The NFC South didn’t figure to be a cakewalk this year. The Buccaneers objectively appeared to improve their roster by adding T.J. Ward and DeSean Jackson, among others, and the Panthers were so lousy and lazy a year ago they figured to at least attempt to climb back in contention. We all sort of wrote off the Saints, but that just makes sense.
Fast forward through three games—two for the Bucs, who lost their first game to a hurricane—and you’ve got a weaker crop than expected. Cam Newton looks beat up and off and the Panthers offense continues to cough and wheeze its way along despite the additions of Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, and there’s no obvious fix for that aside from getting Newton healthy and improving the offensive line, and neither of those seem likely to happen anytime soon.
The Bucs still look like the second best team in the division from a talent perspective, but they just got pretty resoundingly thumped by a Vikings team starting Case Keenum, which doesn’t bode well for their defense. Jameis Winston continues to miss random throws each game and they don’t have a fantastic ground game, and I’m still a little suspicious of Dirk Koetter’s ability to be a head coach in the NFL after watching him the last couple of seasons.
Finally, there’s the Saints, who just beat the crap out of the Panthers but look like one of the NFL’s worst defenses for like the fifth consecutive season. Unless that changes, they’re probably going to be near the bottom of the NFC South yet again.
The Falcons very obviously have kinks to work out—they keep managing to get themselves penalized at the worst possible moments, for example—but they’re 3-0 and obviously the class of the division. They’ve given themselves a solid head start on the season by staying undefeated to this point, they have an early bye week to help with their early injury woes, and Dan Quinn is easily the best head coach in the division. The Falcons should have been the favorites here, but when you add in the possibility that nobody else in the division is a a true contender, the NFC South starts looking a lot more manageable.
It’s obviously too late to write off any team in this division, so I will not do so. I will say that anyone expecting the Bucs or Panthers to come roaring back and prove to be one of the NFC’s finest is probably off the mark, and that can’t help but be good news for Atlanta.