Falcons or Panthers: Who wins the NFC South?

This was how it looked when last the Panthers played here. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

This was how it looked when last the Panthers played here. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

The Carolina Panthers have won the NFC South two years running, something that hadn’t been done since the division came into being in 2002. That would have seemed a greater feat had last season’s title been taken with a winning record.

As of Dec. 6, 2014, the Panthers had played 11 games and won three. They would finish 7-8-1 and make the playoffs and actually win a game there, although the team they beat (Arizona) was down to its No. 3 quarterback. Carolina was very good in 2013 — it went 12-4 — but last year it was a division champ only because it was based in the worst division ever. As such, I didn’t rate the Panthers all that highly coming into the new season.

Time to change that appraisal. The Panthers are 5-0. Their first four victories were over bad teams — Jacksonville, Houston, New Orleans and Tampa Bay — but their fifth was an eye-opener. They went to Seattle and won 27-23 after trailing 23-14. Granted, the Seahawks aren’t the mighty assemblage they’ve been the past three seasons and are clearly missing Dan Quinn, now coaching an NFL team near you, but still: You win in Seattle, you make a point.

That NFL team near you — the Atlanta Falcons — caught a flying start under the aforementioned Quinn and is 5-1. Given the weakness of the Falcons’ remaining schedule, they’re apt to win 11 or 12 games and make the playoffs. But Carolina’s schedule is only slightly more challenging, which means the Panthers are apt to crack double figures in wins, too. Both Atlanta and Carolina figure to qualify for postseason. Only one can get a first-round bye as division champ.

This was how it looked when last the Panthers played here. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

When last Cam Newton played here, his team won 34-3. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

Here’s who the Falcons have left: Tennessee there, Tampa Bay here, San Francisco there, Indianapolis here, Minnesota here, Tampa Bay there, Carolina there, Jacksonville there, Carolina here, New Orleans here.

Here’s who the Panthers have left: Philadelphia home, Indianapolis home, Green Bay home, Tennessee away, Washington home, Dallas away, New Orleans away, Atlanta home, N.Y. Giants away, Atlanta away, Tampa Bay home.

There’s nothing on the Falcons’ remaining schedule that compares with that three-game run — Eagles/Colts/Packers — Carolina is about to face. (The first is on Sunday night, the second on Monday night.) Still, all three will be played in Charlotte. Should the Panthers be 7-1 after the Green Bay game, they’ll be in great shape. Should they be 8-0, they’ll be in greater-than-great shape.

I’d still favor the Falcons because they’ve negotiated the entire NFC East already — going unbeaten! — and because they don’t play the Packers. But I also believe this has the makings of a terrific division race. As opposed, say, to last year’s division race.

Reader Comments 0

83 comments
realnard
realnard

i happened to run across this article and it is funny how things have changed since this was written. The Carolina Panthers are 11-0 they have beaten Seattle, Green Bay and the Colts and Atlanta is 6-5 and are in danger of missing the playoffs after a 5-0 start. Cam ( not scam) is in the running for M.V.P Carolina has the best record in the N.F.L  and are the only unbeaten team in pro football

Tripp Shealy
Tripp Shealy

Update, failcons suck panthers are a powerhouse....

SteveHerman
SteveHerman

Carolina has moved in a lot of draft picks into starting roles. Signifies an extreme upward tilt. Really, they are freakin good now on dline, linebackers, d backfield. Newton is newton, most tools in the league, but not the 2 cent head everyone says he is. Closer to 2 bucks. Between his sporadically good passing and solid running game, can win games in Parcells ball control fashion.

Atlanta has far superior passing attack. It just has to be ON. They can win any game, but this modus operandi is not as reliable. 

