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In the NFC, the South Shall Rise Again

Sunday, December 26, 2004; Page E06

[Atlanta at New Orleans, 1 p.m.]

TV: WTTG-5

[Carolina at Tampa Bay,

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4:15 p.m.]

BREAKDOWN

"Did you see me dig the grave? You're out of the playoffs! Out!"

-- Saints wide receiver Donte Stallworth, to a Tampa Bay fan after New Orleans shocked the Bucs last week. Donte, Donte, Donte: This is the NFC. No one's out of the playoffs!

Let's give a little love to the oft-ignored NFC South, the division from which the last two NFC champions have emerged. This year, the NFC South is the only division in which all of its teams have outscored their opponents. Okay, so only one team, the Falcons, has a winning record, but each of the four teams has either clinched a playoff spot or is still alive for a playoff spot.

True, this also can be said for two of the other three divisions in the NFC. But none of those divisions has the Panthers (winners of five of six), the Saints (who scored two touchdowns in the final 3 minutes 33 seconds last week to win at Tampa Bay) or the Bucs (losers of three of four, but the one win was a shutout of the division-leading Falcons on Dec. 5).

And of course there's the Falcons, who could be considered the favorite in the NFC now that the Eagles' Terrell Owens is likely out until at least the Super Bowl. Atlanta has won six of seven and can rest its starters the last two weeks of the regular season now that it's clinched a first-round bye.


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