. Carr and Cooper connect twice in this one, as the Raiders squeak out a big time win, keeping them in the playoff hunt heading into the final stretch of the season.
Jan 17, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Thomas Davis (58) recovers an onside kick in the fourth quarter over Seattle Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman (40) during the NFC Divisional round playoff game at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers defeated the Seahawks 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Kansas City Chiefs at Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons come out hot in this win, taking an early and surprising lead. The Chiefs defense can’t seem to find an answer for Devonta Freeman and can’t get off the field on third down. However, Alex Smith is able to manage the game well enough to get the Chiefs in scoring position late in the game, allowing kicker Cairo Santos the opportunity to break the hearts of Falcons’ fans fully engulfed in the team’s “spoiler” role.
Chiefs 20 Falcons 17
Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints
It’s a shootout in New Orleans! Neither defense apparently wanted to come out of the locker room and even though Matthew Stafford no longer has Calvin Johnson to throw to, he spreads the ball around scoring at will. Unfortunately for the Lions, Brees is going tit for tat with Stafford and it’s not an easy task to beat Drew Brees in a shootout. Saints escape with another win, keeping their surprising playoff hopes alive.
Saints 41 Lions 37
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at San Diego Chargers
Tampa Bay fans’ favorite stadium outside of Raymond James, the Bucs return to the site of their lone Super Bowl win to face a beleaguered Phillip Rivers and his Chargers. Winston puts it on the Chargers defense early and often, giving the Bucs a much needed win to keep pace with the Saints and Panthers in the division.
Buccaneers 30 Chargers 10
Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks (SNF)
In what could be an NFC championship preview, the Panthers travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks in prime time. The Seahawks’ “12th Man” is on another level for this one as they know how important it is to win this one, keeping pace with the Cardinals. The Panthers are no match for Seattle in this one. Thomas Rawls makes some big plays out of the back field while the Seahawks’ secondary feasts on Cam the whole game.
Sep 20, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson (83) catches the ball to score touchdown in front of New Orleans Saints safety Kenny Phillips (28) during the second quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The trend will continue here. Bucs and Saints fans know exactly what I’m talking about – these two teams love to lose to each other at home. Nothing changes here. It’s a bit of a shootout, but the Saints yet again prevail in Raymond James Stadium.
Saints 27 Buccaneers 23
San Diego Chargers at Carolina Panthers
Coming off two road losses in a row, the Panthers are eager to get back home and get on track. There are no surprises in this one. Carolina comes out hot, beating up on the Chargers like all the NFC South teams before them. The Panthers keep San Diego out of the end zone for one of their better performances of the season defensively.
Panthers 28 Chargers 7
Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams
The Rams are in shambles, the trade for Jared Goff looks atrocious, and Jeff Fisher still isn’t on the hot seat because, well, when is he? The Falcons are able to go to LA on beat a disheveled team as the players appear to just want the season to be over. Julio is, again, the star of the game and the lone bright spot for the Falcons on the season.
Nov 22, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) is sacked by Carolina Panthers defensive end Mario Addison (97) in the fourth quarter. The Panthers defeated the Redskins 44-16 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys
It’s week fifteen which means Tony Romo has returned, and left again with another injury. You feel bad for Romo. As much flack as the guy gets, he was always a good quarterback with a lot of unnecessary criticism. The time has come, however, for Romo to hang it up before it’s too late. Ezekial Elliott is going to get his but it won’t be enough to carry the team. The Buccaneers defense will feast on Dak Prescott just like Jameis Winston will feast on the Cowboys’ poor secondary. Winston will find Mike Evans for a pair of scores as the Bucs win easily inside “Jerry’s World”
Buccaneers 24 Cowboys 13
New Orleans Saints at Arizona Cardinals
The Saints defense returns to the form we all thought we would see out of them, yielding big play after big play to the Cards. Palmer lights it up, hitting five different players for scores as the Cardinals continue to maintain their top position in the NFC West. The Saints are still in the postseason conversation, but need a big bounce bag after this embarrassment.
Cardinals 38 Saints 20
San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta offense is beginning to click as Matt Ryan starts to look like the Matt Ryan of old. His recent regression has been a bit of a head scratcher, but he shows that he can still be the same guy he was a few years ago. The 49ers offer no answers to Ryan or Freeman as Atlanta puts on a show for their fans.
Falcons 27 49ers 10
Carolina Panthers at Washington Redskins (MNF)
The Redskins are who many of us thought they were – overrated. Kirk Cousins has been brought back down to earth this season and the ‘Skins pose no threat to the New York Giants, who will already have the division wrapped up. Cam and co. embarrass the home team on national television, keeping them in the driver’s seat of the NFC South.
Dec 13, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) is tackled by New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha (44) during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. The New Orleans Saints won 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
In a must win for both teams to keep playoff hopes alive, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are able to go into the Superdome and defeat the Saints, keeping them in the running for a division title. Jameis Winston throws four touchdowns as the Cinderella story of the Saints’ defense appears to have struck midnight. Brees gives it his best shot, but with the Bucs holding a two score lead late, Noah Spence is able to let loose and get after Brees on every down.
Buccaneers 31 Saints 21
Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers
This one is over from the get-go. The Panthers are on the verge of winning their fourth division title in a row and they aren’t going to let the Falcons spoil the party for a second time. Cam is surgical while Johnathan Stewart gets in the end zone twice in the home finale for Carolina.
Oct 4, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short (99) chases Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game at Raymond James Stadium. Carolina won 37-23. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
The Saints’ season ending downward spiral continues, as the Atlanta Falcons win the season finale. The Saints go on to lose three in a row, while Atlanta finished winning three out of their last four. Julio proves to be too much for the Saints, scoring three touchdowns a week after everyone already finished their fantasy football season. Falcons give the fans hope for 2017 while Saints fans are left scratching their heads.
Falcons 31 Saints 17
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Watch for this one to be flexed into the final Sunday night game of the year as the 10-5 Panthers travel to Tampa to face the 10-5 Bucs, winner taking the division and getting a home playoff game the following week. It’s as close as the Monday night game in Charlotte where the Bucs escaped with a 23-21 victory. This time, it’s Carolina’s turn. Cam is able to engineer a game winning drive in the final minutes, spoiling the Bucs’ home finale and winning the division for an unprecedented fourth consecutive season.
Aug 11, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) talk before the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Final NFC South Standings and Postseason Predictions