After the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons closed out Week 4, we are officially through the first quarter of the NFL season. The NFC South was one of the conferences under a microscope going into the season and thus far has led to some memories through these first few weeks, for better and worse. Have the New Orleans Saints lived up to their hype? How have the rebuilt Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers fared? Have the veteran stalwarts Atlanta Falcons moved towards contention? Let’s take a dive into the NFC South Quarter Season review for 2020.
2020 NFC South Quarter Season Review
The Current Standings
After four weeks of action, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are on top of the NFC South despite a Week 1 loss to the New Orleans Saints. The Buccaneers have a record of 3-1 after winning three straight. In second place is the New Orleans Saints at 2-2. The Saints are notoriously slow starters in September and that kept true this year. After an impressive victory in Week 1 against the Buccaneers, the Saints lost two straight in Weeks 2 and 3. The Saints did seem to find some momentum with a victory against the Detroit Lions in Week 4, placing them in second in the NFC South.
The rebuilt Carolina Panthers are also sitting at 2-2 at the quarter mark. After starting 0-2, the Panthers rallied and had impressive wins against the Los Angeles Chargers and Arizona Cardinals. Coming in last in the NFC South is the Atlanta Falcons at 0-4. This first quarter season for the Falcons has been dreadful and on the wrong side of memorable games. The Falcons have scored 26 or more points in three of four games, but their defense has surrendered 30 or more in every single game thus far, leading to a winless record.
NFC South Quarter Season Offenses
The NFC South rushing offenses are mostly in the top half of the league after four weeks. Leading the overall rushing statistics are the Saints and Panthers, ranked 13th and 14th, respectively. The Panthers have had to use Mike Davis after the Christian McCaffrey injury but this hasn’t slowed the rushing offense at all. After the injury to Michael Thomas, the Saints leaned on Alvin Kamara who is playing MVP level football after four weeks. The Falcons and Buccaneers have struggled the most with the run. Todd Gurley has taken time to get acclimated to the Falcons offensive scheme. The Buccaneers have had a rotating backfield which is a reason they are the worst-ranked NFC South team on the ground at 27th.
For passing offenses, each team has put up respectful numbers after four weeks. The Atlanta Falcons are the worst of the NFC South but still 18th in the entire NFL. Nagging injuries to Julio Jones and a bad defense contributes to the Falcons’ statistics. The Saints are the next highest passing offense, ranked 13th overall, but having the highest quarterback rating at 109.3. Drew Brees has looked shaky at times but seems to have found a groove in Week 4. Coming in the top 10 of NFL passing offenses is the Buccaneers and Panthers, respectively. Ranked sixth is the Tom Brady-led Buccaneers with a 99.4 quarterback rating and 273 yards per game. Surprisingly, Teddy Bridgewater and the Panthers are ranked fifth, edging the Buccaneers at 274 yards per game.
NFC South Quarter Season Defenses
Leading the NFC South rushing defense is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They are only giving up an incredible 64 yards per game, ranking second in the NFL overall. The Tampa Bay rushing defense sets the tone for the rest of the defense and looks to be a strength going forward. The Saints are seventh in the NFL but still significantly behind the Buccaneers, giving up 97 yards per game. Cameron Jordan and the rest of the Saints defensive front should improve going forward. Each of the remaining NFC South teams is giving up over 100 rushing yards per game. The Falcons are ranked 14th at 113 per game while the Panthers are 25th, giving up the most in the NFC South at 125 per game.
The passing defense for the Atlanta Falcons has been awful in the first quarter of the NFL season. They are ranked 31st overall, giving up 350 yards per game in the air. These defensive issues make the Falcons abandon offensive gameplans early and have to play catch up most games. Although the Buccaneers have a fantastic rushing defense, their 19th ranked passing defense does need improving if the team is to hold onto the top of the NFC South. A banged-up Saints secondary still manages to come in 13th against the pass. Once Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins get healthy, the secondary should improve. The surprising Panthers manage the best passing defense in the NFC South, ranking seventh in the entire NFL.
2020 NFC South Outlook
The remaining schedules for the NFC South teams shape up pretty well for all teams. The bad news for the Falcons is they have the toughest remaining schedule in the NFC South but only coming in as the 17th hardest in the NFL, according to tankathon.com. The remaining tough opponents for the Falcons are the Kansas City Chiefs and having to play the Buccaneers and Saints twice. Carolina has the 23rd easiest schedule going forward with their toughest games coming against the Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, and the Saints, twice. Tampa Bay has the next easiest schedule with their hardest games against the Chiefs, Packers, Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears, and Las Vegas Raiders. Luckily for the Saints, they have the easiest remaining schedule of the NFC South, with tough games against the Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers, and Panthers, twice.
Very few divisional games have taken place in the first quarter of the NFL season for the NFC South. These divisional games will determine who ultimately wins the division; however, there are three teams contending for playoff spots thus far. The Panthers and Saints play twice in the coming weeks and should separate the division some going forward. It has been an exciting NFC South quarter season and the divisional race should be entertaining for these strong teams the rest of 2020.