Behind Enemy Lines is a look at Tampa Bay’s NFC South foes every week. Let’s spy on the Bucs’ division rivals, shall we?
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• The Falcons will be looking for a new coaching staff and general manager a week from now following another disappointing season that saw Dan Quinn get the axe earlier in the year. While Quinn would welcome an opportunity to become a head coach again, he is likely headed back to the coordinator ranks and an NFC team may have an interest in the former Atlanta defensive-minded head coach or Quinn’s interim replacement Raheem Morris.
“There are some interesting potential coordinator openings across the NFL, and one question is what San Francisco will do if Robert Saleh lands a head coaching job. I’ve heard ex-Falcons coach Dan Quinn’s name raised for that DC job, should Saleh bolt, and current Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris is another name that can be tied to Kyle Shanahan.”
• The Jaguars have the No. 1 pick in next April’s NFL Draft locked up and the New York Jets will have the second overall pick regardless of how games play out this weekend. The Falcons draft position is still up in the air but if the season ended today, Atlanta would hold the overall No. 4 selection.
While it is early in the mock draft season, CBSSports.com have the Falcons taking BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. Matt Ryan likely will be the Falcons starter next season due to the enormous cap hit Atlanta would take if they parted ways, but the feeling is at age 36, Ryan’s days are numbered and a new head coach and GM likely would want to build their team with their players. Having Wilson sit and learn for a season wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen for either the team or the rookie.
• After a new coach and general manager are hired by the Falcons the first order of business will be – should the front office tear the Falcons down to the ground and start all over, or add to the current roster and hope a new coaching staff can help the players find ways to finish games.
“Only three of their 11 losses were by more than one score. Those three opponents — the Packers, Saints and Seahawks — currently own playoff seeds Nos. 1-3 in the NFC. Four Falcons losses were by a field goal or less. Two were by one point. The Falcons really might not be as bad as their record.
“As a numbers guy, I subscribe to the belief that luck plays a big role in close games. Admittedly, the Falcons have shaken that belief with their pattern of finding ways to lose them. But the only sure way to be better in close games is to be good enough to avoid many of them. The Packers (eight wins by two scores or more), Saints (six) and Seahawks (four) are that good.”
• While there has been no data suggesting fans attending NFL games have created any COVID-19 spreader events, the Panthers are erring on the side of caution this week for their final home game against the Saints, and only allowing 1,500 to be in attendance. Those 1,500 will be made of of just family and friends of the players and members of the organization.
“This decision was made as a result of ongoing conversation with local government and public health officials and a review of the latest COVID-19 data and guidance,” Mark Hart, Tepper Sports & Entertainment vice president and chief operating officer, said in a statement. “As we have done throughout this season, we look forward to providing a safe and enjoyable game-day experience for all those in attendance.”
• The what seems to be the weekly “Christian McCaffrey watch” is still up in the air for the season finale against New Orleans but early indications are he may be a no-go.
Matt Rhule says he’s “probably leaning towards no” when it comes to Christian McCaffrey this week.
Carolina’s star running back has played in just three game this season missing action with an ankle, shoulder and thigh injuries.
• Head coach Matt Rhule’s team has struggled down the stretch but he is hoping to see the Panthers build some momentum for 2021 on Sunday when they host the NFC South champion Saints.
“I want to play our best game,” Rhule said Monday to the media. “For the Saints, they’re playing for the one seed. So if you think about it, they’d be the only team in the NFC that doesn’t have to play a first-round game. That’s huge. So this is like a playoff game for them, so we’re going to get their absolute best, which is really, really, really outstanding.
“So I’m anxious to see us go match that and go see if we can play as well as they do. That’s really it, to be quite honest.”
New Orleans Saints
• While it was widely known that the Saints would have drafted quarterback Patrick Mahomes has they been given the opportunity in 2017, Saints head coach Sean Payton recently told Peter King they would have passed on Christian McCaffrey because they liked Alvin Kamara better and felt they could nab him later in the draft.
“I told them (scouts), ‘Kamara’s going to be a better player than McCaffrey,’ “ Payton said.
So far, Payton has been correct as Kamara has played in 60 games and McCaffrey in 51. Since their careers began Kamara has 998 touches for 6,163 total yards and 58 touchdowns while McCaffrey has 1,002 touches for 5,817 total yards and 45 scores.
“He’s so smart,” Payton said. “And he knows his role on the team. After every game, he sticks his head into my office. Every game. He just says, ‘Everything good?’ I say yep, and he says, ‘Just checking on you.'”
• Speaking of Kamara’s production, the former Tennessee star added his name to a prestigious list on Christmas Day, joining just three other players who have scored six touchdowns in a game. Kamara also set a personal record, totaling 155 yards on the ground. For his outstanding performance, Kamara was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
• Earlier this week on his regular radio appearance, Payton talked about the impact Kamara has had on the team this year including his big game last Friday night against the Vikings.
“He was fantastic,” Payton said. “One of the great traits that he has is how unselfish he can be, and how much he wants to win. He puts that first always. He’s always very conscious of his teammates’ performance – how they’re doing. He’s just someone that’s a special, unique person. He’s extremely smart. He’s gifted obviously on the football field and he’s someone that is very caring. With all of those traits, you get a special teammate and a special player and we’re fortunate to have him.”
• The Saints need some help to clinch a first-round bye and get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. New Orleans must beat Carolina and hope for a Packers loss to Chicago and a Seahawks win at the 49ers.