Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Southern Comfort - A look at the NFC South Stretch Run

By JC De La Torre

Coming into 2008, the talk of the NFL was the powerful NFC East, the rugged AFC West, the talented AFC South, and tough AFC North. Meanwhile, the Bucs' NFC South division was considered one of the worst in the league. Amazing how ten weeks of football can change opinions.

As it turns out, the NFC South is the 2nd toughest division in football, second only to the NFC East.

As it stands through Week 10 of the NFL season - here's the combined records of the divisions-

W-L Division
24-12 NFC East
23-13 NFC South
22-14 AFC East
21-15 AFC South
16-20 AFC North
14-22 NFC North
12-24 NFC West
12-24 AFC West

The Buccaneers, who have been largely ignored by the mainstream media, have amassed a 6-3 record in this tough division, including a 2-1 record within the division.

Let's take a look at the remaining schedules for each of the division opponents and futurecast their final record.

Carolina leads the NFC South with a 7-2 record. The Panthers are home against Detroit (0-9), at Atlanta (6-3), at Green Bay (4-5), home against Tampa Bay (6-3), home against Denver (5-4), at the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants (8-1). and at New Orleans (4-5). The Panthers clearly have the toughest schedule out of the three top contenders for the NFC South crown. Lets give the Panthers victories over the losing teams Detroit and New Orleans, and home victories against winning teams Tampa Bay and Denver. Then will give losses to the Panthers against teams with winning records that they face on the road - Atlanta and the Giants, we'll have them drop one to Green Bay, because the Panthers, like most teams, don't fare very well at Lambeau Field (1-3 lifetime). That will drop Carolina to 11-5 (4-2 in division play).

Tampa Bay is 2nd in the division at 6-3. The Buccaneers are home against Minnesota (5-4), at Detroit (0-9), home against New Orleans (4-5), at Carolina (7-2), at Atlanta (6-3), home against San Diego (4-5), and finish home against Oakland (2-7). Lets give the Bucs victories at home against Minnesota, New Orleans, San Diego, and Oakland. We'll also give them the win on the road against Detroit. The crux of the Bucs season will be the back-to-back road games against Carolina and Atlanta. If the Bucs take one out of two, they finish 12-4 and (4-2) in division play. If they lose both, they'll fall to 11-5 (3-3 in the division). If they win both, they should (if the theory holds through) roll to 13-3 (5-1 in the division). Earlier this week, I predicited the Bucs would lose those two games and finish 11-5 - I'll stick with that for right now. So the Tampa Bay finish 11-5 (3-3 in divisional play).

Atlanta is 3rd in the NFC South at 6-3. The Falcons are home against Denver (5-4), home against Carolina (7-2), at San Diego (4-5), at New Orleans (4-5), home against Tampa Bay (6-3), at Minnesota (4-5), home against St. Louis (2-7). Let's give the Falcons home wins against Denver, Carolina, and Tampa Bay. I know that for the other two opponents, I applied victories against teams with losing records, but the Falcons suffer one disadvantage compared to the other two teams, a rookie QB. I know Matt Ryan has had a solid season for a rookie, but let's face it - on the road in November and December is not for the faint of heart. The Falcons have a cross-country trip to San Diego, who are battling for their playoff lives. That will be a tough one for Atlanta to win. They head down to New Orleans, never an easy place to play (their four wins have come at the Superdome) and go to Minnesota, who's 4-1 at home this year, while going to St. Louis to finish out the year. Let's give them a win in St. Louis, another in New Orleans, but lossess at San Diego and Minnesota. That'll put Atlanta at 11-5 (4-2 in the division).

I guess out of respect, we should do the Saints. New Orleans is 4th in the NFC South at 4-5. New Orleans goes to Kansas City (1-8), Green Bay (4-5) at home, they go to Tampa Bay (6-3), they come home to play Atlanta (6-3), they go to Chicago (5-4) and Detroit (0-9) before finishing up at home against Carolina (7-2). As a losing team, we can't give the Saints the same considerations as the winning teams in the division. So lets give New Orleans home victories over Kansas City and Green Bay. We'll give them a rare road win at Detroit, but we'll hand them losses to Atlanta, Chicago, Tampa Bay, and Carolina. This will leave New Orleans 7-9 (1-5 in division) and out of contention.

This scenario is bad news for the Bucs...By virtue of a better conference record, Atlanta would win the NFC South, the Panthers, by virtue of a better division record would finish 2nd, the Buccaneers would be 3rd.

Conceivably, 11-5 should be enough to get you into the playoffs as a wild card, but with Washington, Dallas, and Philadelphia breathing down the Bucs' neck, Tampa Bay really doesn't want to see this thing come down to tie-breakers.

Bottom line for the Bucs - win your home games, beat the teams your supposed to beat and take one out of two from the two big divisional battles and the NFC South will be yours. Fail and you'll be driving me crazy because I'll have to bring out the protractors and slide rulers to try and figure out how the heck the Bucs will make the playoffs.

Of course, as you know, nothing ever goes as it should in the NFL. That's why they play the games.

JC De La Torre is an author of Science Fiction/Fantasy and other realms of Speculative Fiction - check out his latest works at JC

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