The NFC South is on a roll.
With the Falcons' victory over the Seahawks on Monday Night Football, both NFC wild card spots would go to teams in the division if the season ended today – the Panthers (7-3) and the Falcons (6-4). The Saints (8-2) remained on top with a stirring comeback.
The division leads football with 25 victories, powered by a 9-0 record in non-division matchups since Week 8. The last time an NFC division produced three playoff teams was the NFC East in 2007, when the third team in the pecking order – the Giants – wrecked the Patriots' perfect season in Super Bowl XLII.
FALCONS: Atlanta has bounced back from a stretch of four losses in five games – a stretch capped by a loss in Charlotte – to post impressive victories at Dallas and Seattle in consecutive weeks. A week after throttling the Cowboys, the Falcons ran out early against the Seahawks and then held on for a 34-31 victory.
The offense was steady if not spectacular, and the defense forced Russell Wilson into miscues. An interception set up one Atlanta touchdown, and defensive end Adrian Clayborn (he of the six-sack showing in Dallas) scored on a 10-yard fumble return for a 21-3 lead that nearly evaporated at the end.
Despite being in third place, Atlanta remains in position to make noise in the division race because all but one of the Falcons' final six games are against NFC South foes, starting with Sunday's home game against Tampa Bay.
SAINTS: It looked for all the world like the Redskins would ruin the Saints' run and drop New Orleans into a first-place tie with the Panthers, but then Drew Brees did what Drew Brees sometimes does and rallied the Saints from a 15-point deficit in the waning minutes to set up a victory in overtime.
With his team down 31-16 heading to the game's final six minutes, Brees completed 11-of-11 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns to force OT. Running back Mark Ingram gained 20 and 31 yards on back-to-back totes to set up a short field goal for a 34-31 triumph.
The Saints did show some vulnerability in the secondary that hasn't really been seen since they started the season 0-2. The unit could be tested again this Sunday with a trip to the Los Angeles Rams, one week before the Saints and Panthers match up for the second time.
BUCCANEERS: Despite bringing up the bottom of the division, Tampa Bay has been pretty good in close games. The Buccaneers won for the second consecutive week – with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick under center for the second consecutive week.
Fitzpatrick directed Tampa Bay into position for a short field goal in the final seconds to break a 20-20 tie with the Dolphins (the final score was 30-20 thanks to a touchdown by former Panthers linebacker Adarius Glanton on the lateral-filled kickoff that followed). The Buccaneers improved to 4-6 by winning away from home for the first time in seven games, and they're on the road the next two weeks as well – at Atlanta and at Green Bay.
View the top photos from Panthers vs. Dolphins by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez and second shooter Andrew Dye.