Heading into the 2013-2014 NFL Playoffs, the NFC South appeared to be in good shape to make some noise on the road to the Super Bowl. The Carolina Panthers had a strong defense and a home game in the divisional round, while the New Orleans Saints had Drew Brees and an improved defense with a rematch looming against the Seattle Seahawks.
But as the second round of the playoffs comes to an end, neither team from the Buccaneers’ division remains standing.
Tampa Bay and Atlanta stumbled to horrible records for the season, and the Saints and Panthers couldn’t deliver in the playoffs, falling to NFC West rivals. What does that mean for the future of this division?
It’s just as crazy as it ever was.
No team has ever won the division in consecutive seasons, and typically a team that finished at the bottom the year before rises to the top in the next season to surprise everyone. Most experts had the Panthers as a bottom-feeder in the division, as they suffered through cap hell over the offseason and didn’t add much to their roster. But they improved from a coaching standpoint and received contributions from role players en route to a surprising season.
Yet the playoff failures of the Panthers and Saints prove that neither team is ready to dominate the division, and there will be more than a chance for the Falcons and Buccaneers to bounce back into contention.
The Panthers have a makeshift secondary and lack offensive weapons, while the Saints don’t have an all-weather team and are running out of playmakers on offense (even for an elite QB like Drew Brees). The Falcons seem ready to bounce back, but still have holes on defense and are an injury away from a disaster on offense at any moment.
That means the Buccaneers will have a shot to go from worst to first in 2014. The Panthers and Saints are vulnerable, while the Falcons are trying to rebound just like the Buccaneers. Only one franchise in the division will have a new coach in 2014, so could that be the spark Tampa Bay needs to get back to the playoffs for the first time since before Barack Obama took office?
It certainly wouldn’t be wise to count them out.