NFC South Review: Have We Been Sleeping in the South?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be the biggest surprise in the NFL. There was some thought that the Buccaneers’ defense would be good but that the offense would have a hard time. But through two weeks, veteran quarterback Baker Mayfield has been the best version of himself, and the Buccaneers are off to a 2-0 start in the NFC South.

The New Orleans Saints are also a bit of a surprise. The Saints have built a defensive identity and are hoping quarterback Derek Carr will continue to play well as the season goes along. The Atlanta Falcons were the preseason favorites to win the division, and it’s not a surprise that the Falcons are off to a 2-0 start. 

Carolina has struggled, but with a new quarterback under center, that has been expected. The question for the NFC South Division is, will the teams be able to continue to beat other teams from around the league like they have so far?

 

Place Team W L T Week 2 Result
1. Atlanta Falcons 2 0 0 W, 25-24 vs. Green Bay Packers
2. New Orleans Saints 2 0 0 W, 20-17 at Carolina Panthers
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2 0 0 W, 27-17 vs. Chicago Bears
4. Carolina Panthers 0 2 0 L, 20-17 vs. New Orleans Saints

 

Buccaneers Need to Pay the Man

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Baker Mayfield

Baker Mayfield’s resurgence in Tampa Bay has been a key component to the Buccaneers’ early success in the NFC South. But wide receiver Mike Evans has been the man for the Buccaneers’ offense early in the season. After giving the team a demand for a contract extension, the two sides haven’t agreed to a deal, and Evans’ deadline has already passed.

Evans has responded to this situation by dominating opposing teams. He tore apart the Bears last Sunday, catching six passes for 171 yards and a touchdown.He also caught six passes for 66 yards and a score in the season opener. If Evans continues his streak, he should be able to draw more money from another team around the league.

 

Carolina’s Offense is Still Adjusting

 

Carolina is still adjusting to playing with No. 1 overall draft pick Bryce Young at quarterback. For a Saints’ team that is eager to torture opposing offenses, that is an appetizing matchup. On Monday night, New Orleans didn’t force Young into major mistakes. But the Saints didn’t let him make many big plays either.

Carolina only gained 139 yards through the air and finished with 239 yards of total offense. The Saints were able to sack Young four times. Young was 22-of-33 passing for 153 yards and a score. Carolina’s run offense was mostly stifled by the Saints. The Panthers were led by free agent running back Miles Sanders, who had 43 yards on 14 carries.

 

Atlanta May Have Found Star in Robinson

 

Much ado was made about the Falcons picking a running back in the first round. Having a star at the position is typically not viewed as a necessity like it was 25 or 30 years ago. But the Falcons thought they had found the right guy in Texas product Bijan Robinson

Pairing him with a young quarterback in Desmond Ridder seems to have been a strong match for both players. Against the Packers, Robinson kept Green Bay from focusing its full attention on Ridder. Ridder rushed for 124 yards on 19 carries and also had 48 receiving yards.

 

Carr Still Looking to Find His Rhythm

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New Orleans Saints

The Saints have pulled out two close victories thus far this season thanks to a strong defense. New Orleans will now hope that the offense can make those decisions not so sweaty. Derek Carr had an uneven second game with the Saints at quarterback.

Carr, who came over to the Saints in free agency from the Las Vegas Raiders, completed 21 of 36 passes for 228 yards and an interception. The Saints leaned on Taysom Hill, who also plays quarterback, at running back. Hill rushed for 75 yards on nine carries. Chris Olave is off to a good start at receiver and caught six passes for 86 yards last week.

 

Vea Has Served as a Dominant Force

 

While Mayfield’s story will dominate headlines if Tampa Bay continues to win, the spotlight should also shine heavily on the defense. Defensive tackle Vita Vea made life miserable for the Bears last Sunday. He recorded 1.5 of Tampa Bay’s six sacks and made it difficult for the Bears to run the ball.

Vea is a player Tampa Bay has been able to count on throughout his career. He was chosen for the Pro Bowl in 2021 after recording 4.0 sacks and knocking down three passes. Vea missed the Pro Bowl last season despite recording a career-high 6.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hits.

 

New Orleans Defense Continues Streak

 

The Saints have set a team record by allowing 20 points or fewer in their last 10 games. New Orleans didn’t allow a touchdown until late in the first half against Carolina, making the longest stretch ever to start a season without conceding a touchdown. The Saints’ defense only allowed Carolina to gain 88 yards in the first half. If they can keep this sort of form up they will undoubtedly be challenging for NFC South honors come the end of the season.

 

Ridder Goes on Wild Ride vs. Green Bay

 

The Falcons’ second-year quarterback was intercepted for the first time in his career against Green Bay. However, Ridder is still taking strides to show that he can be a strong NFL starting quarterback. He helped Atlanta rally from a 12-point deficit to produce a scoring drive in the fourth quarter that allowed the Falcons to steal a 25-24 win. 

Ridder passed for 237 yards and threw a touchdown pass. He also completed 59.4 percent of his passes, which was down from his more efficient Week 1. Ridder still has a long way to go in his development but he’s off to a good start.