Final Word: NFC South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14.

'Matty Ice' thaws out. Prior to last Sunday’s game in Tampa Bay, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan had gone four games without throwing an interception, and the entire offense had gone the same period of time without turning the ball over. The streak ended as the Bucs picked off Ryan twice. Almost all day long, Ryan looked just a little off with his passes. But I don’t think that’s any cause for concern. When the game was on the line, Ryan led the Falcons on a sharp touchdown drive. The bounce back will continue this week. That’s partly because Ryan is good and partly because he’ll be playing the Carolina Panthers.

Something to play for. Speaking of the Panthers, if I’m one of their veterans, I’m making sure I go all out in these final four games. Yes, coach John Fox is on his way out the door and this has been a lost season. But back in 2002 when Fox was hired to replace George Seifert, the first thing he and general manager Marty Hurney did was to sit down and watch film from the previous season. They noticed some veterans who pretty much packed it in at the end of the season. Those guys immediately were gone. All indications are that Hurney still will be around, and you can bet he and the new coach will do the exact same kind of film review.

Bucking the trend. For the first time this season, the Bucs have lost back-to-back games. That would be a sign of trouble for a lot of teams, but I don’t think that’s the case here. The Bucs have lost close games to Baltimore and Atlanta, two good teams. That’s not enough to end the momentum they had going before that. The Bucs go up to Washington on Sunday, and the Redskins have some issues. I usually avoid predictions, but I’m going to make one here. I say the Bucs beat the Redskins 24-17.

Where’s the defense? A lot has been said about how New Orleans’ offense has come together, scoring 30 or more points in each of the last four games. That’s a great sign and this is a wonderful time of the year for that to happen. But, if the Saints really are going to make a run, their defense still needs to show some major improvement. When the Saints have to score 30 or more to beat teams like Dallas and Cincinnati, it makes you wonder what would happen against a good team in the playoffs.

Doubting Thomas. One other big storyline on the Saints is that running back Pierre Thomas appears likely to return Sunday from an ankle injury that has kept him sidelined since late September. This probably won’t be much of a story. Chris Ivory has come in and shown he can do most of what Thomas did last year. With Reggie Bush also in the mix, the Saints aren’t going to suddenly give Thomas 20 carries. They’ll probably use him only sparingly, and Ivory’s success doesn’t bode well for Thomas’ future with the Saints. He’s a free agent after this season. Unless there are injuries and Thomas suddenly lights things up, he’s probably out of New Orleans as soon as the season is over.