NFL’s NFC South: To Be the Best of the Worst
The NFC South has easily been the NFL’s weakest division this year, with every team having a losing record. But as the season winds down, the title race is no less interesting than in any other division.
With six more weeks to go, Atlanta (4–6) leads the division since it beat New Orleans (4–6) in Week 1. Half a game back is Carolina (3–7–1) and despite an NFC-worst 2–8 record, Tampa Bay still has a shot at the division title.
“As quirky as this year has been, we’re relevant,” said Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan after his team beat Carolina last Sunday.
No team in the NFC South would be better than third place in any of the other seven NFL divisions, but yes, every team is relevant in the woeful NFC South as we head into late November.
It looks quite likely that the NFC South division winner will have a losing record. The division winner will, of course, host a wild card game.
This makes one think of the NFC West four years ago when Seattle won it with a 7–9 record. The Seahawks beat the St. Louis Rams 16–6 in their final game to win the division. Then Seattle hosted and beat New Orleans in a wild card game before losing in the next round.
Who Will Step Up?
The Falcons rank last in total defense (yards per game). While that’s hardly the recipe for success for a division winner, they have now won two straight divisional games on the road. The Falcons could own the tiebreakers against all their divisional opponents when all is said and done as they’re unbeaten in the division.
But it wasn’t looking so good for them when they were on a five-game losing skid not long ago.
Atlanta also has the toughest remaining schedule in the division with opponents having a .589 win percentage. The next four games are against teams with a .707 win percentage.
New Orleans was the looking like it was on the road to recovery after a 2–4 start when it demolished Green Bay (sounds hard to believe now) and Carolina to square its record at 4–4. But then two consecutive home losses set them back. This is all the more surprising since New Orleans went undefeated at home last year.
This year the Saints defense ranks 20th compared to last year’s fourth.
They were overwhelmed at home by the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday who found the form that got them off to a 3–0 start. Not too many pundits saw that coming after how bad the Bengals looked against Cleveland in the prior week.
New Orleans hosts Baltimore on Monday night wherein Drew Brees has won nine of his last ten starts. But after facing the Ravens and the Steelers, the Saints have an easy schedule. For their remaining six games, the opponents’ win percentage is .427.
The Week 16 game where the Saints host the Falcons looms very large.
Seems like ancient history that Carolina started out 2–0 coming off a 12–4 division-winning season last year. They’re currently on a five-game losing skid and, again with them, the biggest change has been the defense going from being ranked No. 2 to No. 23.
But the Panthers have the easiest remaining schedule starting with a bye week coming up. The only team over .500 they face is the Cleveland Browns.
The Buccaneers were woeful last year and have had fewer bright spots this season than their division rivals. A couple of surprising road wins in Pittsburgh and Washington are likely one-offs. The team is winless at home and has a difficult remaining schedule (.525 opponents’ win percentage).
After Week 11 in 2010, Seattle was 5–5. They ended up 7–9 to win the division. The Falcons or the Saints have to play .500 football to reach that mark, which seems to be asking a lot, especially for Atlanta with their tough schedule.
And we can’t count out Carolina who can come off the bye week and take advantage of an easy schedule. For the Bucs, it looks like a long shot.
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