NFC South standings: How Falcons’ win over Saints, Buccaneers’ loss to Colts impact NFC playoff picture

The Falcons entered Week 12 with a 4-6 record and were on a three-game losing streak. Even so, the team came out of their bye with a chance to take control of first place in the NFC South if they could accomplish one thing.

They just had to beat the Saints.

New Orleans has spent most of the 2023 NFL season in control of the NFC South. The Saints entered the year as the favorites to win the division, but they haven’t been as consistent as their backers had been hoping.

MORE: Latest injury updates on Saints WR Chris Olave

Even so, there were questions about whether Atlanta’s offense would be able to generate enough scoring against a stalwart New Orleans defense to earn a victory. Arthur Smith’s unit had underwhelmed during the 2023 season and many were skeptical Desmond Ridder’s return to a starting role would provide the spark that the Falcons’ offense needed to bounce back.

As expected, Ridder’s performance was far from stellar. He completed 13 of 21 passes for 168 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, one of which came on a brutal overthrow just shy of the end-zone.

Despite this, the Falcons managed to beat the Saints 24-15. That was largely thanks to a great effort from their running game, which totaled 228 yards in their victory. That included Bijan Robinson’s 91-yard outburst in what was arguably his best game as a pro.

In total, Robinson had 123 total yards and two touchdowns on 19 touches. That showcased exactly what he is capable of doing in the expanded role that Smith had been reluctant to give him early in the season.

Of course, the Falcons’ defense deserves a lot of credit for their performance. They held the Saints without a touchdown while safety Jessie Bates scored the team’s first points with a pick-six off Derek Carr.

Falcons fans should surely be encouraged by what they saw in Week 12. The team is still working without a top-tier quarterback, but the rest of their roster showcased that it has what it takes to elevate the team to the top of one of the league’s weakest divisions.

And that’s exactly where they find themselves with two-thirds of the 2023 NFL season in the books.

MORE: Updated NFL playoff picture for Week 12 of 2023 season

NFC South standings

The NFC South is the only division in the NFL that doesn’t currently have a team with a record above .500. The Falcons and Saints are both sitting at 5-6 while the Buccaneers are a game back of them.

Below is a full look at the NFC South standings with each team’s Week 12 games now in the books.

Place Team Record
1 Falcons 5-6
2 Saints 5-6
3 Buccaneers 4-7
4 Panthers 1-10

The Falcons moved into first place in the division by virtue of their win over the Saints. Atlanta’s victory gives it the head-to-head tiebreaker against New Orleans and also moves the Falcons to 3-0 in the division. By comparison, the Saints are 1-2 against NFC South foes, so the Falcons have a two-game lead over the Saints in that key tiebreaker category.

Because of the win, the Falcons are now in control of their own destiny in the wide-open NFC South. As long as they keep winning, they will remain in first place within the division. And given that the Falcons have just one team with a winning record remaining on their schedule — the 6-5 Colts in Week 16 — they should be favored to win the division at present.

Of course, the Saints will still have a chance to avenge this loss. The Falcons and Saints play in Week 18 in what could ultimately be a win-and-in game, pending the results for each team down the stretch of the 2023 NFL season.

That said, the Saints have a tougher schedule remaining than the Falcons. They are playing the Lions in Week 13, so that could prove to be a difficult contest for the Saints, especially with Chris Olave, Michael Thomas and Rashid Shaheed banged up.

POWER RANKINGS: Where NFC South teams rank within NFL hierarchy

Further down the standings, the Buccaneers’ loss to the Colts puts them a game back in the divisional race. They are still within striking distance of first place, however, so with four divisional games left on the schedule, Tampa Bay can’t be counted out as it searches for a third consecutive NFC South title.

As for the Panthers, Carolina’s attention has turned toward next season. At 1-10, the Panthers are the worst team in the NFL. That would normally position them to vie for the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, but they traded that pick to the Bears as part of the package to move up and get Bryce Young at No. 1 overall in 2023.

That makes this season more than just a lost one for the Panthers. It’s a complete disaster that could ultimately result in another regime change if owner David Tepper grows impatient with Frank Reich in his first year as the team’s head coach.


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