The NFC South: Why Worst Is The New First

Jason BravermanContributor IDecember 22, 2008

It's a fact, finishing in last place in the NFL isn't always so bad.  You get the first pick in the draft, and a slightly easier schedule than most other teams.  However, you usually don't make a one-year turnaround like the Dolphins did this year.  Usually, the same team doesn't come in last two years in a row.

That last statement is very true for the NFC South, which was created in 2002.  Take a look at the following stat:

    Carolina finished last in 2002, and first in 2003

    Atlanta finished last in 2003, and first in 2004

    Tampa Bay finished last in 2004, and first in 2005

    New Orleans finished last in 2005, and first in 2006

    Tampa Bay finished last in 2006, first in 2007

The Falcons finished in last place last year, and now they are 10-5, have clinched a playoff spot, and could very easily keep this trend alive.  All they need is a win against the horrid 2-13 Rams, and the Panthers to lose at the Super Dome to the 8-7 Saints.  That's not very unrealistic, as no road team has won an NFC South vs. NFC South match-up this year.

Now sure, the Falcons are a completely different team from last year, with Matt Ryan, and rookie head coach Mike Smith, but still, it is odd that, with a bit of luck, this seems to happen every year.  And every year, save last year, an NFC South team has gone on to the NFC Championship game.

If you asked me, I'd say the Falcons will do it, win the division, and keep the trend alive.  And, there's another part to this trend that will stay true this year.

Every year since the creation of the NFC South, the division winner from the year before has come in third place (the spot the Bucs currently hold, and should keep after a game against Oakland), except once, when the Panthers came in last.

So, according to this "curse," which has held true every year the NFC South has existed, the Saints will win the division next year, and the Falcons (who will have to win the division for the curse to stay true) will finish in third in '09. 

One reason for this may be that every NFC South team just seems to be so equal, and not like the way the NFC West teams are all equally bad.  In fact, the NFC South, by half a game, has the best record of all divisions in the NFL. 

It wasn't even like that last year, the Falcons went 4-12.  Those last place teams just find a way to win the next year, and the Falcons are now playoff-bound.