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Monday, December 8, 2008

NFC South Game of the Year (and a recap of Sunday's games)

I cannot emphasize enough how important tonight's Monday night mtachup is when it comes to the playoff race. Even the casual NFL fan will tell you tonight's game will be a great one. If you are not intrigued by a Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3) and Carolina Panthers (9-3) showdown, then you should not be calling yourself a fan of the NFL.

Carolina may have gotten knocked out by Tampa, 27-3, back in their week six matchup, but they have gone 5-1 since then and DeAngelo Williams is having a career year. The great duo of Williams and rookie RB Jonathan Stewart, out of Oregon, has helped Carolina the whole way, but my vote for comeback player of the year (Jake Delhomme) has backed them up well.

On the other side of the field, veteran QB Jeff Garcia has done a fine job keeping the 12th ranked offense together in close games. In fact, four of the Bucs nine wins have been by a touchdown or less, which includes two overtime wins over Chicago (27-24) and Kansas City (30-27). Might I add that all three of their losses have been by four or less points; 20-24 @ NO, 13-16 @ DEN, 9-13 @ Dallas. As you can see, all three of their losses have come on the road (6-0 at home). But, the game tonight happens to be in Carolina, meaning they are on the road (3-3 on road). That last piece of information obviously points towards Carolina, and adds a little pressure to Jon Gruden's Bucs.

The key in this game will be Carolina's seventh ranked rushing attack game against Tampa's fifth ranked run defense. Both teams will be favoring the run (Carolina is 19th run offense while Tampa's rushing attack is 11th). So expect only around 20 pass attempts for both starting QB's, Delhomme and Garcia.

My pick? Tampa is the obvious favorite; won last meeting and has the third ranked defense in the NFL. But I believe John Fox's Carolina Panthers, led by fantasy stud DeAngelo Williams will upset the Bucs and go on to win two of the last three regular season games to clinch the NFC South. Why not? I picked the Panthers to win the division before the seasons started, why give up on them now?

One thing I know for sure, at this point, is that we are witnessing something great. The NFC South has been having one of their best seasons in a pretty long time. Housing the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award (Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons QB) and home of TWO nine-win teams through 13 weeks. Just last season Tampa Bay won the division easily with nine wins and Atlanta (currently standing at 8-5) was battling for the top pick in the '08 draft (4-12). Their four-win season forced head coach Rick Pettrino to just resign overnight...before the season was even finished.

Prediction: Carolina def. Tampa Bay 35-28. Williams rushes for 130+ yards and 3 TD's.

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