Final Word: NFC South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

Crunch time. We're going to find out a lot about the Falcons over the next week or so. Nobody has a better record than Atlanta, but there are plenty of questions about this team. Although the Falcons have won big games against New Orleans and Baltimore, they also have lost big games to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. You can't truly be considered a Super Bowl contender until you show you can consistently win big games. The Falcons will get that chance now as they play host to Green Bay on Sunday and travel to Tampa next week.

Testing the defense. The defense will be the key for Atlanta as the Falcons play the Packers. At times, Atlanta's defense has looked very good and the additions of cornerback Dunta Robinson and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon have given this unit a faster, more aggressive look. But Weatherspoon and Robinson each missed some time with injuries, and there have been times when this defense hasn't looked all that different from the past two years. Weatherspoon and Robinson are healthy now and that's encouraging. But we're about to find out how good the Atlanta defense really can be as it goes against a good Green Bay offense.

Respect time. Although the Buccaneers are a surprising 7-3, their fans don't feel as if the team gets enough respect nationally. There might be a reason for that. Tampa Bay's wins haven't come against very good teams. That's not the Bucs' fault. But they can shed the image by going into Baltimore and winning against the Ravens.

Defense rising. Speaking of Tampa Bay and the soft schedule, the Bucs went out to San Francisco last Sunday and shutout the 49ers. Although San Francisco is a bad team, a shutout in the NFL is still a major accomplishment, and it could give the Tampa Bay defense some confidence to build on. The Bucs had been winning mostly with offense this year, but the defense has shown big improvement the past few weeks. Rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is the major reason for that. He started off slowly, but is starting to show some glimpses of how good he can be.

Facing the past. As bad as this season has been for the Carolina Panthers, it might be about to get worse. The Panthers will have to face Jake Delhomme when they play the Cleveland Browns. Delhomme was Carolina's long-time quarterback and was released after last season. Carolina has struggled mightily at quarterback this season. Facing Delhomme is going to provide some fans with a reminder of what it was like when the Panthers had steady quarterback play. But don't get too caught up in the nostalgia. Delhomme did some nice things in his Carolina days, but his last year there was disastrous. Things wouldn't be much different if Delhomme had stayed.