A team's fortunes within their division can determine the course of their season.
Think about it. If you're the Atlanta Falcons, you play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints six times total in the course of a season. That's over a third of the games. If they play exceptionally well, they're well on their way to a winning season. Or maybe not.
For a sample of what I mean, let's roll back through the last few years and look at the Falcons' records and records in the division.
- 2010: 13-3 record, 5-1 in the division
- 2009: 9-7, 3-3
- 2008: 11-5, 3-3
- 2007: 4-12, 1-5
- 2006: 7-9, 3-3
- 2005: 8-8, 2-4
As you can see, the Falcons have not exactly been on a stellar run against the division...with the exception of last year. The best the team had managed in the division up to that point, dating all the way back to the days of Jim Mora Jr., was 3-3. It's not exactly a surprise that in the best and worst seasons of that stretch, the Falcons went 5-1 and 1-5 in the division, respectively. There's some correlation, but little causation, between an excellent record and what the Falcons have done in the division.
That said, it's a big help. Every time you beat a divisional rival, your team simultaneously lifts itself up and slams that rival down. If you go 6-0 in your division, you've added two losses to every opponent. In the always tight NFC South, that's a difference maker.
In a rambling, roundabout way, what I'm getting at is this: The Falcons should beat the Buccaneers on Sunday. It certainly helps, and they're going to need those wins to get a leg up over a hot New Orleans Saints team.
How do you think the team will fare against the NFC South in 2011?