The Atlanta Falcons finished the season 13-3, tied with the Denver Broncos for the best record in the NFL, the number one seed in the NFC and as the NFC South division champs but were they really the best team in their division?
Atlanta may have run away from their division rivals in the win column but with the confines of their division, they were just as mediocre as the New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers. Sure Atlanta won 13 games, while their division opponents all finished 7-9 but all four teams were 3-3 against each other. No other division had all had four teams finish with .500 records against each other, which easily makes the NFC South the most competitive division in the NFL.
The Falcons were the best team in that division because they won more games than their rivals but this division technically does not have a true champion; all the teams broke even against each other. Another key stat is Atlanta was beaten by each team in the NFC South. The Panthers, Saints and Bucs all swept at least one team in the division but not Atlanta; they were the only team in the division who did not collect at least one sweep of against an opponent. Carolina owned New Orleans, Tampa Bay owned Carolina and New Orleans owned Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, Atlanta picked up splits and kept it moving.
All year long, the debate was made about Atlanta not playing a tough schedule but if you look within their division, they actually did because their rivals were competitive all year long. The Saints navigated their way through “Bountygate” and finished better than anyone could have projected given their rough start. Carolina survived a second year slump from Cam Newton and Tampa played great for first year coach Greg Schiano. The competition between these teams helped Atlanta get to where they are now. Even in a loss to Tampa Bay in the final regular season game of the year, Atlanta will gain tremendous experience from it and should come out fired up in their playoff game.
Based off sheer record, Atlanta is the best team in the NFC South and they are one of the best teams in the NFL because they play in the best division.