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NFC South Is Bad, But There’s No Need To Overreact

Andrew Schultz |
November 13, 2014 | 12:30 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

If you look at the current playoff standings, you’ll notice that something doesn’t seem quite right about the playoff teams in the NFC.

Aaron Rodgers and the 6-3 Packers are outside the playoff picture because of a 4-5 team. Is this a problem with the NFL's playoff system? (Wikipedia/Creative Commons).
Aaron Rodgers and the 6-3 Packers are outside the playoff picture because of a 4-5 team. Is this a problem with the NFL's playoff system? (Wikipedia/Creative Commons).

If the playoffs were to start right now, you’d have the 4-5 New Orleans Saints, the current leaders of the NFC South, hosting the 7-3 Dallas Cowboys, who many pegged as Super Bowl candidates as recently as a couple weeks ago, but currently hold the #5 spot.

This kind of result has led some to push for a new playoff system, similar to how college football abolished the BCS system in favor of the current College Football Playoff, or at the very least to add more teams.

The NFC South is without a doubt the worst division in football, and it’s not even a contest. None of the four teams are at or above .500, while every conference has at least one. One of these teams is ensured a playoff spot and even the 1-8 Buccaneers are technically capable of winning the South (even though it’s unlikely). It’s the same case with the AFC North, but that’s because all four of those teams (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Baltimore) are above .500 and within percentage points of each other.

According to FiveThirtyEight.com, there is about a 65% chance that an eight-win team will win the NFC South. By comparison, the next highest probability is the AFC South with a 9% chance, while the other six divisions have less than a 1% chance of their champion having eight wins.

Fans want the playoffs to be between the best teams in the sport, and the Saints taking the #4 seed keeps Aaron Rodgers and the 6-3 Green Bay Packers from making an appearance in the postseason.

However, you have the remember that last season’s Panthers team started 1-3 before winning 11 of their final 12 games to win the South, so there is recent evidence of a team getting hot to earn a more playoff-appropriate record.

Looking at the Saints’ and Panthers’ schedules, each team has plenty of winnable games. The Saints will have trouble versus the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers (assuming it’s the Steelers that beat the Colts and Ravens, and not the team that lost to the Jets and Buccaneers), but they have a chance to win them all. They should be able to take their last four games, considering how bad the Bears, and the rest of their division, have been playing. That gives them a record of at least 8-8, which, based off most simulations, gives them the crown. However, don’t be surprised if Drew Brees and the Saints can pull out a few extra wins to earn a record more befitting of a division champion.

Meanwhile, the Panthers should be able to finish around 4-2 in their final six games, losing to the Browns and Saints, finishing with a record of 7-8-1 and likely missing the postseason. This leaves the Saints with the #4 seed in the playoff, hosting the #5 team in the wild-card round, which likely has a better record.

Drew Brees still has a chance to pile on a couple wins and improve the reputation of the Saints and the NFC South. (Wikipedia/Creative Commons)
Drew Brees still has a chance to pile on a couple wins and improve the reputation of the Saints and the NFC South. (Wikipedia/Creative Commons)

Now, this kind of scenario isn’t unheard of in the NFL, especially recently. There have been two teams since the 2005-06 season that have hosted playoff games with a .500 record or worse. In 2008, the 8-8 San Diego Chargers won the AFC West and hosted the 12-4 Indianapolis Colts in the first round. In 2010, the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West, and hosted the 11-5 Saints.

The results of these games? The Chargers beat the Colts 23-17 in overtime, while the Seahawks surprised the Saints 41-36. Both teams would go on to lose in the second round.

As recent sports history has shown us, there is something special about two surprise teams competing for their sports’ greatest trophy. The 2014 World Series pitted two Wild Card teams, the Royals and Giants, that each had fewer than 90 wins, but provided an intense seven-game series. The 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship pitted #8 Kentucky and #7 Connecticut in a close contest that the Huskies barely won to give them their second title in the last four years.

The best teams don’t always perform in the postseason as well as their regular-season records would indicate (see: Duke’s men’s basketball teams in 2012 and 2014). Teams viewed as underdogs are more likely to step up, as they want to show critics that they belong with the big boys.

The Saints have the third-best passing offense and sixth-best rushing offense in the NFL, so there’s no question that their offense can produce. If there wasn’t the blown coverage on Michael Crabtree in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game, the Saints are 5-4 and this issue isn’t brought up. However, let’s not get upset that an eight-win team could earn a playoff spot. The Saints could continue the “.500-and-under” trend with their own beast mode.

The playoffs aren’t only about the best teams. They’re also about the best moments.

Reach Staff Reporter Andrew Schultz here or follow him on Twitter



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