It’s the end of Week 14. Playoff hopes are high. Division titles are on the line. And for the NFC South, the battle for the “Kings of the South” crown is going to come down to the wire for the Atlanta Falcons (8-5) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5).
Despite being a die-hard Falcons fan, I believe the gridiron evidence speaks for itself that my boys have a greater chance at winning the division title. Allow me to indulge…
The Falcons lead the NFL in points scored this season, averaging 32.9 per game. Franchise quarterback Matt Ryan has 4,050 yards, 30 touchdowns, and has a 113.2 passer rating. It is equally important to highlight the depth of offensive talent for the Falcons because over 10 different players have gotten into the end zone thus far. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman both have nine total touchdowns, receiver Taylor Gabriel has six, Julio Jones has caught five, and Mohamed Sanu with three.
Although the Falcons are ranked 28th overall defensively, they are finding ways to make big plays. I’ll start by praising outside linebacker Vic Beasley, Jr. who has 13.5 sacks on the season, six forced fumbles, and one touchdown. With the addition of veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney on the other side, Beasley is sure to develop into a beast! Rookies Deion Jones and Keanu Neal are contributing well, both with 59 solo tackles. Jones has three interceptions, two of which were pick-sixes!
Also, the Falcons have been plagued with injuries to several key players on both ends of the ball this season. In October, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon ruptured his Achilles tendon versus the Carolina Panthers and has been out ever since, not expecting to return this season. Cornerback Desmond Trufant suffered a torn pectoral injury during week 9 against the Bucs, which required season-ending surgery. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn was hurt during week 12 while playing the Arizona Cardinals, needing surgery for a torn MCL and partially torn meniscus. Offensive injuries include star wide-out Julio Jones (turf toe), left tackle Jake Matthews (knee), tight end Jacob Tame (shoulder), and Mohamed Sanu (groin).
Even with these crucial losses, the Falcons remain a relevant playoff contender. Second year head coach Dan Quinn is leading the team onward and upward, seeing good production in all three phases.
Now, I will give credit where it is due. Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston has been balling out, leading his team to a five game winning streak. In four of those games, Winston passed for over 200-yards with at least one touchdown. Wide receiver Mike Evans leads the team in receiving yards with 1,100 total, coupled with 10 TDs. Their running game is led by Doug Martin and Jacquizz Rodgers, yet only four touchdowns combined and less than 500 rushing yards
But here’s the irony of this entire dirty south dog fight. Four-of-the-five Buccaneers losses were against teams the Falcons beat: Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders. Conversely, three-out-of-five Falcons losses were to teams the Bucs beat: Seattle Seahawks, San Diego Chargers, and Kansas City Chiefs. They both beat each other once as well which is why they are tied atop the NFC South now.
With just three weeks left in the regular season, both the Falcons and Buccaneers will closeout against division opponents. However, the Bucs will have a bigger challenge when they compete against the Dallas Cowboys (11-2) in Week 15, while the Falcons take on the failing San Francisco 49ers (1-12).
They say numbers never lie. And with that, I am predicting my Atlanta Falcons to reclaim the NFC South title!
For more of Jordan’s take, check out her blog The Watter Girl, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @thewattergirl!