Time for a run through the top headlines from around the division.
The Carolina Panthers sound like they’re more than a little angry about a comment they said Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan made after the teams played early in the season. Sounds to me like a team grasping for any sort of motivation.
Check out this column by Jeff Schultz in which defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux compares defensive end John Abraham to Baltimore’s Ray Lewis. Babineaux has a point. At 34, Abraham still is coming through in the clutch. His sack against New Orleans pretty much sealed the win for the Falcons.
Louis Murphy may start at receiver for the Panthers if Brandon LaFell can’t play due to an injury. Murphy’s had some bright moments as a backup and his speed could present a challenge for an Atlanta secondary that’s banged up.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock told Mike Triplett the Saints don’t have the same overall level of talent they did a few years ago. Mayock then went through a list of areas where the Saints need to improve their personnel in the offseason. He mentioned wide receiver, offensive line and pretty much every area on defense. That’s a lot of needs for a team that won’t have a full stash of draft picks or a lot of salary-cap room. You're starting to see the downside of devoting so much salary-cap space to Drew Brees. The Saints are going to have to start getting more out of some of the young players already on their roster.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
The Bucs don’t think rookie running back Doug Martin, who has been relatively quiet the last two games, is hitting the proverbial "wall." I agree with that. I think Atlanta’s run defense was exceptional against the Bucs and Tampa Bay had to abandon the run after falling behind in Denver. If Martin doesn’t bounce back Sunday against Philadelphia, then I might be more inclined to give some credence to the theory that he’s wearing down.
Tom Jones writes that the Bucs need to lock up quarterback Josh Freeman with a contract extension. I’ve been saying this for weeks, maybe months. Freeman may not be perfect, but he’s bounced back nicely from a disastrous 2011 season and he has the Bucs in playoff contention. He also has plenty of remaining upside. Freeman’s detractors talk about his completion percentage not being very high. But you have to put that into context. This isn’t the New Orleans offense, so it’s unrealistic to expect Freeman to complete 70 percent of his passes. This offense takes a lot of shots down the field and Freeman has been completing a fair number of those. He’s become perhaps the first true franchise quarterback in team history. As soon as the season is over, the Bucs should go ahead and extend Freeman’s contract.