Which Division is the Weakest in the NFL?
Last season, the AFC South staked its claim as the worst division in the NFL. The Houston Texans ended up with the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft after a 2-14 record, the Jacksonville Jaguars weren’t far behind the Texans as they ended up with the No. 3 pick in the NFL Draft after a 4-12 season, the Tennessee Titans finished 7-9 on the year and the Indianapolis Colts won the division at 11-5.
In 2013, the AFC South went 12-28 outside of their own division as three teams finished with a negative point differential, including two of the top three point differentials in the NFL. The Jacksonville Jaguars led the league as they were outscored by 202 points by their opponents while the Tennessee Titans ranked third in the category as they were outscored by 152 points by their opponents. According to fivethirtyeight.com, the 2013 AFC South ranked as the seventh worst division ever out of all of the four major professional sports in the United States.
Could any division take the crown of ineptitude away from the AFC South in 2014? It was a tough task but the 2014 NFC South did it. It certainly caught many by surprise as the New Orleans Saints were a hot preseason pick to make the Super Bowl and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a popular choice to go from worst-to-first in the division. Furthermore, the Carolina Panthers were fresh off of a 12-win season and the Atlanta Falcons were two years removed from competing in the NFC Championship Game. If anything, the NFC South was going to be among one of the most competitive divisions in football because there was potential to have three playoff teams by the end of the 2014 season.
The NFC South has had a history of being different from the rest of the league as they had never had back-to-back division champs since the NFL went to four divisions in 2002. Since then, each team won the NFC South three times until this past season when the Carolina Panthers became the first team to win back-to-back NFC South division titles.
However, with a record of 7-8-1 this season the Panthers didn’t exactly earn the respect that comes with being a division champion. The Panthers, Saints, Falcons and Buccaneers finished with a combined record of 22-41-1 on the season. Each team also finished the year with a negative point differential, the only such division to do such a thing. The Panthers, Saints, Falcons and Buccaneers were outscored by their opponents by margins of 35, 23, 36 and 133 respectively. Additionally, the NFC South went a combined 19-29 in the NFC and was 3-12-1 against AFC opponents.
Furthermore, every team in the division finished below .500 in 2014, the first time that happened since the 2010 Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West with a 7-9 record. Both Seattle and Carolina angered football fans across the nation because of their sub-.500 records that saw them host playoff games. Both teams also made the playoffs over 10-6 squads as Seattle beat out the 2010 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Panthers beat out the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles.
Just in case, those facts weren't enough, the NFC South went a combined 10-29-1 against the rest of the NFL. From BusinessInsider.com, five of the eight NFL teams that got to play the NFC South in non-division play made the playoffs. Those five teams went 15-4-1 against the NFC South. The three teams that clinched wild-card spots in the playoffs (Bengals, Ravens, and Lions) went 10-1-1 against the NFC South and 21-15 against all other teams.
Outside of the Saints and Falcons, who ranked ninth and 12th in points per game on offense, the Panthers and Buccaneers ranked 19th and 29th in the same category. Meanwhile on defense, every team had a struggling defense. The Panthers were the division’s top defense as they ranked 21st in the league in points per game allowed. The Buccaneers followed at 25th with the Falcons and Saints ranked at 27th and 28th respectively. Based on the point differentials, it isn’t a surprise that every team finished with records under .500.
For the NFC South to improve in 2015, there are various holes on each team’s rosters that need to be addressed, especially defensively. However, the division could have a bounce back season because of the amount of talent in the division, especially at the quarterback position where Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton can lead a team to success. Until next year, the NFC South was by far the worst division in football.