For the better part of the last two decades, ask anyone which was the toughest division in pro football and you got the same answer — the NFC East. Even before re-alignment, with less divisions to choose from, the East was the flavor of each season.
With America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys, the Hogs of the Washington Redskins, and Parcells’ G-men of New York, who could argue. Apologies to the City of brotherly love, your Philadelphia Eagles have been to a couple Super Bowls too, and four straight NFC Championships not long ago. The only weak link in the group was the then St. Louis Cardinals who fled west when the NFL re-drew its maps, and in doing so, created the new power in the conference; The NFC South.
Since the new lines were drawn in 2002, the South — or NASCAR — Division as it is sometimes called has dominated NFC football. And while the Cowboys, Giants, and Eagles have been inconsistent, and the Redskins have become a big spending joke, the Bucs, Falcons and Saints have been showing the rest of the league how its done in the new world order.
Since the new division structure was put into place, the NFC South is one of only two divisions in the conference, and one of three in the league, to have every team win a division championship. It’s also been represented a League-best six times in the conference championship game and tied for a league-best three times in the Super Bowl along with the AFC East and North. The South has also sent the most different teams to the Super Bowl of any division, sending the three mentioned above while having the most different teams win the big game (Tampa Bay and New Orleans) since 2002.
The division is led by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who have won three championships in nine years. Last year alone, the South recorded another impressive feat, as they were the only division to have three teams finish with double-digit wins (Atlanta 13-3, New Orleans 11-5, Tampa Bay 10-6). This has only happened once before since 2002 (the AFC South in 2007). Perhaps the true test of its power was in 2008 when all four of its teams were 8-8 or better. The four teams amassed a 27-5 home record which is the best combined home winning percentage (.844) in NFL history.
With the Carolina Panthers stocking up free agents and the top QB draft pick, it may not be long until it’s a four way race again at the top of the South.