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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

NFC Division Gone South

With five weeks remaining in the NFL regular season, the NFC South has 13 wins. There have been twelve weeks played, and the division averages a win per week. Let me repeat that: the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers – four NFL teams composing an entire division – have a total of 13 wins.


What do you call the guy who graduated last in his medical school class? A doctor! The ultimate goal of every NFL team at the beginning of each season is to win the Super Bowl. To win the Super Bowl, a team must first reach the playoffs. The most favorable way to get into the playoffs is to win one’s division as it results in the first playoff game being at home for that team.
So what do you call the team with the worst record among the four conference division winners? A playoff host….


Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Bucs are two games out of first place. However, they don’t do anything particularly well and are surrounded by inexperienced players with potential and veteran journeymen. As much as this division continues to go up for grabs every week, the Buccaneers have almost no chance of winning the South with the Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, and Green Bay Packers on their schedule.

Carolina Panthers – This team has found new and creative ways to shoot itself in the foot. Poised to run away with this mediocre division earlier this year, the Panthers went on a six game winless streak. Their last win came on October 5th. It’s unclear where this team’s next win will come from.

Quarterback Cam Newton has not been healthy this season and compounding that problem, he’s getting inadequate pass protection.  The defense is made up of talented individual parts that never seem to be in sync enough to help deliver a win. However, three of its remaining games are against division opponents. I think the odds of them winning two or more of those games are about 50/50. That may be all it takes for the defending NFC South champions to retain their crown.

Atlanta Falcons – By virtue of winning the tiebreaker from their Week 1 win over the Saints, if the season ended today, the 4-7 Falcons would be the NFC South winners. This team has lost some very close games in some very unusual manners and could easily have a winning record if a few balls had bounced differently for them. The offense under quarterback Matt Ryan can keep up in a shootout with the best NFL offenses. Their defense can’t stop a runny nose.

Notwithstanding that, the Falcons finish the season with two division games – at the Saints and hosting the Panthers. It is not inconceivable that the Falcons could still control their own playoff destiny at 4-10 heading into Week 16.

New Orleans Saints – This team is the favorite to win the division. I use the term “favorite” very loosely. However, the Saints do have some tangible advantages over the comically mediocre field. The Saints travel to Pittsburgh next Sunday to play the Steelers. That is the last regular season game the Saints have against a team that currently have a losing record. The Saints are 3-1 against losers this season.

In addition, the other teams in the division either have no exceptional facets of their game or are one dimensional. The Saints offense is spectacular and the defense, while mediocre, is good enough for the offense to have a chance to win every week. Of the Saints’ seven losses, five were by a touchdown or  less, four were on field goals either in the final seconds or as time expired, and two of those were in overtime. Yes, I’m a Saints fan. Yes, I’m biased. But I would still put my money on this team winning this pitiful division.


Should New Orleans win the division as a losing team, Saints fans will have a chance to witness delicious irony. In 2010, the then-defending Super Bowl champion Saints finished 11-5, but were two games out of first place in the NFC South and entered the playoffs as a Wild Card. The Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West with a 7-9 record, meaning the Seahawks would host their Wild Card opponent, the Saints.
In a game in which defense was thrown out of the window, the teams engaged in a shootout. Seattle put the game out of reach with one of the most spectacular plays in NFL postseason history. Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch went “Beast Mode” on a 67-yard touchdown run during which nine Saints players made contact with Lynch but none brought him down. The play included six broken tackles and a stiff armed Saints defender as the Seahawks eliminated the defending champs, 41-36.

Fast forward to 2014. The defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks will likely need to enter the playoffs as a Wild Card team, two games out of first place with only five games remaining. Should they have the better record of the two Wild Card teams, they would have to travel to play to play the NFC South winner, possibly the Saints who would likely not have a winning record, yet have not lost an NFC game at home during regulation play in four years. Revenge, in any form, can be sweet.

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