2014 DRAFT GUIDE
Saints, Panthers set up intriguing NFC South race

By BRETT MARTEL - AP Sports Writer
    2013-11-05 17:49

A few weeks ago, the New Orleans Saints were unbeaten and appeared to be on the verge of running away with the NFC South.

They remain atop the division at the halfway point of the regular season, bolstered by the return of coach Sean Payton from his 2012 bounty suspension. But the surging Carolina Panthers are now nipping at the Saints' heels.

New Orleans (6-2) has dropped two of three games, while the Panthers (5-3) have won four straight to pull within a game of the Saints, whom they'll play twice in December.

''We don't care where Carolina is at or what they're doing,'' Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said. ''We care about what we can control. ... November and December is the time where the real teams start to separate themselves. The great teams separate themselves from the good teams. We know that, and that's what we're going to do.''

Not if the Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton have anything to do with it.

Carolina has a winning record at the midway point for the first time since 2008, when it won the division. Offensive tackle Jordan Gross said the Panthers have developed mental toughness and are finding ways to close out games.

''That's the difference between this year's team and the teams in years past,'' Gross said. ''We are tough. We hang in there.''

Altanta, by contrast, struggled to close out several tight games early, all while injuries mounted. Only one season after narrowly losing the NFC championship game to San Francisco, the Falcons (2-6) are on the brink of their first losing campaign in coach Mike Smith's six seasons.

''Certainly things have not gone the way we had hoped,'' quarterback Matt Ryan said.

It could be worse. Tampa Bay (0-8) is still looking for its first victory of 2013.

---

Here are five reasons why the NFC South race looks the way it does at midseason:

SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT: The NFC South once again appears sticking to a pattern of making it tough for teams to get comfortable at the top. Since its creation in 2002, the division has never had a repeat winner. Another more recent trend could continue as well. The Saints and Falcons have alternated as division champs the past four seasons, and this season would be the Saints' turn, if they can hold off Carolina.

SAINT RYAN: If performing a miracle is a prerequisite for Sainthood, New Orleans' new defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan, might qualify. He took over arguably the worst defense in history - a unit which allowed an NFL-record 7,042 yards in 2012. The Saints now rank 10th in total defense, giving up 333.1 yards per game, putting the unit on pace to yield 107 fewer yards per game than a year ago.

CAM CAN: Newton has escalated his performance dramatically during the team's four-game winning streak, accounting for 10 touchdowns versus two turnovers. Coach Ron Rivera describes Newton as a quarterback who is more comfortable reading all of his options and using the best one. ''It's based on what (defenses) are trying to do and what they're trying to take away, and Cam's finding the guy,'' Rivera said.

CLIPPED WINGS: Atlanta has lost receiver Julio Jones, defensive end Kroy Biermann, fullback Bradie Ewing and left tackle Mike Johnson to season-ending injuries. Outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, receiver Roddy White, running back Steven Jackson and cornerback Asante Samuel have missed multiple games. That might explain why the Falcons have fallen so hard - not that it makes Smith feel any better. ''There are injuries all across the league,'' Smith said. ''There are teams that have more guys on IR than others and still they've been successful. That's why I say you can't use injuries as an excuse.''

BAD BUCS: It may be too late for coach Greg Schiano to save his job. As if an 0-8 start for the first time since 1985 wasn't bad enough, the Buccaneers' season also has been marred by the messy benching and subsequent release of former starting QB Josh Freemen, followed by three players being diagnosed with MRSA infections. Now any hope of salvaging a respectable season rides on rookie QB Mike Glennon, a third-round draft pick out of North Carolina State who hasn't won in five starts, but has shown steady improvement.

---

PREDICTED WINNER: Saints

---

AP Sports Writers Steve Reed in Charlotte, N.C.; Charles Odom in Atlanta; and Fred Goodall in Tampa, Fla., contributed to this report.

----

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Chris CantyFeb 27 11:32a

Baltimore Ravens DE Chris Canty was released Friday, Feb. 27. The move saved the team around $2.7 million on the salary cap.

Brian HartlineFeb 27 10:32a

Miami Dolphins WR Brian Hartline was released Friday, Feb. 27.

Harry DouglasFeb 27 10:32a

Atlanta Falcons WR Harry Douglas was released Friday, Feb. 27.

Matt HasselbeckFeb 26 07:42p

Indianapolis Colts impending free-agent QB Matt Hasselbeck was re-signed to a one-year deal Thursday, Feb. 26. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Steven JacksonFeb 26 07:32p

Atlanta Falcons RB Steven Jackson will reportedly be released Friday, Feb. 27.

