NFC South hot spots

Lots of good stuff in the NFC South mailbag this morning, so let's just jump right in.

Mike in Enon, Ohio (and a whole bunch of others) are buzzing about John Clayton’s comments about Tampa Bay’s “soft’’ schedule.

Pat Yasinskas: The mailbag was filled with questions, comments and venom toward Clayton on this one. But you know what? Clayton’s right and I think Tampa Bay fans are being a little too defensive here. Tampa Bay’s schedule has been favorable and Clayton has the numbers to support that. He’s not slapping the Bucs. He’s merely pointing out one of the reasons for their successful season. And, no matter what happens the rest of the way, this has been a successful season for the Bucs. There weren’t many people out there in the preseason saying they’d win eight games. They’ve already done that and they have a very good chance to end up with double-digit wins. That will be a huge accomplishment for a young team that’s been hit hard by injuries recently. But new guys have continued to step up after those injuries and that creates even more hope for Tampa Bay’s future.

Sterling in Sumter, S.C. wonders why it appears the Panthers are keeping general manager Marty Hurney as they’re showing coach John Fox the door.

Pat Yasinskas: There certainly is room to question many of Hurney’s personnel moves over the last few years and that might be enough to get him fired by some owners. But a lot of Hurney’s moves were made to comply with what owner Jerry Richardson wanted. Hurney remains in the good graces of the owner and every indication I get is that Hurney will be staying and that he will be the primary guy in choosing the new coach, although team president Danny Morrison is going to be very involved in that process and Richardson ultimately will have to sign off on the move.

Patrick in Palmer, Texas inquires about the Saints playing up or down to their level of competition.

Pat Yasinskas: I think it’s fair to say that’s been a trend for New Orleans this season. They can go out and look great against a team like Pittsburgh and, then, struggle to beat a Dallas or a Cincinnati. Is that going to be a fatal flaw? I doubt it. I’m thinking the Saints are healthier right now than they’ve been much of the season and they’re turning it on at the right time of year.

Rob in Norfolk, Va., asked about what he views as a tendency by Atlanta cornerback Brent Grimes to make big plays, but also to give them up.

Pat Yasinskas: Kind of comes with the territory. I know Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff doesn’t believe there is such a thing as a true shutdown cornerback and he’s won me over on that one. The logic is simple. All cornerbacks are going to give up some plays, but the good ones limit those and also will make some plays. Grimes’ height always is going to make him a target and big receivers exploit him at times. But, overall, Grimes has been having a very nice season.

Chris in Dayton, Ohio, asked if I think I’ve been a little hard on the Panthers.

Pat Yasinskas: It is what it is. Where I have heard that before? The Panthers are 1-12. There aren’t a lot of positive things that can be said about them right now. If I were going out and singing their praises, I’d probably be out of a job and having my sanity evaluated. They are a horrible football team. I don’t take joy in having to point that out on a regular basis. I covered the Panthers as a newspaper beat writer for nine seasons. There are many wonderful people in that organization. I talk to them regularly and I feel their pain because I don’t like to see people I like and respect suffer. Those people don’t have any problem with the things I’ve written because they know it is what it is. They know that, if the Panthers turn it around next year like the Bucs have done this year, I’ll be singing their praises. Hey, one other thing. There will be a little bit of positive news about the Panthers this afternoon. Keep an eye on the blog about 3 p.m. ET. It’s not a personnel move or anything major, but it is a recognition of one of the few positives of this season.

Darryl in Texas wonders if Raheem Morris is the leader for Coach of the Year and Mark Dominik for Executive of the Year.

Pat Yasinskas: I don’t know if they’ll sweep, but the “Young Bucs’’ who run the Bucs each have to be considered strongly. They’ve turned this franchise around and things should only continue to get better going forward. One other thing I’d like to bring up here. I live in Tampa (at least when I’m not out chasing the rest of the NFC South teams) and I’m kind of stunned at how a lot of people are pointing the finger at Morris for the team’s recent run of off-field trouble. True, the Bucs have had some trouble, but they are not the first or last team to run into this kind of thing. Heck, the Bucs even had some guys get in trouble when Tony Dungy was the coach. There’s a perception that this team is running amok because Morris is a young guy and a players’ coach. Look, the last thing he wants is for his players to be getting into trouble and it’s not like he’s out there hanging out with them at 2 in the morning. Morris is dealing with this situation and let’s just say that the talk about “handling things in-house’’ isn’t just lip service. You’re hearing about the Bucs fining some of these players, but there is a lot more going on behind the scenes on this. It might be wise to stay quiet and wait to see how some things play out going forward.