FOX: Atlanta Poised To Beat Depleted Vikings

December 20th, 2008

By BOB FOX analyst Bob Fox takes a weekly look at the NFC playoff picture. Fox writes for numerous sports publications. He brings an insightful take on the conference. 

There are now just two weeks remaining in the 2008 season, and it is getting close to the midnight hour for playoff spots, especially in the NFC.  The Bucs are attempting to secure a Wild Card berth down the stretch, as the Bucs face a very dangerous opponent Sunday in the San Diego Chargers, who still have post-season aspirations themselves.  The Bucs still have an outside shot at the NFC South crown. analyst Bob Fox says the Vikings's of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Pat Williams will devastate their chances of beating the Falcons on Sunday, in a criticial NFC matchup for both teams, as well as the Bucs playoff future. analyst Bob Fox says the Vikings' loss of Pro Bowl DT Pat Williams will devastate their chances of beating the Falcons on Sunday, in a criticial NFC matchup for both teams, as well as the Bucs playoff future.

The biggest threats to the Bucs in the Wild Card chase have big games themselves this weekend, as the Dallas Cowboys host the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night in what should be a VERY physical game.  Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons go north to play the Minnesota Vikings, minus DT Pat Williams who is a big time run stuffer.  Michael Turner and the best running game in the NFL will certainly not miss the Pro Bowl mass of humanity that clogs the run so well for the Vikes.  In addition, the supremacy of the entire NFC is at stake, as the Carolina Panthers play the New York Giants in New Jersey for the right to be the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

NFC East
New York Giants 11-3
Dallas Cowboys 9-5
Philadelphia Eagles 8-5-1
Washington Redskins 7-7

It wasn’t that long ago when just about everyone had annointed the Giants as the best team in the NFL, if not, CERTAINLY the best team in the NFC.  But then Plaxico Burress had his Barney Fife moment and shot himself in the leg and was suspended.  Since then, the Giants have lost two straight games, plus RB Brandon Jacobs has had injury issues.  So now the Giants are faced with a game  Sunday night against the Panthers for the right to be the No. 1seed in the conference playoffs. The Cowboys face a stiff test themselves on Saturday night as they face the very physical Ravens in Big D.  QB Tony Romo was battered and bruised last Sunday vs. the Giants, and he won’t feel much better after he faces Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and company.  Plus, the Ravens have to feel a bit peeved about the way they lost last weekend to the Steelers in the last few seconds.  The Eagles are still riding high and will now finish the season against two NFC East opponents, the Redskins and the Boys.  I expect the Eagles to continue their winning ways against their big rivals behind the likes of Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook.  Even with the big Cowboys’ win against the Giants last weekend, I still expect the Eagles to be the Wild Card team that comes out of this division. 

NFC North
Minnesota Vikings 9-5
Chicago Bears 8-6
Green Bay Packers 5-9
Detroit Lions 0-14

The Vikings showed me something last week in their big win in Arizona.  Tavaris Jackson looked very good at QB, as well.  But the win came at a price, as DT Pat Williams. a 2009 Pro Bowl pick, was lost for several weeks with fractured shoulder.  That situation could cause the Vikings problems this week as they will host exceptional rookie QB Matt Ryan, plus Michael Turner and the rest of the Falcons, which leads the NFL in rushing.  Plus the Vikes will have to face the Giants next week, and the Giants are second in the NFL in rushing.  The Bears get their chance to make up ground on the Vikes as they host the Packers on Monday night.  The Bears were embarrassed in Green Bay earlier in the year 37-3.  Any game with the Packers and the Bears is a pride type of game, no matter the playoff consequences, as this will be 176th meeting between these two squads.  The Bears will also face a tough task in week 17 as they travel to Houston to play the Texans.  At this point, I would say the Vikings will probably squeak in and win the NFC North.

NFC South
Carolina Panthers 11-3
Tampa Bay Bucs 9-5
Atlanta Falcons 9-5
New Orleans Saints 7-7

It was just three weeks ago when the Bucs appeared to be in prime position for the playoffs as the NFC South divisional winner. The Bucs then had to face three very tough NFC South opponents. The Bucs took care of the Saints at home, but then lost two straight to the Panthers and Falcons on the road.  The Bucs are now two games behind the Panthers in the NFC South  race, but still can be a Wild Card team if they win out based on tiebreakers with Atlanta.  But the road won’t be easy.  The Bucs  face a very dangerous obstacle in the San Diego Chargers at the Ray Jay on Sunday.  The Chargers will play hard for 60 minutes, as they still hope for the postseason as well.  The Chargers are 6-8 right now, but could very well have a record of 9-5 with a couple of breaks here and there.  Right Ed Hochuli?  The Falcons travel to Minnesota where Vikings’ DT Pat Williams will NOT be there to help stop their vaunted ground game.  So it is imperative that the Bucs win this weekend and keep their narrow lead on the Birds from Atlanta.  One way or the other, either the Bucs or the Falcons will be another Wild Card team in the NFC, but this weekend will play a HUGE part in that outcome. 

NFC West
z- Arizona Cardinals 8-6
San Francisco 49ers 5-9
St. Louis Rams 3-11
Seattle Seahawks 2-12

The NFC West division champion Cardinals were embarrassed last weekend by the Vikings at home, but the loss probably had something to do with the Cards clinching their first divisional title since 1975 the previous week.  The Vikings probably smelled the champagne oozing out of the Cardinals players.  The Cards will probably rest their key players down the stretch as they attempt to stay healthy for the playoff run.  But as Tampa Bay fans know, it also important to have some momentum going into the playoffs, even if one is hosting a playoff game at home in the first round.

z- Clinched Division Title

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