Final Word: NFC South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

One piece of history matters. Michael Vick’s return to Atlanta is grabbing the headlines, but this isn’t a grudge match between Vick and the team he began his career with. Vick has been out of Atlanta for a long time and he and the Falcons have done a nice job of moving forward. But there is one bit of history that could factor into this game. In Vick’s first game against the Falcons in 2009, he was Donovan McNabb’s backup. Matt Ryan was injured and did not play for the Falcons. Vick played a little and threw for a touchdown and ran for one. Some Atlanta players and members of the coaching staff felt Philadelphia coach Andy Reid was rubbing it in to Atlanta, and that hasn’t been forgotten.

The Bucs have to learn to play with the lead. Tampa Bay abandoned its running game last week and relied on quarterback Josh Freeman to pull off comebacks too often last season. Freeman can’t do that all the time. The Bucs need to get running back LeGarrette Blount involved in the offense from the start against Minnesota and they need to keep him involved throughout the game. Blount carried only five times in the opener. That’s about 20 less carries than he needs to be truly effective.

Look for changes in Atlanta’s secondary. The Falcons weren't thrilled with their secondary in the preseason and that’s why they signed cornerback Kelvin Hayden and safety James Sanders. Both are veterans and have been given a little time to learn the system. After last week’s poor defensive outing against the Bears, don’t be surprised if you see more of Hayden and Sanders. Safety Thomas DeCoud had a particularly rough outing against the Bears, and it wouldn’t be shocking if the Falcons start Sanders in his place.

The New Orleans defense needs to make plays. The Saints got run over by the Packers in the opener. Lots of teams have had trouble with Green Bay’s offense. But the Saints didn’t make a single big play on defense. Coordinator Gregg Williams needs to get his unit to force Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler into making some mistakes. The Saints need to create some turnovers in this game.

The Panthers will run the ball. Yes, rookie Cam Newton threw for 422 yards in his debut, and that was very encouraging. But Newton’s not going to do that every week. Carolina has two excellent running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The Panthers need to get them involved in the offense and try to control the clock. Newton’s not ready to win a shootout with Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. He needs his running backs to help keep Rodgers off the field as much as possible.