Since the NFC South was incorporated back in 2002, it has seen two Super Bowl winners (Tampa Bay in 2002 and New Orleans in 2009). The division has also given us five total Super Bowl visitors (Carolina in 2003 and 2015 and Atlanta in 2016), six conference championship berths (Atlanta in 2004 and 2012, New Orleans in 2006 and 2018), and plenty of quality teams who never made it quite that far. In 17 seasons as a division, then, the NFC South has produced six conference champions and two Super Bowl teams, all while being reckoned one of the best teams in football.
With the Saints losing on Sunday, I thought it might be worthwhile to see how that fits into the grander scheme of the NFL over the years since the NFC South was incorporated. For perspective’s sake, here’s what other divisions have produced in that same timeframe.
4 Super Bowls (Patriots)
6 Conference Championships (Patriots)
12 Conference Championship berths (Patriots, Jets)
2 Super Bowls (Steelers, Ravens)
3 Conference Championships (Steelers, Ravens)
6 Conference Championship berths (Steelers, Ravens)
1 Super Bowl (Colts)
2 Conference Championships (Colts)
6 Conference Championship berths (Colts, Jaguars, Titans)
1 Super Bowl (Broncos)
3 Conference Championships (Broncos, Raiders)
6 Conference Championship berths (Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders)
3 Super Bowls (Eagles, Giants)
4 Conference Championships (Eagles, Giants)
6 Conference Championship berths (Eagles, Giants)
1 Super Bowl (Packers)
2 Conference Championships (Bears, Packers)
7 Conference Championship berths (Bears, Packers, Vikings)
2 Super Bowls (Buccaneers, Saints)
5 Conference Championships (Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers, Saints)
10 Conference Championship berths (Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers, Saints)
1 Super Bowl (Seahawks)
5 Conference Championships (Cardinals, 49ers, Rams, Seahawks)
9 Conference Championship berths (Cardinals, 49ers, Rams, Seahawks)
What can we glean from this? The AFC East has the most Super Bowl wins and Conference Championship berths of anyone, but with the exception of a single year, all of those are concentrated into a Patriots team that reigns as one of the great dynasties in NFL history. Otherwise, the NFC South ranks quite favorably, having the third-most Super Bowl wins over that span, the second-most Conference Championships, and the second-most Conference Championship berths. It’s also only one of two divisions, the NFC West being the other, where every single team has made a Super Bowl since 2002.
The unbelievable ways in which these teams have fallen short—ranging from the Panthers blowing it with the league’s MVP in 2015 to the Falcons losing a 28-3 lead to the Saints doing whatever they just did on Sunday—mark this division with a sort of gloom that only awful losses can bring. But it’s worth noting that despite those losses, the NFC South has more than earned its reputation as one of the best, most balanced divisions in football, and there’s no indication that’s going to change anytime soon with the Saints and Falcons boasting strong rosters and the Buccaneers finally upgrading their coaching staff, plus whatever the Panthers are doing.
In many ways, it would be better if the Falcons could be the Patriots, playing in a division where your rivals are weak and you can dominate every year. But as you look at the strength of the NFC South, and especially the glee and bitterness to which rivals in the division react to one another’s successes and failures, you have to admit there’s something to be said for playing in a real division.