Sideline Report: The rise and fall of the NFC South

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The Atlanta Falcons used to be in one of the better divisions in football. Competing against the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints (as well as the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers) in divisional contests twice a year used to have major NFC playoff implications. Now, the NFC South is merely a joke.

The Falcons began a new chapter in their history with the  2008 NFL Draft. Some bright prospect from Boston College landed with the Falcons as the No. 3 pick overall and Matt Ryan became the face of the franchise.  Acquisitions of players such as tight end Tony Gonzalez from the Chiefs and later draft picks like wide receiver Julio Jones made the offense a force to be reckoned with. The Falcons have proven that regular season success is not the biggest issue but the lack of results in the postseason is. Head coach Mike Smith has led this team to multiple winning seasons with only one playoff win, yet somehow the Falcons sit at 4-7 in a first place tie with the Saints in the NFC South. What happened?

I bring up the Falcons as just one example of what used to be winning ways. The NFC South was bound to have at least two playoff teams from 2009-13. For some reason, the teams have been lacking in the win department. All of a sudden, a losing record is what it takes to contend for a playoff spot. The NFC has stacked teams this season such as the Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals. But since the NFC South is so terrible, it is looking doubtful that all of these teams will make the playoffs. This is bad for the NFL and just doesn’t make sense with the current structure of the playoffs.

The Panthers made the playoffs last year for the first time since 2008, led by up-and-coming quarterback Cam Newton and 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly. The Saints have also had playoff success with their 2009 Super Bowl win over the Indianapolis Colts. Years of dominance and racking up wins has led to nothing short of a disaster. Yet, once again, the NFC South has managed to be the laughing stock of the NFL.

As the season comes to the final five games, a lot will be determined. Shifts in playoff positioning is bound to come and potentially a 5-11 NFC South champion will secure one of those spots (most likely the No. 4 seed). It’s a travesty for this to happen and a real shame for a once proud division to have to go through this. Maybe the Saints, Falcons or Panthers can turn the season around, but time is running out. The NFC South is in shambles and it doesn’t seem like things will, or can, get much better.


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