Nearly every NFL season there is at least one division that if ripped from the league and cast into the sea, the product would be much better. This season, that division is the NFC South.
While the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have played some entertaining games, neither team has been able to string together enough wins to get to a .500 record. The Falcons lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday, and last week the Buccaneers lost a heartbreaker in overtime to the Cleveland Browns.
It has been so difficult for any team to get solid footing in this division that, at 4-8, the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers are still in the mix for first place. Andy Dalton is leading the Saints offense, and the Panthers released their big offseason quarterback upgrade, Baker Mayfield, and traded their best player in Christian McCaffrey.
On Monday Night Football the Buccaneers will host the Saints, and if these teams’ recent performances are a harbinger of things to come, expect a clunky, unentertaining primetime matchup.
The Saints got blanked last week by the San Francisco 49ers’ athletic and rabid defense. Yes, the 49ers are outstanding, and might be able to win a Super Bowl with a rookie, last-overall draft pick, at quarterback, but getting shut out should not happen in the NFL. Especially to an offense with talented players like Alvin Kamara, Chris Olave, and Rashid Shaheed.
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Even against the Browns’ leaky run defense, the Bucs could not sustain any success on the ground. They were up 17-10 on the Browns for much of the second half before David Njoku tied the game with a late touchdown grab. Still, 17-10? In the second half the Buccaneers went three-and-out four times. Let a team hang around long enough, and yes Jacoby Brissett can lead touchdown drives late in the fourth quarter, and in overtime to pull out the win.
So that is what is going head-to-head to conclude the Week 13 slate. Two offenses that have been struggling to put 20 points on the board, playing in a crucial game with division title ramifications, and both teams are under .500.
According to NFL rules, a team has to win this division and that team must host a playoff game. It’s an archaic rule that needs to be done away with in all major American sports. However, since that won’t be happening anytime soon, let’s just root for this division to be out of our lives as quickly as possible.
That means pull for every opponent that the Buccaneers have for the rest of the season. If they win the division with an 8-9 record, this is the one team that can slog their way to a playoff victory. The Buccaneers would probably host the Dallas Cowboys in the Wild-Card Round. On paper, this would be a complete mismatch. However, be honest, you know you can see the Cowboys blowing that game.
I certainly do. They don’t have the offensive playmakers to threaten the Buccaneers down the field. It would be even harder to do so with a healthy Antoine Winfield Jr. and Sean Murphy-Bunting on the field in January.
The Cowboys could let the Buccaneers hang around too long, and then the old vet Brady could turn back father time’s clock for a couple of late touchdown drives, and we would be stuck with them in the divisional round. Maybe even a rematch of last year’s Philadelphia Eagles’ playoff nightmare.
None of that would be fun to watch. The playoffs are supposed to showcase the best that the league has to offer, not a rock fight for three and a half quarters.
So for those who want maximum entertainment in the playoffs, become a Saints fan for a day. Because the faster the Buccaneers are gone, the faster the 2022 NFC South will be out of our lives.