The four teams in the NFC South only have the dimmest of NFC Wild Card hopes at this point. The Seahawks and Commanders won, moving their respective records to 7-4 and 7-5, and that puts them streets ahead of all the sub-.500 squads in the division. I know there are five games left in the 2022 season, but two games (and more, in the case of the Falcons with the Commanders, given their recent loss) is a lot of ground to make up over that short time span. It’s very possible that none of the four teams in the NFC South ultimately grab one of the open Wild Card spots, even that seventh slot.
The division itself, however, is very much up for grabs. This is creating a bizarre situation where these teams fall further and further out of the playoff picture unless they win the NFC South, in which case they’ll go in as the likely fourth seed no matter how terrible their record might be. The big question now is who is going to win the accursed thing.
We didn’t get any clarity on Sunday. Had the Falcons won, they would’ve been .500 and pushing for the division. Had the Buccaneers won, they would’ve effectively had a two game lead given that they have the head-to-head tiebreaker on Atlanta. Hell, if the Saints had won, they would’ve been within striking distance of the divisional crown, as absurd as that seems given their quality of play. Instead, only one team won, and the NFC South remains a muddle and a marsh of mediocrity.
Here’s this week’s NFC South report.
NFC South Standings after Week 12
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 5-6
Atlanta Falcons: 5-7
Carolina Panthers: 4-8
New Orleans Saints: 4-8
The Buccaneers didn’t just lose in overtime to the plucky Cleveland Browns, who got a hell of an upset win in Jacoby Brissett’s likely final start of the 2022 season. They also may have lost tremendous left tackle Tristan Wirfs to injury, as he was carted off the field late in the game. That would be a blow for an already struggling offense, one that Tampa Bay may not be able to overcome, and their 5-6 record means they’re barely clinging to the division lead at this point. They’re still the favorite to win the division based on track record and talent, but with every passing week it’s clear they’re going to back into it if they win it at all. Their saving grace might be getting a shamefully terrible Saints team on Monday Night Football next week.
The Falcons may have lost Arnold Ebiketie for a week or two on top of their loss, which would be another blow for a defense that couldn’t stop the Commanders ground game and struggled early against Taylor Heinicke. Increasingly banged up, with an intermittently solid passing game and a defense that mixes heroic stretches with awful ones, the Falcons are having to put together incredibly gritty efforts on a weekly basis to hang around and try to win close games. It continues to be a testament to this team’s toughness and ability to squeeze every last drop out of most of their talent that they’re hanging around at all, but they really just can’t afford many more losses the rest of the way if they want to have a shot at this coming into Week 18’s matchup against the Buccaneers. They’ll have a pretty straightforward game against the lowly Steelers next before their bye week.
The Panthers worked their way up to third place in the NFC South with a win against the comically inept Broncos, who have to be thinking about pitching Nathaniel Hackett overboard at this point. Their 23-10 victory featured a mistake-free but mediocre game from Sam Darnold, another big day from Chuba Hubbard, and a smothering defensive effort that brought them to 4-8. They’re just a game behind Atlanta at this point, which is a little concerning given that Carolina has been improving, however slowly and unevenly. The Panthers do have a bye next.
Bringing up the shameful caboose of the NFC South? The New Orleans Saints, who were smothered by the 49ers to the tune of exactly zero points in the first three quarters. The Saints look like they might just be the worst team in the division now and, as I’m delighted to continue to remind you, have the worst long-term cap situation and perhaps roster situation of any of these four squads. I hope Atlanta stomps them into the earth’s molten core the next time they meet. They have to play the Buccaneers on Monday night next week.