As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in their bye week licking their wounds from the thrashing they received from the Chicago Bears, let’s look at the key NFC South-related matches to look out for in week 5.
Atlanta Falcons (1-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2-1)
A battle between teams who were expected to be playoff contenders has now turned into a season-salvaging game. A loss on either side spells playoff doom essentially as both sit in last place in their respective divisions.
The Falcons are coming off a 37-36 upset at the hands of the visiting Cincinnati Bengals. While their offense is among the top 10 in the league, right behind the Steelers at 7th, their rushing leaves something to be desired at 21st in the league. Running back Tevin Coleman has been playing for the injured Devonta Freeman, amassing 210 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Quarterback Matt Ryan has kept the Falcons’ offense afloat with its sixth ranked pass attack. What’s perplexing about the Falcons this year is that their turnover differential ratio sits at 2 among the top half of the league.
What’s particularly hurt the Falcons this year has been their atrocious defense at 28th, giving up 1,612 total yards, proportionate passing and rushing yards. Within the NFC South, only the Bucs are worse.
On the other side of the token, just when the Steelers thought they were back on track following a victory over the Bucs during Monday Night Football, they lost at home to the Baltimore Ravens the following week, 26-14. It’s been a similar story for the Steelers with an efficient passing game and even worse ground game at 289 yards for the season. That will likely change when RB Le’Veon Bell returns to the team come week 7. Until then, back-up James Conner will resume his duties running for 232 yards and three touchdowns.
The Steelers are horrible against the pass with only the Bucs and Kansas City Chiefs ranking worse. The run defense is slightly better. They also have been struggling with turnovers with a -2 TO ratio.
The long and short of it is, expect a shootout with the Steelers being the favorites.
New York Giants (1-3) at Carolina Panthers (2-1)
The Giants are the only team in the NFC East with a losing record. This will likely be a make-or-break game for them for potential post-season play without having near running the table for contention.
They rank in the bottom third of the league in offense with a below average passing attack and struggling ground game. The defense has been a little more respectable, placing them within the top half of the league with the passing and breaking the top 10, but a lackluster, 27th-ranked run defense.
While QB Eli Manning has been somewhat efficient, throwing for 1,055 yards with 4 TDs and only 1 interception, the team has been notorious for giving the ball away, especially with 4 fumbles, more than creating turnovers with a -2 TO ratio.
The Panthers, who already went through their bye, are chasing New Orleans Saints for the top spot in the NFC South. Given their bye week, the team has a slight below average offense and average defense. Cam Newton has been efficient despite being in the lower third of the league in passing, averaging 204 yards a game. Their running game more than makes up for it in their top ranking at 166 yards a game. RB Christian McCaffrey has been the expected workhorse of the team with 271 yards on the ground followed by Newton, who’s always a threat to run with 136 yards and 3 TDs. The Panthers’ defense isn’t spectacular, but isn’t a liability, which explains their better-than-average results.
The Panthers are heavily favored at home.
Washington Redskins (2-1) at New Orleans Saints (3-1)
The Monday Night Football match-up pits both teams at the top of their respective divisions against one another.
Technically, the Skins are the only team above .500 in the NFC East, having gone through their bye last week. They have an adequate offense led by QB Alex Smith, followed by one of the top running teams in the league thanks to the often doubted Adrian Peterson. Peterson leads the fifth-ranked average rushing teams with 236 yards on the ground and 3 TDs.
Smith has proven more than efficient with 767 passing yards, 4 TDs, and only one INT. Similar to his situation with the Chiefs, Smith often favors the tight end and his backs as his primary targets. In this case, TE Jordan Reed leads the team in yards receiving with 168, followed by primary receiving back Chris Thompson with 20 catches for 155 yards.
The Skins will certainly be put to the test against the Saints’ high-powered offense, averaging an impressive 418 yards a game, led by the venerable QB Drew Brees. While they had a below-average running game, Alvin Kamara has become the primary workhorse, a threat on the ground and in the air, accounting for six of the team’s 15 TDs.
Kamara leads the team with 275 yards in 56 carries and 5 rushing TDs in place of the returning Mark Ingram, who was suspended for the first four games of the season. Kamara and Ingram will be the biggest test for one of the league’s top defenses, which only gave up 278 yards a game, cracking the top 10 in both pass and run defense.
Despite having one of the league’s top run defenses, the Saints’ secondary gets torched often, coughing up an average of 311 passing yards a game.
The home team is heavily favored here as well.