EricEllis
EricEllis

No way the Panthers win the division considering both teams' schedules.  Unless Atlanta gets swept by the Panthers there is just no way Carolina gets the division.  Now as to which team is better right now, clearly the Panthers are.  Newton is unbelievably out playing Ryan and their defense actually has a pass rush (and Josh Norman who is maybe slightly better than Trufant).  Atlanta's wild card is Matt Ryan.  If he figures things out and starts playing with Julio the way they did early in the season then I'd give the edge to Atlanta as I think Ryan is definitely a better QB than Newton.  But right now, with Ryan struggling, you have to give the advantage to Carolina...

extremus
extremus

If you're going by momentum and consistency, the Panthers right now.  The Falcons are winning games by the skin of their teeth but the past three solid games have been sloppy, mistake-ridden, and uninspired.  Worse is the fact that Matt Ryan has trouble completing 50 percent of his passes and there's still no pass rush.  This team may well make the playoffs but when they meet an actual playoff-caliber opponent they'll be one-and-done.


And I say that as a fan who's rooting for them every week.  This team still has SERIOUS issues and right now I'm far from convinced the coaching has improved from last year (speaking particularly about the past three games; I'm seeing a disturbingly familiar pattern forming by this point).

FreeAgentFan
FreeAgentFan

So far this looks like another trip up game again


They revamped the D with a bunch of rotational guys but that can go so far


They cannot get to the QB and Ryan has been so so this yr -- I do not see them getting to more than 9-7  with the way they are going these last two weeks


And like Jake Matthews -- it looks like Beasley is another first round bust

EricEllis
EricEllis

@VeryDisgusted Um, where are those 6 losses you are expecting coming from over the next 9 games?  TB?  SF?  IND?  MIN?  I mean, looking at the schedule I don't se more than two or three losses the rest of the way (the two Carolina games will tell us a lot about this season and will probably decide the division).  9-7 is practically impossible at this point unless they have a major injury...

WAITUNTILNEXTYEAR
WAITUNTILNEXTYEAR

The Falcons have another cupcake this Sunday in the Titans but I see another poor effort and more exposure for the home town birds.  Julio is invisible again, hurt again, and falling back into the Julio Jones we've seen the past 3 seasons, good but not great.  My pre-season prediction for the Falcons was 5-11 but with the easy cupcake schedule, I changed it to 8-8.  We'll see.

candlin14
candlin14

Jeremiah Ratliff was kicked off the Bears team today. This guy needs to be on our radar ASAP.  This guy can play and he can add an instant upgrade to our D Line. Go get him. We need a Line Backer but I will take Ratliff.. We need all the help we can get on D. Release Biermann and sign Ratliff!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

candlin14
candlin14

So many stupid, ignorant, Falcons fans in Atlanta. I don't even know if I would call most of these fools Falcons fans. "Matty Slush".. LOL. You people are truly stupid... The guy has taken this team further then any other QB in franchise history. The guy has lost in the playoffs to four teams all who have made the super bowl that same year and two of them won it. 


Matt Ryan can only go as far as the defense. The defense can not get to the QB. Plain and simple. Matt Ryans fumbles did not cost the game versus NO. Colemans fumble and Stones fumble ruined the outcome. Get a clue James McMullen or JazzP... Until the defense can get pressure "which they can't" then defeating an Aaron Rogers or Russell Wilson or Carson Palmer or Cam Newton will be impossible. 


Ask Andy Dalton what its like to win a playoff game... Oh wait he is 0-4 in the playoffs

Ask Andrew Luck what this year is looking like

Ask Russell Wilson what this year is looking like

Ask Tony Romo who can NEVER play 16 full games what this season is like

Ask Eli Manning whats up

Ask Colin Kaepernick whats up

Ask Brees or Flacco whats up this year


You people are idiots.... Understand football, understand our defense is mediocre at best, and understand that Ryan will make the playoffs again this year but with no QB pressure we will get destroyed.

JamesMcmullen
JamesMcmullen

@candlin14 "FOOTBALL IS A TEAM SPORT".....We won 10 games, lost 22 last year and the year before.... with MATTY ICE.....LOL

candlin14
candlin14

@JamesMcmullen @candlin14


So what is your point? The defense had 22 sacks last season and was the worst defense in the NFL the past two years.. Sorry McMullen but you're making no sense. 

JamesMcmullen
JamesMcmullen

The offensive line, the key to winning the division title. A rough up Matty Ice becomes Matty Slush!

