The NFC South has been one of the NFL‘s most competitive divisions thus far, at least among the top three teams.
Very little separation has formed between the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers despite their struggles. The race only tightened after the Falcons took a 24-15 win over the Saints on Sunday.
Falcons Take NFC South Lead
Atlanta entered Sunday a game back of New Orleans for the division lead and could have seen its path to the playoffs get significantly more difficult with a loss. Instead, the Falcons built a narrow lead and fought off the Saints’ comeback attempts to take home a crucial victory.
They did so despite quarterback Desmond Ridder’s turnover issues continuing as he went 13 of 21 for 168 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. He is now up to eight interceptions and seven fumbles lost in 10 appearances this season, including nine starts.
Dynamic rookie running back Bijan Robinson picked up the slack, though, tallying a combined 19 touches for 123 yards and two touchdowns as a ball carrier and pass catcher. That, combined with a 92-yard pick-six by Jessie Bates III, gave Atlanta all the scoring it needed to knock off New Orleans.
It all amounted to a big win for the Falcons, one that gave them the lead in the NFC South via a tiebreaker over the Saints. Atlanta (5-6) and New Orleans (5-6) are tied in record, but the Falcons now own a head-to-head win as the tiebreaker. Another crucial meeting between the teams that could decide the division is set for the final week of the regular season.
The Falcons also snapped a three-game skid with the victory after losing close games to the Tennessee Titans, Minnesota Vikings, and Arizona Cardinals.
The rest of the schedule is set up rather favorably, with games remaining against the Buccaneers and Saints that provide Atlanta chances to build up its lead in the division.
Saints’ Struggles Continue To Mount
New Orleans, by contrast, saw its struggles continue to mount, suffering its second straight loss and repeating a trend from earlier in the season.
Each of the Saints’ six losses have now come in pairs of two. They followed up a 2-0 start with back-to-back defeats, then took a win before losing two more in a row. Wins over the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears followed, but it’s been tough sledding of late with losses to the Vikings and now the Falcons.
New Orleans outgained Atlanta with 444 yards of total offense, but it never found the end zone on the day, settling for six field goal attempts, five of which were made. The Saints made it to the red zone four times on the day, settling for three field goals and having a fourth push end on a Taysom Hill fumble.
That lack of effectiveness when it mattered most ultimately cost the Saints a chance at a crucial win and set them back in the playoff race.
Better will be needed moving forward to pull back ahead of Atlanta and fend off Tampa Bay, which still sits just one game behind the leaders despite its 27-20 loss to the Colts on Sunday. It all makes for a divisional title race that should be fascinating to watch down the stretch.
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