The amazing NFC South Worst-to-First streak
The Amazing NFC South’s “win a playoff spot by selling your soul for a year” contest seems to be on the way to having a new winner- Tampa Bay.

In what has become an uncanny trend that is on its 8th year, The Tampa Bay Buccaneers seem destined to continue it and turn in another Worst to playoff turnaround made possible only in the NFC South.

For a while there, it was ‘finish last and you win the division next year’, but Atlanta did not win the division in 2008, New Orleans did, while the Falcons did claim a wild card spot and a playoff payoff for their abysmal 2007 season in which their star QB found himself in prison, and the Head Coach who printed “FINISH” T-shirts bolted for College Football, quitting on the team himself!

But that’s what you have to do in this division if you want to guarantee yourself a playoff birth! Careful drafting? Blah! Spend money on free agency, Humbug! You sell your soul for a year, then reap the rewards the next; like Atlanta did in 2008 drafting Matt Ryan and going into the playoffs.

The Bucs are not without their part in this spectacle; in 2004 they finished dead last in the division but reaped the rewards in 2005 with a NFC South Pennant and a brand new Cadillac! Tampa Bay then finished last in 2006, only to turn it around in 2007 with their first kickoff return for a TD in 34 years, and an offense led by Jeff Garcia that could actually produce points.

Is Tampa Bay poised to do it again? Well they certainly paid the price last year with a 3-13 season, which should be sacrifice enough to the NFC South Football deity. But what’s really causing it? The NFC South is unusual in that it is one of the few divisions in which ALL of its members have finished both FIRST, and dead last since the division’s inception in 2002.

In the first three years, three different teams from the NFC South reached the NFC Championship Game (Tampa Bay 2002, Carolina 2003, Atlanta 2004). The Bucs have the most division titles so far with three, while New Orleans and Carolina both have two, and Atlanta has one, but could be on the way to their second this year.

The lone exception to the “Worst to First” rule was in 2008 when Carolina finished first with a 12-4 record one game ahead of the Falcons who finished last in 2007. But they did manage to make the playoffs with an 11-5 record, good enough for 2nd place and thus changing the parameters of this trend/rule/curse/blessing!

Some say this proves that a last place schedule gives a team an upper advantage over other teams, but that is not true. Under the current schedule, only TWO GAMES are ‘at wild’ and open for change each year under scheduling. Every team in a division plays the exact same teams the other rivals play, except for two games, where your matched up with teams in your conference that finished in the same place in their respective divisions that you did.

For example, the NFC South this year plays the NFC West division. So Tampa Bay, which finished last place, will play the last place team from the NFC East, and the last place team from the NFC North. That happens to be the Redskins and the Lions. New Orleans who finished first place will be playing the division winners from those two.

So as you can see, two games does not make a season easier, plus, just because a team was in last place a year ago doesn’t mean they will be a bad team this year. The Saints got to play the Cowboys, an easier game this year than the Bucs who get to play the Redskins, a better team this year.

Any way you look at it, go to Vegas and put your money on Jimmy Clausen and the Carolina Panthers making the playoffs in 2011! Maybe a strike is what it will take to break this cycle of soul selling and playoff lottery! Now that you think about, 2009 wasn’t that bad was it?

About the writer
Nick is also the editor of Bucstop.com which is a superb website described as a site where you get lost in time watching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers video clips from 1977 to 2010. He was selected to the Bucs UK Hall of Fame in 2009 and has joined myself and Phil Jones on the sideline at Buccaneer games in recent seasons as thanks for the lengths he goes to in supporting the Bucs UK. Nick writes regular daily comments on the Bucs and the NFL on the site and it is well worth adding to your list of Buccaneer bookmarks.