NFC South Post-Week 8 Update

by Jonathan Lange · Analytics & Advanced Metrics

This is the NFC South Post-Week 8 Update! Before the 2023 NFL Season kicked off, it seemed Tampa Bay was destined to crush everyone in the division and cruise to the playoffs. Atlanta appeared destined to sink to the bottom of the standings. Clearly, many of us (myself included!) were wrong about those predictions. Below, I have written up each team’s general statistics for the season so far, a summary of what we have seen, and what we could potentially see in the second half of the season. Let’s kick this off with the division-leading Atlanta Falcons!

Atlanta Falcons – (4-4, 1st place in the division)

Current Statistical standings:

Offense: No. 23 in NFL (No. 29 in Passing, No. 5 in Rushing)

Defense: No. 32 in NFL (No. 32 in Passing, No. 12 in Rushing)

The top team in the division has approached the 2022 NFL season propelled by a run-heavy attack that stands at the top of the NFL. Cody Carpentier’s Offensive line rankings have them firmly inside the top ten behind an offensive line that is No. 5 in rush yards per game. Drake London and Kyle Pitts have made plays. However, the nature of this run-heavy offense does not allow for a pass catcher to be a feature.

Defensively, the secondary has emerged as the biggest weakness. Injuries have only exacerbated the issues. Of the four starting defensive backs from Week 1, three of them are currently injured. Lastly, the team was incredibly active at the trade deadline. The following moves were made:

-Atlanta traded Calvin Ridley for a 2023 5th-round pick and a conditional 2024 4th-round pick that can turn into a 3rd-round pick if Calvin reaches certain incentives, and a 2nd-round pick if the Jaguars sign Ridley to a contract extension.

-Traded a conditional 2023 7th-round pick for Kansas City Chief cornerback Rashad Fenton

-Atlanta traded Safety Dean Marlowe for a 2023 7th-round pick

While these trades do not indicate that the team is “all in,” they are showing signs that the front office and coaching staff are on the same page. Acquiring players that can contribute to a weakened secondary can only bolster this roster. Plus, the addition of draft picks continues to help this franchise’s position in the future.

Second Half Prediction:

Of the nine games left on the Falcons’ schedule, two of them are against teams with winning records. Therefore, a division title is not out of the picture for this team. Before the season started, I expected Desmond Ridder to take snaps this season. However, if the team continues to hover around .500 and Marcus Mariota remains healthy, Ridder will remain on the sidelines. Also, Cordarrelle Patterson is returning from the IR. He will provide a major boost to the offense.

Fantasy Prediction:

Kyle Pitts will finish as the TE 8 or higher in fantasy scoring. It doesn’t take much to finish as a top-12 tight end, and while Pitts will not finish where many fantasy players drafted him, he is destined to improve in the second half of the season. Currently, he is the TE 16, so there’s work to be done. This is not a bold proclamation that the offense is changing how it operates, but rather, this is a difference maker, making more plays as the season rolls along. Unfortunately, finishing as a top-three tight end is out of the question.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – (3-5, 2nd place in the division)

Current Statistical standings:

Offense: No. 18 in NFL (No. 2 in Passing, No. 31 in Rushing)

Defense: No. 11 in NFL (No. 10 in Passing, No. 25 in Rushing)

Boy, this got ugly quickly. Everyone’s preseason consensus No. 1 NFC South team is down badly as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost three straight games. The offensive line has struggled mightily as they navigate this season with a backup center and rookie guard. Leonard Fournette has averaged 2.2 yards per carry over the last five games, and the wide receiver core has consistently faced injury issues with Russell Gage, Chris Godwin, and Julio Jones. Even tight end Cameron Brate has missed time.

Leonard Fournette Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

When a team trades depth to go “all-in” only to have starting players fall to injury, a season such as this can occur. The defense has lost players due to injury, but the most devastating of all the injuries so far is easily the loss of Shaq Barrett who tore his Achilles in the Thursday night loss against the Baltimore Ravens. The film from the Thursday night game against the Ravens was especially damning for Defensive Captain Devin White, who put together his worst play this season. Watch the film review below:

Second Half Predictions:

For the last twenty years, we have always seen Tom Brady ferociously guiding his teams to the playoffs and challenging his teammates to be better. As bad as they have been this season, they are not out of it. They are one game out of first place, and the last two games of the year are against the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons. But where does the spark come from to push this team to greatness? There are tough games left on the schedule, but if they can climb back to .500, they are rewarded a Week 17 matchup against the Panthers and a Week 18 matchup against the Falcons. This season is shaping up for a 9-8/8-9 finish.

Fantasy Prediction:

I’ll keep this prediction tame as well, but we’re going to see more Rachaad White in the second half of the season. He’s had only two games with a snap share at 40-percent or higher, and I firmly believe we’re going to see more of those games. He can take snaps with Leonard Fournette still being the team’s RB1, but Fournette’s lack of explosiveness has stood out. It’s time for the team to put the rookie in more situations on the field.