Adrian PetersonFeb 26 05:52p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson's suspension was overturned by U.S. District Judge David S. Doty Thursday, Feb. 26. However, the NFL also announced that they will appeal the ruling, [ More ]

Travis KelceFeb 26 05:42p

Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce, who led the team with 67 catches and 862 receiving yards in 2014, is expected to be a more prominent part of the [ More ]

Kendall LangfordFeb 26 04:12p

St. Louis Rams DT Kendall Langford was released Thursday, Feb. 26, saving the team $6 million in salary cap space.

Greg HardyFeb 26 02:32p

Carolina Panthers impending free-agent DE Greg Hardy will seek immediate reinstatement after a judge overturned Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson's suspension, according to a source.

Theo RiddickFeb 26 02:22p

Detroit Lions RB Theo Riddick likely will be given the chance to earn a bigger role in the offense next season after the team released RB Reggie Bush.

Adrian PetersonFeb 26 12:32p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson's suspension has been overturned after a judge granted a motion from the NFL Players Association to vacate the suspension.

Michael RoosFeb 26 12:02p

Free-agent OT Michael Roos (Titans) has announced his retirement from professional football.

Dez BryantFeb 26 09:03a

Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant is likely to receive the franchise tag because the team is hesitant to sign him long term due to a lack of trust off [ More ]

Peyton ManningFeb 25 09:23p

The Denver Broncos and representatives for QB Peyton Manning are working on revising the veteran's contract, according to multiple league sources. He is scheduled to draw a $19 million [ More ]

Reggie BushFeb 25 05:33p

Detroit Lions RB Reggie Bush has been cut Wednesday, Feb. 25.

A.J. HawkFeb 25 04:43p

Green Bay Packers LB A.J. Hawk was released Wednesday, Feb. 25. The move will save them $3.5 million against the salary cap in 2015.

Jacoby JonesFeb 25 12:33p

Baltimore Ravens WR Jacoby Jones was released Wednesday, Feb. 25.

Peyton HillisFeb 25 10:43a

New York Giants RB Peyton Hillis was released Wednesday, Feb. 25. The move saves $945,000 on the 2015 salary cap.

Dez BryantFeb 24 10:33p

Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant's NFL career could be in jeopardy if a video he allegedly appears is as bad as it sounds. A source said the 'incriminating video [ More ]

Jake LongFeb 24 09:23p

The St. Louis Rams are likely to release OT Jake Long this offseason for savings against the salary cap, according to beat writer Nick Wagoner.

Mathias KiwanukaFeb 24 03:33p

New York Giants DE Mathias Kiwanuka has been released Tuesday, Feb. 24.

DeAngelo WilliamsFeb 24 12:23p

Free-agent RB DeAngelo Williams (Panthers) said he was not upset when the Carolina Panthers told him last week that he'd be released. Williams told Charlotte's WBTV that DE Greg [ More ]

Adrian PetersonFeb 23 06:13p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson's father denied a report that Peterson no longer wants to play for Minnesota. Peterson's father said Peterson is still open to a return to [ More ]

Ted Ginn Jr.Feb 23 04:53p

Arizona Cardinals WR Ted Ginn Jr. was released Monday, Feb. 23.

Adrian PetersonFeb 23 02:52p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson's situation with the team worsened during the NFL scouting combine as his agent and members of Minnesota's front office had a heated verbal altercation, [ More ]

Victor CruzFeb 21 10:22a

New York Giants WR Victor Cruz (knee) looks good as he continues to recover from a torn right pateller tendon in his knee, according to general manager Jerry Reese. [ More ]

R. Griffin IIIFeb 20 02:52p

Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III will enter the 2015 season as the team's starting quarterback, and general manager Bruce Allen thinks Griffin's ceiling in the NFL remains high. [ More ]

Devonta FreemanFeb 20 08:42a

Atlanta Falcons RB Devonta Freeman fits well in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme, according to head coach Dan Quinn. 'My first impression: I can feel the quickness,' Quinn said [ More ]

Victor CruzFeb 19 07:12p

New York Giants WR Victor Cruz (knee) may commence running shortly, according to head coach Tom Coughlin. Cruz is recovering from a torn right patellar tendon in his right knee.

Andre EllingtonFeb 19 05:12p

Arizona Cardinals RB Andre Ellington (foot) remains the focal point of the offense, according to Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians. Ellington split the injured tendon in his left foot, [ More ]

C.J. AndersonFeb 19 02:22p

Denver Broncos RB C.J. Anderson finished the year as the team's No. 1 running back and made the Pro Bowl, but new head coach Gary Kubiak said Anderson must [ More ]

James CaseyFeb 19 02:22p

Philadelphia Eagles TE James Casey has been released.

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
 
Player Notes:
 
Forum Posts:
 

© 2015 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group