Congratulations are in order for the Carolina Panthers and their young quarterback Cam Newton. The Panthers defeated the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta to finish the season 12-4 as they clinched the NFC South. This division is one of the better divisions in the entire NFL, and as a sign of its competitiveness, no team has won back-to-back NFC South titles since its inception in 2002. Carolina last took the division title in 2008, the season they drafted running back Jonathan Stewart and were led by quarterback Jake Delhomme.
In the NFL, and the NFC South more specifically, team fortunes seem to flip without any advanced warning or signs. Just prior to the start of the season, the Falcons were heavily favored after having gone all the way to the NFC Championship game the season before. Midway through this season, the New Orleans Saints easily looked like they were going to take back the division title from Atlanta and secure a No. 2 seed in the NFC Playoffs.
How quickly things change.
Now, after struggling mightily on the road at times this season, the Saints’ only hope for postseason contention is a wild card spot. This is not the situation Saints fans hoped to be in at this stage in the season, but it is still better than nothing. Memories of recent road playoffs losses to the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks still haunt us, but if any team can overcome this adversity, it is the Saints.
If anything, I expect this sort of situation to motivate players like Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham to step up their game and produce. Head coach Sean Payton is still a genius at play calling and creating mismatches for his team, and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has done wonders with a defensive unit that gave up 7,042 yards a season ago.
So, fear not, Saints fans. There is still hope for this Saints team.