It wasn’t long ago that the Tampa bay Buccaneers were the only consistently bad team in the NFC South. The Bucs won a Super Bowl in 2002 and captured division titles in 2005 and 2007, but then went well over a decade without standing atop the NFC South.
Those times have changed, unfortunately. With Tom Brady at the helm, the Bucs won a Super Bowl in 2021 and won the putrid NFC South in 2022. Now they appear to be well on their way to winning a third straight divisional title, and have not faded away the way I thought they might post-Brady.
Here’s a look at the divisional standings heading into Week 17.
NFC South standings
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 8-7
Atlanta Falcons: 7-8
New Orleans Saints: 7-8
Carolina Panthers: 2-13
The Bucs are the only team with a winning record and have some tiebreakers over Atlanta and New Orleans that might prove important; they also have their final two games against the Saints and Panthers. If they win just one of those two games, they may well seal up the division at 9-8. The team needs to re-tool its roster a bit in the offseason and will need to decide if they want to commit to Baker Mayfield for multiple years, but they’re in decent shape for the immediate future if they can avoid shedding too much talent in free agency. These are not the Bucs we got accustomed to from 2008-2020.
The Falcons nabbed an impressive win over the Colts, one that has them close to a positive point differential (for the first time since early in the season) and in second place in the NFC South. This team finally played the way we thought they might all year, and if they win out over the final two weeks, they’ll at least have a shot at the playoffs. Otherwise, they’re duking it out for draft position and a little pride with the Saints.
New Orleans is not dead yet, but they need to beat the Bucs next week and then handle the Falcons in Week 18 to have a shot at making it. This team is tethered to a quarterback who really only excels in garbage time and once again head into 2024 with less cap room than any other team, which means their long-term outlook is as grim as it gets in this division. Hopefully, this is the last time for a bit that we have to think about them being in contention for the divisional title late in the year.
The Panthers are frisky at last. Having knocked off the Falcons, Carolina nearly took it to Green Bay, losing 33-30 in one of the better days of Bryce Young’s young career. They’re just looking for signs of life heading into 2024 with a new coaching staff, and I’d say the last two weeks have qualified.