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Saints could win the NFC South with a 7-9 record

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Grantland's Bill Barnwell calculated the playoff odds for each team in the NFC South. The results were depressing.

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The NFC South is arguably the worst division in the NFL. "Arguably," because people can hold argue anything opinion they like. But numbers are static, and by their immovable weight the NFC South far and away features the worst collection of four teams among any of the league's eight divisions.

The Atlanta Falcons beat the Carolina Panthers on Sunday to improve to 4-6 and, somehow, take hold of first place in the division. The only reason that the Falcons' record so good is that their division mates have been so bad. Atlanta is 4-0 in the NFC South, and 0-6 against every other team they have faced.

Currently, the NFC South owns a 6-20-1 record against teams from outside of its own division. If that .241 winning percentage holds, it will be the worst ever in NFL history, according to Football Perspective's Chase Stuart. The NFC South's level of suck may be one for the ages.

Grantland's Bill Barnwell handicapped the playoff race in the division using a mathematical simulation, and unsurprisingly was able to draw several depressing conclusions.

1) The NFC South winner likely won't have a winning record.

By Barnwell's model, the Saints have a 59 percent chance of winning the division with a projected 7.4 wins. Obviously, a team can't record four-tenths of a win outside of statistics. That means that, if we round to the nearest integer, the Saints could enter the playoffs at 7-9 overall.

The only other NFL team to ever enter the playoffs with a losing record is the 2010 Seattle Seahawks, who actually did well for themselves by beating the Saints in the wild card round. Perhaps the Saints can get revenge. Seattle is currently fighting for the No. 6 seed at 6-4 overall, and the Saints would be the No. 4 seed if they manage to win the division with a losing record.

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2) The Falcons are shockingly well-positioned.

Barnwell projects the Faclons to win 6.6 games, and Atlanta ends up winning the NFC South in 33.1 percent of his season simulations. Most importantly, a 4-0 division record leaves it in great shape if the division crown comes down to tiebreakers. All Atlanta would have to do is beat the Saints in Week 16 to automatically hold a trump card over any division rival should records come out equal. In theory, Atlanta could make the playoffs by only beating teams in the NFC South, and losing to everyone else.

3) The Bucs still have a shot.

A miniscule shot. Tampa Bay makes the playoffs in just 0.3 percent of Barnwell's 1,000 simulations. But that's technically a crack to push through for the 2-8 Bucs. Here's what they need to happen at a minimum:

  1. The Saints and or Falcons go 1-5 or worse. The two teams play each other in Week 16, and assuming no tie occurs, one them will finish with at least five wins.
  2. The Panthers go 2-3, winning their remaining games against the Saints and Falcons but losing against the Minnesota Vikings, Cleveland Browns and, of course, the Bucs.
  3. The Bucs go 4-2 to finish the season to improve to six wins. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, it will likely need to have the best record in the NFC South because its intradivision record can be no better 2-4, putting it on the wrong end of the most potential tiebreakers.
  4. Take two-of-four against Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit and Green Bay. A game against the Bears is winnable. The other three team are a combined 20-9-1 on the year, however.
When a 2-8 team has a not-implausible shot at making the playoffs, you know your division is in rough shape.

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