Final Word: NFC South

Five nuggets of wisdom about Week 3.

Three-ring circus. Think about this: Steve Smith, Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens all will be in Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, which means the game between the Panthers and Bengals has the potential to be highly entertaining. I never thought I’d say this, but if you put those three receivers on the prima donna or volatility scale, Smith would probably come in third in both categories. Then again, with the Panthers 0-2 and turning to rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen, Smith’s engine might be running a little hotter than usual.

Trial balloon. I’m more than a little surprised the game between the undefeated Steelers and the undefeated Buccaneers didn’t sell out in time to lift the local television blackout for Tampa Bay. From what I’ve been able to gather, the Bucs weren’t all that far from a sellout. Last year, the Bucs would have bought up those tickets and made sure the game got on television. It probably would have cost in the neighborhood of $500,000 to $750,000 to make this game was a sellout and the Bucs were really in a no-win situation. If they sold out, people would have said it was because Pittsburgh fans bought up the tickets. If the Bucs win this one and start 3-0, they show they’re for real. From there on out, their fans will be the ones on the hot seat. If there’s a good product on the field, it’s time to show up at the stadium and the Bucs might be testing their fans for the future.

Give the kid a chance. Advice to Carolina fans: Do not expect Clausen to step right in and save the world. He’s a rookie quarterback and he’s only got one legitimate wide receiver. But I think you’ve got a right to expect Clausen to be at least a little better than Matt Moore was in the first two weeks.

Trap game? A lot of people talked about the Monday night game in San Francisco being a trap game for the Saints. They made it through that and I don’t think you can say Atlanta really is a trap game because the Saints never take the Falcons lightly. If the Saints really are going to have a chance to win back-to-back Super Bowls, this game will be a huge test. It comes against a good team and it comes after the Saints have played two grueling games.

Dunta’s game. Let’s break this down to the simplest of terms. The Falcons signed cornerback Dunta Robinson to play two games a year against the New Orleans Saints. Sure, there’s a little more to it than that. But the Falcons know the road to the NFC South title runs through New Orleans and is dotted by Drew Brees and all his wide receivers. The Falcons went out and signed Robinson to counter that. A lot of people say the Falcons overpaid to get Robinson. If he helps get them a victory against New Orleans, I say Robinson will have earned his salary.