NFC South Notebook: Saints & Panthers staking claims to major NFL awards

Dave Holcomb

Unfortunately, nothing changed for the Atlanta Falcons in Week 6. While the Falcons lost their fourth in a row, the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers each won their fourth straight. Atlanta is now three games out of second place in the NFC South.

The good news is Atlanta has all of its division games remaining, but that might not matter if the hole is too big to climb out of in the second half of the year. It also doesn't look like the Saints and Panthers are going to be slowing down any time soon.

Teddy Bridgewater has done a terrific job filling in for the injured Drew Brees, but Sean Payton and the Saints coaching staff should receive a ton of credit for the team's 5-1 start. Payton is calling plays that fit Bridgewater and mixing in third-string signal caller Taysom Hill enough to keep defenses off balance. New Orleans has now also won two defensive battles.

Since the Brees injury, the Saints are allowing under 17 points per game, and they haven't given up more than 260 yards in a game in any of the last three weeks. In Week 6, New Orleans beat Jacksonville on the road, 13-6. The Saints ended Gardner Minshew's interception drought, picking off his first pass in more than 160 attempts.

The way the entire team is playing without their Hall of Fame quarterback, Payton is an early favorite for coach of the year.

As for Carolina, the Panthers rode seven takeaways to knock off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London on Sunday, but there's no doubt who carries Carolina most weeks. That's running back Christian McCaffrey.

McCaffrey had an off week against the Buccaneers, averaging under 2.0 yards per attempt, and yet he still leads the league with 618 rushing yards, 923 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns. McCaffrey also plays a whopping 96 percent of Carolina's offensive snaps. That's unheard of for a running back in 2019.

He faces nearly impossible odds as a running back in the passing era, but through six games, McCaffrey is firmly entrenched in the MVP discussion.