Nick Vasey
Nick Vasey

I just want to point something out very quick that all these comments are speaking of a lack luster defense in Atlanta and the easy schedule and injuries other teams have suffered but what nfl fans seem to be forgetting is for the past couple seasons atlanta has suffered massive injuries and adjustments while still playing hard schedules but managed to cause some upsets and what says that any team can't be tougher than the next how many times in nfl history has someone said oh they are outmatched on every level and then the outmatched team turned out to be the dominate team plus this Matt ryan vs cam Newton debate look at the stats look what ryan has dealt with and he still puts up the numbers he does cam Newton lost a couple guys over the years and falls apart so on adaptation and resourcefulness and sheer qb talent Matt ryan is clearly the winner

Jazzpman
Jazzpman

When Matty Slush actually Man's up like a big time QB all could be different in Atlanta, but until then.... Carolina.

JamesMcmullen
JamesMcmullen

@Jazzpman  The offensive line, the key to winning the division title. A rough up Matty Ice becomes Matty Slush!

Dman
Dman

We have had a tough schedule so,far and came out 5&1. I'll take that against the NFC East and our biggest rival. We just need to hold onto the ball and we'll be fine. Time to focus on the Titans and kick some more butt. RISE UP....

Surelyyoujest
Surelyyoujest

@TOJacket @Dman 

Eagles - 3-3

Giants - 3-3

Cowboys - 2-3

Texans - 1-5

Redskins - 2-4

Saints - 2-4

Yep - a really hard schedule  - NOT!

Dman
Dman

Eagles, early season Super Bowl favorite

At the Giants, let's see if Carolina and New Orleans can go there and win Bet NOT

At the Cowboys - tough place for anyone to win and they were supposed to have the best O and D lines in Football but we put 39 on them and shut them out in the second

Texans - one of the best defenses in football we put 48 on and shut them out until our 2nd and 3rd stringers played

Redskins - we played terrible and won

At Saints - always a tough game no matter what the records are and turned the ball over too much to stay in this one. We will kill them when they come here.

RISE UP ATL

#hatersgonnahate

rolandrey916
rolandrey916

@markbradley are you kidding me? I'm not a Panthers fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I think they make  to the NFC championship game. Cam Newton is a knuckle head but he has the "IT" factor going for him this season. The freaking Falcons struggled against the pitiful Saints for God sakes.


I think the Panthers spank us again twice if the wrong Matt Ryan shows up. Our defense is still iffy. I don't think they can handle a QB like Newton as well as his weapons.

Okeetee
Okeetee

It comes down to who can you trust....Matt Ryan or Cam Newton?  Ryan is without question, the better passer and reader of defenses, plus he has a running game to help him out.  Newton has more AA (athletic ability) but can be very erratic with his passes.  Of course, the Panthers defense will create more turnovers than the Falcon's defense, but if Ryan can keep his turnovers down to 1 a game or less, then my money is on the Falcons!    

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Okeetee: "It comes down to who can you trust....Matt Ryan or Cam Newton?"

_____________________

Depends whether you're on the field or on the street.

David McCallum
David McCallum

Until the Falcons prove that they can play REAL defense against REAL teams, I reluctantly have to admit that Carolina is a better football team. Besides, I cannot forget that butt-kicking last season, when the Falcons basically quit on their coach and their fans. The Panthers are what the Falcons are not: physical and resourceful.

GT71
GT71

"... they’re apt to win 11 or 12 games and make the playoffs."

Homer column.  Counting chickens.  Jinx in ink.  Just plain Utopian.

All of the above?

If anyone saw the Panthers/Seahawks game, they know who's the mighty good, resourceful, driven team.  And that may be the Falcons, but it's the exact description of the Panthers this year.

All NFL teams a pretty darn good on any darn day.

So even if it's the job of AJC writers do throw this kind of thing against the wall, it's hard to say if anything will stick.

Two games within 14 days in December may (if, could, might) determine the Division winner.

Both of these teams are good this year.  It should be an enjoyable ride.  But I seem to remember MB's remorseless (and unsuccessful) drive to bury Cam Newton in college and there's also a thing called Karma.  SO the mystics may give the edge to Carolina.  Not that Cam remembers or would even care about the writings of an AJC guy from several years back.

