Atlanta Falcons (9-7) (4th seed; Wildcard Round)
New Orleans Saints (8-8)
Carolina Panthers (7-9)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-13)
I’ve heard more than one prediction that the NFC South could become the first division in NFL history with back-to-back sub-.500 winners. I’m not joining them, but they might be right.
This is easily the weakest division in football.
My pick of the Atlanta Falcons to land on top here is not so much an endorsement of Atlanta as it is a rejection of the remaining teams. Carolina is probably the most talented of the group, but their schedule will do them in. And the Saints truly have the look of a team on the way down (and out).
Nevertheless, if you’re going to bet against the field, you could do worse than stacking your chips one more time on Drew Brees. For such a poor division, the NFC South certainly has some quarterbacks with lofty NFL pedigrees. Cam Newton and Matt Ryan are both former No. 1 picks and — of course — all eyes are certain to be on Jameis Winston in Tampa, especially early.
But don’t expect much from this year’s No. 1 pick this season. He lacks the supporting cast to go very far, even in a weak field.
So for my money, the Falcons are the pick in 2015. If nothing else, they’re the one team in this division that has clearly bottomed out and is now rebounding and on the way up. And you can’t help but admire their collection of offensive weapons, which remains an impressive cadre. They’ll get that far, but no farther, however, as I have them bowing out to the Vikings in the Wildcard round.
Games to Watch:
Week 1 – Tennessee @ Tampa Bay: Mariota vs. Winston in Week 1? I don’t know if this was on purpose, but you gotta love it.
Week 4 – Houston @ Atlanta: A big part of the Falcons identity is their strong home field advantage. That was missing last year. Is it back in 2015?
Week 7 – Philadelphia @ Carolina: Want to see a (relatively) early test of the Panthers’ defensive abilities? Let’s see how they stay with Chip Kelly’s Eagles and his run-and-gun offense.
Week 17 – New Orleans @ Atlanta: The last week of the season features a game that will probably be for all the marbles. The NFL schedule-makers have got this kind of thing down to an art form.