Given that the Saints were the only team in the NFC South that finished with a winning season, it’s fair to say that it wasn’t a banner year for the division overall. The Falcons collapsed thanks to injuries, the Panthers went from playoff lock to also-ran, and the Buccaneers were as mediocre as ever.
That’s somewhat of an aberration in the history of the NFC South, which has been one of the most competitive and best divisions in football since the 2002 re-alignment. The NFC South has been the third-best in the NFL in terms of divisional record since then, has been one of the better ones at delivering deep playoff runs for its teams, and has been the best at churning out quality teams year after year without being dominated by a single team like the AFC North and AFC East have been. There’s a reason it’s so well-regarded around football, and that’s with the Bucs being also-rans for more of the last two decades.
That’s why Dan Quinn, when asked about whether last season was an outlier for the division given the relatively disappointing showing, waxed poetic for a bit.
“It didn’t look like that in the final standings. I’m hopeful that is an outlier, because competing in this division, and now for me now going into the fifth year, I have a much stronger appreciation for schemes and players and even the rivalries that go with that. I do feel like if it’s not the strongest, it’s certainly in that conversation. From the four teams, it will be one hell of a battle. The team that comes out of the NFC South this year will have been through some battles and will be really ready to make their mark.”
I agree with him. The Panthers were doomed by a confluence of factors that included Cam Newton’s arm absolutely dying, but they shored up their defense, Newton is healthy, and guys like D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel look ready to make the leap and give him a capable group of pass catchers for a change. The Falcons are healthy and poured resources into their offensive line and defensive line, and the offense looks as good as ever even with a new coordinator in the fold. As much as I’d like to write the Saints off entirely, they’re annoyingly too talented for me to do so, even if I think they’ll pull back a little bit from their last two excellent seasons. And hell, even the Buccaneers have Bruce Arians and have taken care to try to improve a chronically balky secondary.
While I hope the division stinks and the Falcons cruise to an easy crown, just because I would thoroughly enjoy that, the reality is that there’s every reason to think it’ll once again be one of the most competitive and potent in football. We can’t all be the Patriots.