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The NFC South is upside down

The NFC South is upside down.

The Atlanta Falcons began the season with a 2-6 record.  In the second half of the year, the team was 4-7 and then 5-9.  The Carolina Panthers began the year with a 3-8-1 record. One of these two teams will make the playoffs.

I’m not even sure what else there is to say.  The phrase “left for dead” is probably too kind.  Carolina fell to 3-8-1 in embarrassing fashion; the team’s 8th loss came in a game where the Vikings returned two blocked punts for touchdowns, and the Panthers body language read “checked the #*$! out.”

From October 6th to December 6th, the Carolina Panthers did not win a game.  Through week 13, the Panthers ranked 28th in points differential.  The Panthers may turn out to be the most unlikely playoff team in NFL history.

Meanwhile, the Falcons season looked over in October (and head coach Mike Smith looked was on the hottest of seats).  In one of the most embarrassing and head-scratching losses of the season, Atlanta lost in London to the Lions after jumping out to a 21-0 lead. If Atlanta making the playoffs feels like a bit of a surprise, there’s a good reason for that. It’s easy to ignore wins by NFC South teams against other NFC South teams, because muck tends to get conflated. Atlanta is a pitiful 1-9 in games outside of the division this year, with the lone win coming at home against the Cardinals. If Atlanta makes the playoffs, it will be courtesy of a 6-0 NFC South record.

No team has ever gone two full months between wins and made the playoffs. And no team has ever lost more than 7 games (much less 9) outside of the division and made the playoffs.1 So yes, either the Panthers or Falcons will make history this year.

On a more generic level, Carolina would be just the second team in NFL history to fall to five games below .500 and yet still make it to the postseason. The Falcons would become just the fourth team to make it to the playoffs after falling four games under .500. The table below shows the 24 teams in football history to make the playoffs after dropping to three games under .500:

TeamYearLgUnder .500RecordFinal Record
Cincinnati Bengals1970NFL-51-68-6
San Diego Chargers2008NFL-44-88-8
San Diego Chargers1992NFL-40-411-5
Buffalo Bills1949AAFC-41-5-15-5-2
Washington Redskins2012NFL-33-610-6
Denver Broncos2011NFL-31-48-8
Seattle Seahawks2010NFL-36-97-9
Green Bay Packers2004NFL-31-410-6
Tennessee Titans2002NFL-31-411-5
New York Jets2002NFL-31-49-7
Buffalo Bills1998NFL-30-310-6
Jacksonville Jaguars1996NFL-33-69-7
Detroit Lions1995NFL-30-310-6
San Diego Chargers1995NFL-34-79-7
New England Patriots1994NFL-33-610-6
Houston Oilers1993NFL-31-412-4
New Orleans Saints1990NFL-32-58-8
Detroit Lions1983NFL-31-49-7
Tampa Bay Buccaneers1982NFL-30-35-4
New York Jets1981NFL-30-310-5-1
Pittsburgh Steelers1976NFL-31-410-4
Baltimore Colts1975NFL-31-410-4
Buffalo Bills1963AFL-30-3-17-6-1
Buffalo Bills1948AAFC-32-57-7

In other NFC South news, the Panthers win over the Browns gave the NFC South its tenth win outside of the division this year. Meanwhile, the Bucs lost to Green Bay at the same time, closing the book on the NFC South’s nondivision schedule for 2014. The final tally: a 10-29-1 record, putting it in… second place for the worst record by a division since 1970.

  1. Ironically, Atlanta went 10-0 outside of the division the last time the team made the postseason. []
  • Sunrise089

    In the first paragraph, the Falcons actually got to 5-9 right, not just 5-8?

    • Chase Stuart

      Yes, thanks. Fixed!