2013 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

Terrelle PryorApr 23 08:58a

The Seattle Seahawks acquired QB Terrelle Pryor from the Oakland Raiders Monday, April 21, in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick in this year's draft. He will compete with [ More ]

Matt RyanApr 22 10:53p

Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith is calling for major improvement on both sides of the line of scrimmage. He fears the team could bottom out for a second [ More ]

EJ ManuelApr 22 08:13p

Buffalo Bills QB EJ Manuel (knees) is healthy entering voluntary workouts and feels normal and had no limitations during the Tuesday, April 22 conditioning program. Bills head coach Doug [ More ]

Rolando McClainApr 22 07:53p

Updating a previous report, the Baltimore Ravens have officially placed LB Rolando McClain on the reserve-retired list for a second time. The Ravens will retain McClain's rights if he changes his mind again.

Eli ManningApr 22 07:33p

New York Giants QB Eli Manning (ankle) expects to be 100 percent for the beginning of training camp. Manning has no concerns about learning the Giants' new playbook, instead [ More ]

Ray RiceApr 22 04:43p

Baltimore Ravens RB Ray Rice looks great physically, according to strength and conditioning coach Bob Roguck. 'He's doing some things differently as far as his diet and so forth, [ More ]

David WilsonApr 22 02:43p

New York Giants RB David Wilson (neck) said he is still waiting for a clear MRI to be medically cleared, but is currently ahead of schedule.

Julio JonesApr 22 01:13p

Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones (foot) will be limited during the team's offseason workouts while he recovers from offseason foot surgery. 'Julio is participating with our athletic performance department,' [ More ]

Eli ManningApr 22 01:03p

New York Giants QB Eli Manning (ankle) said his ankle is progressing but he does not have a timetable for his return to the field. Manning is currently in a walking boot.

Stevie BrownApr 22 12:33p

New York Giants FS Stevie Brown (knee) said he feels like he is ready to go when the Giants hit the field after recovering from a serious knee injury. [ More ]

Will HillApr 22 10:33a

The New York Giants are likely to cut FS Will Hill after his third potential drug suspension.

Josh MorganApr 22 09:52a

Chicago Bears WR Joshua Morgan is likely to compete for the No. 3 or 4 wide receiver role this year, and he'll compete with WRs Domenik Hixon, Eric Weems [ More ]

Will HillApr 22 09:33a

New York Giants FS Will Hill is facing a year-long suspension after reportedly failing another drug test. He will appeal what would be his third drug-related suspension.

Kyle WilliamsApr 21 09:33p

The Kansas City Chiefs re-signed WR Kyle Williams Monday, April 21. Terms of the deal were undisclosed.

Colt AndersonApr 21 07:12p

The Indianapolis Colts signed free-agent FS Colt Anderson (Eagles) to an undisclosed deal Monday, April 21.

Jamar TaylorApr 21 06:43p

Miami Dolphins CB Jamar Taylor (groin) is healthy following hernia surgery and began offseason workouts with his teammates Monday, April 21. Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said he expects [ More ]

Dustin KellerApr 21 05:42p

Eugene Parker, agent for free-agent TE Dustin Keller (knee), said Keller is ready to participate in offseason workouts when he signs with a team.

Eric FisherApr 21 05:12p

Kansas City Chiefs OT Eric Fisher (shoulder, hernia) said there is no timetable for his return following multiple surgeries, but he doesn't think he'll be out for long. 'He's [ More ]

Josh MorganApr 21 04:02p

The Chicago Bears have signed free-agent WR Joshua Morgan (Redskins) to a one-year deal. Financial terms were not disclosed.

A.J. GreenApr 21 03:32p

Cincinnati Bengals WR A.J. Green said he has added around six pounds this offseason, because he wants to be more physical as a way to beat coverage at the [ More ]

Michael VickApr 21 02:42p

New York Jets QB Geno Smith said he believes he will be the starting quarterback this upcoming season even though the team added QB Michael Vick this offseason. He [ More ]

Navorro BowmanApr 21 02:12p

The San Francisco 49ers plan to place LB NaVorro Bowman (knee) on the Physically Unable to Perform list when training camp begins, because he is not expected to be [ More ]

Eric FisherApr 21 02:02p

Kansas City Chiefs OT Eric Fisher (shoulder, hernia) underwent shoulder surgery and had a procedure to fix a sports hernia. He's currently rehabbing in Kansas City.

Tony CarterApr 21 01:22p

The Denver Broncos signed DT Mitch Unrein to his restricted free-agent tender Monday, April 21. CB Tony Carter, SS Duke Ihenacho and LB Brandon M. Marshall all signed their exclusive rights tenders.

Rolando McClainApr 21 01:02p

Baltimore Ravens LB Rolando McClain is retiring from the NFL again Monday, April 21. 'I gotta follow my heart. It ain't football. If football made me complete I would [ More ]

Tony RomoApr 21 12:42p

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo (back) will take part in the team's voluntary offseason program beginning Monday, April 21, according to a source. Players are allowed to lift weights, [ More ]

Marcus LattimoreApr 20 09:12p

San Francisco 49ers RB Marcus Lattimore (knee) is not expected to be restricted in any way when offseason workouts begin.

Michael EgnewApr 20 08:42p

The Miami Dolphins likely will add at least two more tight ends this offseason that will compete with TE Michael Egnew for a roster spot.

Armon BinnsApr 20 12:02a

Miami Dolphins WR Armon Binns is currently the team's No. 4 receiver, but the Dolphins have had discussions about WR Rishard Matthews replacing Binns at the spot, according to a source.

Tyrone CrawfordApr 20 12:02a

Dallas Cowboys DT Tyrone Crawford (Achilles') is expected to be ready for the team's offseason program, and he is expected to be a key piece to the defense this season.

M. Jones-DrewApr 20 12:02a

If healthy, Oakland Raiders RB Darren McFadden is expected to be the team's starting tailback with RB Maurice Jones-Drew as his backup.

Brian HartlineApr 20 12:02a

Miami Dolphins WR Brian Hartline (knee) is expected to be ready for the start of mini camp, according to a source. He suffered a torn posterior cruciate ligament in the 2013 regular season finale.

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
 
Player Notes:
 
Forum Posts:
 

© 2014 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group