For this final installment of the schedule preview, we'll be looking at the Falcons' second round of NFC South matchups this season. Interestingly enough, Atlanta faces the Saints, Bucs and Panthers all within the last four weeks of the season. Should make the division race interesting, to say the least.
Even though the Falcons went 5-1 against the South last season, this still remains probably the toughest division in football. The Saints are one of the NFC's elite teams. The Buccaneers have loads of young talent, and very easily could've been in the playoffs last season. And despite having a 2-14 record, the Panthers still have several star players on their roster, particularly defense.
The Falcons should be able to take two from the Cam Newton-led Panthers, if only for the fact that their passing game will be non-existent. Steve Smith can only do so much by himself. The defense has some intimidating guys like Jon Beason and Charles Johnson, but there are a few unproven starters as well. The offense may start finding their stride down the stretch, but that still won't be enough to win.
The Saints will again provide a tough challenge. Probably the best football I saw all of last year was between the Falcons and Saints. However, last year we saw the second matchup become a battle of defense. Both teams had their opponent's gameplan nailed down. I think we could be in for a similar game this season. The Falcons will turn back to basics and run the ball with authority, Brent Grimes will pick off a shovel pass, and Jon Gruden will praise Drew Brees shamelessly. All in all, I think the Falcons scrape by in another close one.
The most important of these matchups in my humble opinion, however, is the Buccaneers. In the final week of the season, two teams very likely in playoff contention will do battle in the Georgia Dome. Even though the Falcons took two from the Bucs last season, both wins were by less than a touchdown. Mobile QB's always seem to find success against Van Gorder, and the front seven should be better equipped to handle Turner this year. Raheem Morris' squad always plays hard, and this could be the most physiical game we see all year.
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For everything Bucs, check out Bucs Nation. For everything Panthers, check out Cat Scratch Reader.