New Orleans Saints – (3-5, 3rd place in the division)

Current Statistical standings:

Offense: No. 1 in NFL (No. 6 in Passing, No. 7 in Rushing)

Defense: 12th in NFL (No. 15 in Passing, No. 15 in Rushing)

No team has had so many close games this first half of the season than the New Orleans Saints who find themselves at 3-5. Of the five games they lost, only one of the games was a loss by nine points or more.

Jameis Winston was the starter at the beginning of the season, but Andy Dalton will remain the starter until the coaching staff says otherwise. Alvin Kamara was hampered by a rib injury early in the year, but he’s been removed from the injury report and is taking a full complement of snaps as of Week 5. Michael Thomas hasn’t been on the field since Week 3, which has been incredibly disappointing after he started the season with three touchdowns in the first two games. Thomas is currently dealing with a foot sprain after being hampered by an ankle injury for two years.

Defensively, two players stick out for two completely different reasons. Linebacker Pete Werner has made a name for himself this year and has allowed the coaching staff to be flexible with the front seven because he has such a nose for the ball. Now for the bad news: training camp MVP Paulson Adebo has not lived up to the excitement he generated out of camp. Even in the shutout of the Raiders, he still allowed five catches on seven targets of his coverage. Opposing quarterbacks will be locked onto him until he can prove himself.

 Second Half Predictions:

The team is getting healthy, and first-round selection Trevor Penning is closing in on a return. This is great for both the run and pass game. I was admittedly bullish on this team to make a run to the playoffs. This feels like a bigger miss than my incorrect Tampa Bay prediction. I do not see this team making the playoffs, especially considering that they have games against the Ravens, 49ers, Eagles, and a Deshaun Watson-led Browns squad. They will need big upsets if they want to play meaningful football in January.

Fantasy Prediction:

Alright, I have admittedly played it safe on the previous two predictions, so why not go bold for the Bayou?! Juwan Johnson will outscore Taysom Hill in fantasy football over the second half of the season. Injuries to Jarvis Landry, Michael Thomas, and Adam Trautman have forced Johnson into more playing time, and he has played well. Additionally, he made a key block on one of Alvin Kamara‘s touchdown catches against the Raiders.

Carolina Panthers – (2-6, 4th place in the division)

Current Statistical standings:

Offense: No. 29 in NFL (No. 27 in Passing, No. 17 in Rushing);

Defense: No. 25 in NFL (No. 22 in Passing, No. 24 in Rushing)

Whew. The last month for this franchise has been a wild ride. Here’s a timeline of all the major events so far this season:

  • 10/10/2022 – Matt Rhule was fired, and Steve Wilks was named interim head coach
  • 10/17/2022 – Robbie Anderson was traded to Arizona after arguing with the coaching staff during a 24-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams
  • 10/20/2022 – Christian McCaffrey was traded to San Francisco for 2023 2nd, 3rd, and 4th round picks, plus a 2023 5th-round selection
  • 10/23/2022 – After trading away its star running back, the team crushed division rival Tampa Bay 21-3

Oh, and now that we’re caught up, we can acknowledge the Week 8 game of the week where the winner was gifted first place in the NFC South. The Panthers fell just short of that goal, but it seems that they are not going to be tanking into oblivion this season even after trading away McCaffrey. The Panthers were offered two first-round picks from the Los Angeles Rams for Brian Burns, but the Panthers rejected it stating that Burns is a core of the team that they want to keep around for the future.

What to Expect in the Second Half of the Season:

While the last two games that the Panthers have played in have certainly surprised the NFL, this team is not headed to the playoffs. P.J. Walker has provided a spark to this offense that Baker Mayfield could never manage. Even if Walker begins to struggle, we will likely see Sam Darnold at a later point this season if the team continues to lose games.

If, and this is a big “IF”, the team can compete, win games, and even possibly clinch a wild card spot in the playoffs, then Steve Wilks becomes the top candidate to take this job. So far, he was able to do two things Matt Rhule couldn’t do. The first thing was to score more than thirty points in a game. The second thing was to beat Tampa Bay. Whatever happens this season, this job will be a top destination for any head coach. The Panthers have multiple draft picks combined with cornerstone players such as D.J. Moore, Jaycee Horn, and Brian Burns. This team will play hard, but it’s incredibly difficult to imagine them winning seven games.

Fantasy Prediction:

Terrace Marshall is headed to a full-time role in the offense, and fantasy footballers need to take note. He can work as a WR3 when one is needed in a pinch. Since Robbie Anderson was traded, he’s commanded twelve targets over the last two games compared to five targets in the first three games this season. He’s the second read on a team that projects to be trailing for most of its games, and he was a favorite of many coming into the draft in 2021. Now is the time for Marshall.