The NFC South is once again the worst division in the NFL. After the Buccaneers won the division at 8-9 and earned the NFC’s No. 4 seed in the 2022 playoff picture, it might not require a winning record to take the South for a second consecutive year.
With one more month left in the 2023 season, Tampa Bay (6-7), New Orleans (6-7) and Atlanta (6-7) all have the same sub-.500 mark with each team having four games remaining. That three-way tie occurred with the Buccaneers beat the Falcons and the Saints defeated the 1-12 Panthers at the same time on Sunday.
So who’s in first place in the division race now and who projects to be in the best shape to win it and host a wild-card playoff game against either the Eagles or Cowboys from the NFC East?
Here’s the NFC South outlook after the two division game results of Week 14:
NFC South standings
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7)
The Buccaneers have the tiebreaker based on having a 3-1 division record, same as the Falcons, but they also have the best conference record at 5-4, while the Falcons are 4-5 in NFC play and the Saints are 3-5.
Tampa Bay has split with Atlanta and beat New Orleans and Carolina once each. The Buccaneers have two division games left, vs. the Saints in Week 17 and at the Panthers in Week 18. They also have two tough non-division games, at Green Bay in Week 15 and vs. Jacksonville in Week 16. That adds up to a combined winning percentage of .412 for the remaining opponents, fourth-easiest in the NFL.
2. Atlanta Falcons (6-7)
The Falcons’ three division wins are one each against the Buccaneers, Saints and Panthers. They travel to the Panthers in Week 15 and also are on the road in New Orleans in Week 18. In between, Atlanta takes on AFC wild-card hopeful Indianapolis and NFC spoiler-minded Chicago.
The Falcons’ remaining strength of schedule is even more favorable than the Buccaneers. At .365, it’s second-best in the NFL behind the Packers.
3. New Orleans Saints (6-7)
The Saints are only 2-2 in division play. They beat the Panthers twice and lost to the Falcons and Buccaneers once each.
New Orleans goes to Tampa Bay in Week 17 before hosting Atlanta to close the season in Week 18. Before then, the Saints get the NFC double of vs. Giants and at Rams. Their remaining strength of schedule then is .431, third among this trio but still seventh-easiest in the NFL.
NFC South playoff projections
The Buccaneers are looking at a 2-2 finish as the likely scenario, with the key being winning the two division games to improve to 5-1 in NFC South play. Tampa Bay would then have a final record of 8-9, matching its record from Tom Brady’s final season, this time with Baker Mayfield.
The Falcons are not a good road team and they are rather inconsistent offensively and defensively under Arthur Smith. They also are dealing with adding-up injury attrition. They can go anywhere from 4-0 to 0-4, but given how dangerous the Colts and Bears are now and with three away games left, 1-3 seems right. Atlanta would then have a final record of 7-10, a disappointing result that might cost Smith his job.
The Saints should beat the Giants at home in Week 15. The other home game vs. the Falcons in Week 18 is a toss-up. It’s difficult to like them to win at the Rams and at the Buccaneers. That sets New Orleans up to finish 2-2 and end up 8-9, just like Tampa Bay.
NFC South final standings prediction
- 1. Buccaneers 8-9 (win via tiebreaker from season sweep of Saints)
- 2. Saints 8-9
- 3. Falcons 7-10
- 4. Panthers 1-16
Source : ESPN.com