I still think the NFC South is the best division in the league. Sure, the results of ’06 were less than spectacular, but no other division in the league can say that they’ve sent a team to the conference championship every year since realignment.
The 2005 Bucs were the only team to win the division that didn’t make it that far. But I’ll disregard them because the ’05 Panthers had the same record, and only lost in the tie-breaker because the Saints beat them in the opening week on an emotional high following Katrina. And of course the Panthers lost to the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game.
Also another reason why I like the NFC South is because no division winner has repeated. In fact, no division winner from the previous year has had a winning season the following year. The best record by a division winner was 8-8 by the 2005 Falcons after winning the division in 2004.
That lack of consistency most would view as a negative, but I view it as a positive. The fact that no team dominates the division, means that each year the race is actually interesting. If one team could be said to “dominate” the division it would be the Carolina Panthers, who post the best divisional record at 18-12 since the division’s inception in 2002. The Falcons are exactly .500 at 15-15, the Saints are 14-16, and the Bucs are 13-17.
And although the Panthers are ahead as far as divisional games go, all 4 teams are nearly identical in records outside the division: Panthers and Bucs both are 26-24, Falcons are 25-24-1, and the Saints are 24-26.
And the most interesting factoid may be that each division winner (excluding 2002) had a losing season the previous year. Which means that based off that, either the Falcons or Bucs are going to win the South this year. Which then means it’s likely that one of those teams will make it to the NFC Championship this year.
And although I doubt any major experts would agree with that, I do. The Bucs were not a bad team despite their 4-12 record. A few less injuries and some of their stars playing a lot better and you still have a team capable of making it to the playoffs. And of course, the potential to land Calvin Johnson this week won’t hurt their chances.
The Falcons are a team I think can and will make the playoffs this year. I’d be very disappointed if the Falcons don’t win at least 9 games, and given how the NFC has been the past few years, 9 games is quite enough to earn a chance to play in January.
I like our chances. I suspect we’ll play a lot better this year, if for no other reason that we have a new coach and we should be riding that new energy, such as we did in 2004 when Mora first came to town.
In my eyes, the biggest task for Bobby Petrino is not winning this year but rather sustaining it. As we all know the Falcons never had winning seasons in consecutive years since their inception. Well, not so coincidentally, neither has any of the other NFC South teams since the division was created. Perhaps Sean Payton will become the first. Personally, I’m rooting for Petrino.