Dman
Dman

Winning football games does not make Cam Newton a better person. He is still scam Newton and always will be. I really don't like how he acts. It's all about him and not his team mates. This will come back to bite him eventually this season and the Panthers will fall....

JackClemens
JackClemens

Los Pantheras will win the division. They have the better quarterback and somewhat better defense.

GT71
GT71

@TOJacket @JackClemens Can we just agree that Newton is a better athlete?  Put Ryan's brain in that body and, well.

Wink77
Wink77

Falcons will have a good regular season due to weak schedule.  They will compete for the division, but will lose out when the lights shine brightly...ie a Monday Night Game, prime time matchup...I knew when they showed Gleason blocking that kick before the Katrina game...we were in trouble.  Falcons are missing what they have needed for years a PASS RUSH, just like the Braves have had a need for Professional Hitters and Hawks have needed a Center to protect the rim & rebound.  Atlanta teams do not address GLARING NEEDS, if they do they try the cheap  route and get burned every time.

Relax and enjoy the season, take your feel good when it rears it's head like the 5 & 0 start...Hawks winning 60 games and Braves you get to see a lot of young pitchers!

Go Atlanta

AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

Well the MB curse sticks its head out again. You picked the Falcons so that says we WONT win the division.

DoubleSubject
DoubleSubject

Thanks for moving past your obsession with the retirement/resignation/quitting of the Old Ball Coach. Me thinks you were   "Doolied" by your interview with the former Georgia coach to the point where your perception of reality was obscured. Now, insofar as the Falcons are concerned, it looks as if we will play the role of bridesmaid in our division this year. 

GT71
GT71

@DoubleSubject MB has a penchant for taking up lost and really stupid causes.  Schultz does the same.  Look at other cities' sports columnists and you'll discover that it's pandemic.  It's part of their job.  Our job is to read the silliness, point the nuttiness out and try to bring some semblance of balance to the overall sports psyche of the neighborhood.

They get paid for it.  We just have fun.

Gail Gilmer
Gail Gilmer

I love the falcons,I get mad when they play like they did last Thursday night.I know they are better than that ,I just don't understand why they do this.They all have a big heart ,they need to prove to everybody they are the best.

Kenn6664
Kenn6664

The problem I have with the Falcons is they make a very sorry team look like a super bowl champion...They must find a way to put pressure on the opposing quaterbacks, if not the falcons will get picked apart so because of that Carolina will win the division...

GWJ0525
GWJ0525

I would like to pick the Falcons, but with their defense and lack of pass rush it is hard. I think the Falcons have to split the 2 games with them and have the better division record to win in case of a tie. Now with the loss to the Aints we are 0-1 in the division, and the Panthers are?  You get the point so the Falcons right now are likely to have to finish a game up on them to get the division which will not be easy. With that said the Falcons get the top wild card spot and play at the #4 division winner in the 1st round which will likely be the East winner.

namssip
namssip

Peachtree Bart is 100% righ on the money,  so I will follow his lead.  One loss is not the season and the Falcons continue to make moves and adjsutments to better the team.  The schedule favors the Falcons along with the possibility that some stronger teams may decline due to injuries or face some type of adversity.  I pick the Falcons to win the division and go deep in the playoffs.  Peace Brother. 

Diondra Blair
Diondra Blair

Nicely put sir. Finally someone with some sense.

Diondra Blair
Diondra Blair

These comments are by far hilarious. Yes the Falcons played poorly in New Orleans but I would opt to say everyone has a bad game. For one we usually don't make as many errors as we did so in a sense the Falcons beat themselves not the Saints. Remove the errors that were made Falcons could have easily won that game hands down. Falcons will win the division don't believe me just watch.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Diondra Blair: "Remove the errors that were made Falcons could have easily won that game hands down."

______________________

That's like saying remove the Falcons losses over the years and they'd be undefeated.

You CAN'T remove the errors, dimbulb. They were committed; they're in the books.

Eric_C
Eric_C

@DawgNole Ok smart guy, the poster was just trying to say that the Falcons beat themselves.  Don't be a jerk.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Eric_C @DawgNole

QUIET, idiot!

We already knew the Falcons beat themselves. They've been doing it for 50 years.

Duh!