For nearly 17 full weeks of NFL action, the NFC South was in doubt. Tampa Bay’s mediocrity throughout the season allowed the Falcons, Panthers, and Saints to hang on well past the point sub-.500 teams should have been able to, but at some point someone had to win the division.
After Sunday’s action, we know that’ll be the Buccaneers, who beat the Panthers, sewed up the NFC South, and helped eliminate both Carolina and New Orleans. The Bucs appear to be heating up a little bit at the end of the year, unfortunately, but will hopefully quickly be taken out by a better team in the playoffs.
Here’s your second-to-last edition of the NFC South report for 2022.
NFC South Standings, Week 18
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 8-8
New Orleans Saints: 7-9
Carolina Panthers: 6-10
Atlanta Falcons: 6-10
The Buccaneers are trying to squeeze one more run out of Tom Brady, who will almost certainly be gone to another team or to retirement after this year. They’ve been borderline horrible offensively much of the year until very recently, stringing together two wins against the Cardinals and Panthers after losing three of their previous four games. Tampa Bay’s future looks uncertain without Brady and with some cap-related issues looming, but for at least one more season, they’re atop the heap in the shaky NFC South.
The Saints will likely finish second in the division, robbing the Eagles of a stellar draft pick but potentially getting one back for the rights to Sean Payton in the spring. New Orleans has, as always, been frustratingly good at hanging around and winning games you’d think they have no business triumphing in, even if they blessedly fell short of the playoffs. Like the Buccaneers, the Saints have not-so-rosy cap picture (as always) and big questions at quarterback (as they have recently) to answer if they want to be decent next year.
The Panthers, meanwhile, have put up a surprisingly game stretch after firing Matt Rhule. While they didn’t take the division and still could finish in the basement, they’ve played some legitimately good football along the way and have a better cap picture than the two teams above them in the standings. They have to nail the head coach and figure out quarterback while adding talent, but they’re not that far away from being a pretty good team again.
Hopefully that’s true of the Falcons as well. Another top ten pick awaits for Atlanta, as well as big questions about their overall talent level and whether they’ll roll with Desmond Ridder as the future at quarterback. Regardless of all that, they have plenty of picks and a ton of cap space to improve, and should be viewed as a likely candidate to contend for the NFC South crown in 2023. This year, though, they may well finish in last.