Since the NFC South was created at the start of the 2002 season (the Saints prior to that competed in the NFC West), it seems like a different team wins it every single year. Winning your division gives a team automatic access into the playoffs (thanks Seahawks, for that painful reminder after your pathetic 7-9 season).
So the teams you want to keep an eye on are always your most immediate competition. That would be the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Who has been better since the inception of the NFC South?First, let's look at the previous winners of the division:
2010 - Atlanta Falcons
2009 - New Orleans Saints
2008 - Carolina Panthers
2007 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2006 - New Orleans Saints
2005 - Carolina Panthers
2004 - Atlanta Falcons
2003 - Carolina Panthers
2002 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Pretty crazy to think about: in the nine seasons the NFC South has existed, the four teams that make up the division have each won it twice, except the Panthers who have won it three times. Talk about balance.
Going a little deeper, below are the teams' regular season records during this nine year span of the "NFC South:
Atlanta Falcons - 77 Wins, 66 Losses, 1 Tie
New Orleans Saints - 77 Wins, 67 Losses
Carolina Panthers - 73 Wins, 71 Losses
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 70 Wins, 74 Losses
Amazing how the most successful team and the least successful team in the span of almost a decade are separated by only seven wins. The Panthers, with 73 wins, were ahead of the Saints and Falcons by quite a bit before a disastrous 2010 season (2-14) dropped them. Still, it's incredible that three of the four franchises have winning records over that nine year span, and Tampa is only four games under .500. That's a testament to how competitive the NFC South is, and how well the franchises are run. Quite simply, the NFC South is no picnic.
How do you see things shaping up for the next decade? Will it remain as competitive? It seems like the Falcons, Bucs and Saints are currently set up for long term success, but we all know all to well how quickly that can change.