The best team in the NFC South, if you can even call them that with a straight face, is currently two games under .500. The worst team in the NFC South is four games under .500 and picking in the top 10, at least if the season were to end today. It’s worth noting that one big win and one big loss is all it would take to upend that order entirely.
The division is currently in a remarkable spot where every single team is bad, well under .500, and one of them is still on track to host a playoff game. With how tightly knotted everything is and how poorly all of these teams have been playing, it seems very likely things will go down to the final week or two of the season, with the Falcons still having an actual chance to beat Tampa Bay in Week 18 and make the playoffs. None of this should be happening and all of it is bizarre, but it is making the end of the season more entertaining and giving Atlanta a chance to make some darkly funny history.
Here’s the state of the NFC South.
NFC South Standings heading into Week 16
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 6-8
New Orleans Saints: 5-9
Carolina Panthers: 5-9
Atlanta Falcons: 5-9
If not for the truly historic collapse by the Colts earlier this weekend, we’d likely be talking a lot more about what Tampa Bay did Sunday. I’m happy to pick up the slack and mention that they blew a 17-3 lead to the Bengals and wound up losing 34-23. At one point, they surrendered 31 unanswered points, putting on the kind of performance I would have loved to see from more Tom Brady-led teams of yesteryear. The Buccaneers seem capable of great quarters and sometimes even halves of football, but they are simply not supplying more than that, and their lead on the NFC South is remarkably tenuous considering basically everyone agrees they’re the most talented team in the division.
The Saints, unfortunately, are in second now. I hastened to bury them during the bye by noting their terrible long-term situation and position at the bottom of the pile, but all it took was every other team in the division losing and knocking off the Falcons to get them out of the basement. With the Browns, Eagles, and Panthers on the docket, hopefully this is their last gasp, especially given that they still don’t actually look like a good football team after beating a not-very-good-football-team in our beloved Atlanta Falcons.
The Panthers, meanwhile, are hanging out in third place. They became the latest NFC South team to fall victim to the Steelers, and still have a shot at winning the division outright if they clean up their final three games, as remote as that possibility seems. There’s a nucleus of talent here even if there are a ton of missing pieces and Steve Wilks has them playing hard, so if nothing else their immediate future looks a little better than the two teams currently above them in the standings.
Sadly, that brings us to the Atlanta Falcons, who are in the basement at the moment thanks to their woeful 1-4 divisional record. Atlanta continues to fight to stay in games until the end and enjoy one of the most dangerous rushing attacks in the entire NFL, but basically nothing else has consistently gone right for them since Week 6 of the season, and their loss to the Saints was a bitter new milestone. For a team that has to first and foremost figure out what it has ahead of a very promising 2023 offseason, competence will be the big ask the rest of the way, but at least playing spoiler for Tampa Bay if Atlanta can’t actually make the postseason would be awfully nice.