NFC South Stock Watch


1. Greg Olson, Buccaneers offensive coordinator. Coming into the season, Olson was getting some mention as one of the “hot’’ coordinators and could have ended up with a shot at a job as a head coach with another good season. That hasn’t come anywhere close to happening. Like everything else with the Bucs, Olson’s offense has taken a step back. Heck, even if the Bucs wanted to fire coach Raheem Morris right now, they probably would be very hesitant to do it because Olson would be the likely candidate to take over on an interim basis and his season has been just as bad as Morris’.

2. Olindo Mare, Panthers kicker. Carolina made a controversial move in the offseason, letting go of kicker John Kasay, the last remaining member of the 1995 expansion team. They brought in Mare with a contract worth $12 million over four years. The thinking was the team could save a roster spot because Kasay hadn’t kicked off in years and the team had carried a kickoff specialist. Mare has been as good as any kicker in the league in recent years and the team believed he could be at least as accurate as Kasay on field goals and might be able to make some longer kicks. Well, Mare missed a 36-yard attempt in Sunday’s loss to Atlanta. He also missed a 31-yard attempt that would have sent an earlier game against Minnesota to overtime. Coach Ron Rivera said Monday the Panthers may take a look at some other kickers.

3. Donald Penn, Buccaneers left tackle. For most of the season, Penn has been the least of Tampa Bay’s troubles. But that changed in Jacksonville. Penn allowed a sack that led to a Josh Freeman fumble and didn’t have a good game all the way around. That comes at a bad time because Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware, who has 15 sacks, is coming to town Saturday night.


1. Mike Smith, Falcons coach. He was back at practice Monday night after having to check into a Charlotte hospital following Sunday’s victory against the Panthers. Smith declined to go into any specifics about his health, but said a series of tests showed no major problems. Smith said it will be business as usual as the Falcons prepare for Thursday night’s game against Jacksonville. But maybe somewhere in all of this, there is a lesson for Smith and every other coach in the NFL. They’re in a very competitive business and work ridiculous hours with almost no time off once training camp starts. But even in those circumstances, coaches need a little balance. An extra hour of rest or exercise here and there might do just as much overall good as an extra hour in the film room.

2. Gregg Williams, Saints defensive coordinator. His defense came up with two big stops late in the victory against Tennessee and has looked better overall in recent weeks. Williams needs to keep building on this positive momentum. Although Drew Brees and the offense generally have carried the Saints, they’re going to need some good outings from the defense if they want to get by San Francisco and Green Bay in the NFC playoffs.

3. Julio Jones, Falcons receiver. It sure looks like Jones is maturing right in front of our eyes. He came off a bad game against Houston and got off to a rough start Sunday against Carolina. But the coaching staff and quarterback Matt Ryan kept faith in Jones. That was rewarded in the second half as Jones had two touchdown catches to help the Falcons rally to a victory.