Hines Ward: Circle the dates between the Panthers, Saints

Two-time super bowl champion and CNN Sport contributor Hines Ward shares his Week 9 takeaways with CNN’s Jill Martin.

We’re at the halfway point, and you start to see teams separate the contenders from the pretenders. You really see what teams are made of. This is a crucial month for a lot of teams in the NFL.

Let’s start with the NFC South, where the Panthers and Saints need our attention.

The Carolina Panthers — I don’t think anyone expected them to have the year that they’re having.

Cam Newton is looking like he’s back to his MVP form, from back in 2015. What they’re doing with running back Christian McCaffrey I just think is amazing. It’s showing his versatility both running and catching the ball.

They’re only one game behind the New Orleans Saints, and they have key matchups at the end of the year. In the last three weeks of the season, they play each other twice. Right now, it looks like it should be for the division.

Meanwhile, the Saints just knocked off the Rams. What, if anything does that performance show you?

Well, it’s a tough place to play. I think, right now, it’s really a two-team race to try to get that home field advantage for the playoffs.

I’ve played in New Orleans. I’ve been there. I know what their fans are like. It’s one of the toughest places to play. It’s loud. They get rowdy, and they love their Saints.

Definitely having Drew Brees playing at home in the playoffs helps the Saints’ chances of making it to the Super Bowl.

These games aren’t always pretty, but the Texans, after starting 0-3, have won six straight. What do you make of that?

I buried the Texans earlier this season. I thought there was no way. Deshaun Watson has looked like he’s starting to get comfortable coming off last year’s knee injury. J.J. Watt is is playing at a high-caliber level.

I just think collectively, as a group, they’re taking it one week at a time and slowly getting better week to week. Right now, they lead the division, so look out for the Texans.

The NFC East currently feels up for grabs. What’s going on with the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles at 4-4?

You know what? When you win the Super Bowl, of course you have that big target on your chest. Scheduling-wise doesn’t really help, because you’re getting a lot of good teams that you have to play against, with the Saints, Rams and Texans all still to come.

I just think there’s a lot of pressure on Carson Wentz — and pressure on himself to come out and perform like he did before he got hurt last year.

But there’s also pressure from his own backup quarterback, Nick Foles. All he did was go out and deliver Philly its first ever Super Bowl, and he was named Super Bowl MVP as well.

They’re still in the hunt. They’re only one game behind Washington. Still a lot of football left.

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