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A look at the NFC South’s history tells you 2018 will be a wild year

The division changes hands on an almost annual basis, and there are four good teams vying for the crown this year.

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The NFC South has a reputation for being perhaps the best division in football, one forged in the fires of competitive football and some ugly, heated rivalries. In 2017, the division sent three teams into the playoffs, and no one’s going to be surprised if they send at least two again.

That’s simply because of the talent base. No division in football has a better assortment of quarterbacks, with future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, former MVPs Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, and still-promising former #1 overall pick Jameis Winston, and most every team here has talent at other positions in spades. There will be year-to-year regression and injury-related weirdness to contend with, of course, but no other division brings four potentially playoff-caliber teams to the table, though the NFC North might come close.

In light of that, you can expect this to be a wild year, and you can expect that your preseason predictions for who is going to win to look ridiculous halfway through the year. Only one team has ever won back-to-back division titles in the NFC South, and that was during a 2013-2015 run for the Carolina Panthers when every other team in the division was deeply shaky (not that Carolina wasn’t good).

What do the Falcons have going for them? The last two times the Saints won the division, the Falcons won it the following year, which is probably meaningless but I’m going to imbue with some mystic importance in the hope that it sticks. Even if the Falcons don’t win, their talented roster gives them a real shot at a Wild Card spot even in a stacked conference. They’ve done so four times in the division’s history, while the Saints and Panthers have each only done so twice (the Bucs, predictably, never have). There’s also the fact that the Saints improved so tremendously in 2017 that you have to worry about some form of regression, however mild, and that the Panthers were 8-1 in one score games, which suggests they could also come back to earth a bit.

I firmly believe the Falcons can (and even will) win this division, but it’s not going to be easy, and chances are it will once again come down to the last few games of the season. History suggests that the Saints won’t repeat, and we’ll have to hope that’s both true and that the Falcons will be able to grab their fifth division title and division-leading ninth playoff spot in NFC South history.