The standings are packed pretty tightly in the NFC South. No team in a division packed with offensive firepower has yet to pull away after six weeks of the season. Three of the division's four teams own pretty solid rosters, but each one has its own glaring weaknesses. With the NFL trade deadline tomorrow, the right move could give one of these three teams in position to run away with the division and make a deep run into the playoffs.
Tampa Bay, 4-2, leads the division with an upset win over the New Orleans Saints yesterday, thanks to defense that managed to pick off Drew Brees three times. The Saints own an identical 4-2 record; their only other loss coming to the Packers in week 1. Somehow, this does not seem like the same team just a couple years removed from the Super Bowl. Right behind both of those teams is a disappointing Atlanta Falcons team. Their draft day trade for Julio Jones gave them a supremely talented player, but has failed to produce the Green Bay-like performance they hoped to gain.
Needs: offensive line, wide receiver, linebacker
More than anything Tampa Bay needs playmakers. Getting their current group of playmakers to step up would also help. WR Mike Williams is well off the fantastic pace he set for himself as a rookie last year. Of course, opposing defenses are onto him now, and Josh Freeman has few reliable options behind him. Better protection up front would be nice, but feels like a luxury at this point.
Yes, Denver ought to be able to set their price for Lloyd, given all the teams that could use a receiver. Royal might be a decent option for Tampa, where they could stick him in the slot, his natural position. Wayne could impart his knowledge of what it means to be a champion onto a young group of players.
New Orleans Saints
Needs: defensive line, linebacker
Gregg Williams finds ways to blitz with what he has, but he could really, really use another pass rusher in the defensive end spot. Additionally, the Saints have been susceptible to the run. Some more girth in the middle of their line, or, better yet, a better group of linebackers would help.
Potential targets: James Hall, D.J. Williams
Hall is a savvy veteran who would give the Saints a part-time pass rushing specialist. Currently, Hall is watching the clock tick on his NFL career with the St. Louis Rams, a team that could use an extra draft pick or two. Denver linebacker D.J. Williams has been a popular name among armchair GMs ready to pick apart the rebuilding Broncos. He would instantly improve the New Orleans run defense and give them some help against tight ends.
Needs: defensive line, offensive line
Atlanta was supposed to be a favorite for the NFC Championship. Those expectations might have floated by the wayside as they were powerless to stop the Packers, the team they wanted to emulate, score 25 unanswered points last week for the comeback win. The biggest problem is in the trenches. They could really use some pass rushing help. On the other side of the ball, more reliable pass protection is needed.
The Falcons have a history of trading with the Rams, where former Atlanta personnel man Billy Devaney is the general manager. A chance of scenery might do Smith some good, and if Atlanta can coach his talent out of him, they would have a long-term solution. Mathis offers the biggest improvement, if only the Colts would be willing to trade him. Atlanta lacks much to trade with after giving up the farm for Julio Jones, so don't look for a deal to save the Falcons.
Needs: defensive tackle, safety
Just looking at the standings, you might think this is one of those awful rebuilding years with nothing but forgettable football. Not so. Cam Newton has made this one of the more exciting teams in the league, keeping them in the running against the elite. If their defense could stop anyone with some regularity, the Panthers might easily have three wins.
Potential targets: none
Carolina is one of those rebuilding teams. They're just rebuilding in a way that keeps things interesting. With the right offseason moves, Carolina could make this the most competitive division in the NFL next year.