NFL Power Rankings 2013: The Results are In

NFL Rankings after the 2013 Season, for the NFC South - Jon Oliver

Now that the NFC South is out of the playoffs, we take a look at how the Saints and their division opponents fared throughout the 2013 season.

Final NFL Rankings: (NFC South)

This Week

Offense

Defense

Passing

Rushing

Saints

4 (1)

4

2

25

Falcons

14 (↓2)

27 (1)

7 (↓1)

32

Panthers

26 (↓1)

2

29 (↓1)

11

Buccaneers

32

17 (↓4)

32

22

By the numbers, the New Orleans Saints had a great season.


Saintshelmet_medium New Orleans Saints (11-5):
After a tumultuous 2012 season, the Saints came back with a vengeance. Only five teams in the NFL finished with better records than New Orleans, and four of them have made it to their respective conference championships. Few people expected this team to rely on the defense and running game the way they did in the end; but had Sean Payton committed to the running game earlier, he might be coaching the NFCCG at home this coming weekend.

With an outstanding performance by Rob Ryan and his defense, and a heartening show by the running game and offensive line towards the end, many fans are hoping for improvement with the passing game. That said, Drew Brees and the receiving corps had another remarkable season this year, with a record fourth (third consecutive) 5,000-yard season, and Marques Colston setting two franchise receiving records. The Saints passed for more yards than any other team in the NFC this year, though at times they seemed to struggle with clinching games. A bit of bad luck, and some questionable refereeing, may have made the difference between hosting the NFCCG and going home after the second round in the playoffs. Regardless, if Jimmy Graham can toughen up a bit -- physically and mentally -- and if the passing game can overcome some of the costly errors which peppered the 2013 season, this team has a real chance of competing in the University of Phoenix stadium for the Lombardi trophy next year.

Coach Payton consistently mentions the turnover battle; and hopefully he will find a way to improve that aspect of the team, on both sides of the ball. While Rob Ryan is certainly in the running for the honor of the team's biggest hero right now, his vastly-improved defense was woefully lacking in the turnover department. The nineteen Saints takeaways were the fewest in the NFC, and third-worst in the NFL, behind the Texans (11) and Jets (15). On the offensive side of the ball, New Orleans was in a 4-way tie (with the Seahawks, Panthers, and Eagles) for second-best in the NFC, with nineteen giveaways (behind San Francisco's 18). The Colts (14) and Chiefs (18) bump the Saints down to tying for fourth place league-wide in giveaways. And while being one of the seven best teams in the NFL in terms of ball protection is certainly not bad, turnovers cost the Saints more than one game this season. Coincidentally, New Orleans had equal numbers of turnovers via interceptions (12) and fumbles (7) on both offense and defense.

In the end, New Orleans had a very successful season, bouncing back from Goodell's unreasonably harsh punitive actions and a season fraught with injuries against one of the NFL's tougher schedules, to earn a playoff berth... and even win an outdoor playoff game on the road, in freezing temperatures. With even a marginally successful off-season, New Orleans should be celebrating during the playoffs again next year.

Falconshelmet_medium Atlanta Falcons (4-12):
Entering the season as media darlings, and having promised a deep playoff run to Tony Gonzales and their fanbase, the Atlanta Falcons had such a dismal season that even Saints fans began to feel sorry for them. At least, that is, until Atlanta failed to beat the Panthers in Week 17, allowing Carolina to take the lead in the NFC South instead of New Orleans.

Although seven of their twelve losses were by seven points or less, Atlanta suffered a demoralizing stretch of four big losses in Weeks 8-11, capped off by a Week 12 loss to division rival New Orleans Saints in the Georgia Dome. Matt Ryan isn't a bad quarterback, nor is Mike Smith a bad coach. But when a team is fairly pedestrian overall, it's not surprising to see a lucky season like the one they had in 2012 followed immediately by one in which they were exposed in every way.

Former Rams running back Steven Jackson did not work out quite as well as Atlanta had hoped, as the Falcons ground game ended the season ranked dead last in the NFL. Their defense wasn't much better, and even their passing game was knocked down a few pegs this year. Unless they can score big in the offseason, the Atlanta Falcons may have a difficult time being very competitive next year... 100-million-dollar quarterback notwithstanding

Panthershelmet_medium Carolina Panthers (12-4):
With a strong showing to end the season, the Carolina Panthers snatched the NFC South, and the NFC's #2 seed, from the New Orleans Saints. That said, they seemed to prove many of their doubters correct when they couldn't even win a single playoff game... despite the advantages of playing at home after a bye week. Saints fans take heart: New Orleans is currently the only team in the NFC South to have won a football game in 2014.

The Panthers consider Cam Newton to be their franchise quarterback, and will either be taking the fifth-year option on his current contract or renegotiating a new extension. The team's most high-profile towel boy seems to have won the hearts of Panthers fans, and their front office. But will his seemingly immature antics ever allow him to develop into the kind of leader that a championship-caliber team truly needs? When Saints TE Jimmy Graham starts behaving and performing poorly -- and seems to be mentally affected by the game in ways more mature professionals aren't -- he is occasionally likened to Cam Newton. And while the comparison may chafe some Saints fans, the circumstances of the comparison should worry Carolina fans. The Panthers should be able to stay focused and motivated because of their quarterback, not despite him.

With head coach Ron Rivera needing a winning season to keep his job, the Panthers defense stepped up in a big way in 2013. The second-best defensive squad in the NFL, paired with a fairly good running game, kept Riverboat Ron and Cam Newton looking competitive... and likely prevented many people from realizing they had the third-worst passing game in the NFL. It is difficult to be great at everything in this league of salary caps and parity; but one can only imagine how much of a threat the Panthers would be if they had even a decent passing game. Until then, however, the Carolina Panthers are likely to remain a second-tier team who blew their one fortuitous shot in 2013. Next year, they will likely be competing with the Falcons for 2nd place in the NFC South.

Bucshelmet_medium Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12):
From MRSA to Josh Freeman, Greg Schiano somehow managed to lead such a three-ring circus that it surpassed even the Tebow-Sanchez-Geno mess of the New York Jets. Rex Ryan was doubtlessly thankful that the media's attention was elsewhere, as Rob's brother had a non-losing season... decent enough to keep his job secure for another year, at least.

Schiano, however, did not fare so well. During a season throughout which his organization was infected, with MRSA and various strains of drama, Greg Schiano reportedly lost his locker room during his second year as head coach. Even with acquisitions such as big name cornerback Darrelle Revis, the Buccaneers were unable to build on the previous season's momentum, and suffered some truly embarrassing and boneheaded losses in 2013. The one bright spot seems to be in having found a quarterback solution in Mike Glennon, though Tampa Bay finished dead last in both Passing Yards and overall Offense. If the Bucs can hire the right leadership in the front office, and find the right leadership in the locker room, they may be able to surprise the NFL in 2014. They will almost certainly come out trying to swing for the fences. Until they prove otherwise, however, Tampa Bay will likely be expected to fall flat once again. I would bet on them breaking even next season.

Lagniappe: The Best and the Worst in the NFL

Who ended the season with the NFL's best and worst ranks in each category?


Best
(Current #1 Rank)

Worst
(Current #32 Rank)

Offense

Broncoshelmet_medium
Denver Broncos

Last week: Denver


Bucshelmet_medium
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last week: Tampa Bay

Offense

Defense

Seahawkshelmet_medium
Seattle Seahawks

Last week: Seattle

Cowboyshelmet_medium
Dallas Cowboys

Last week: Dallas

Defense

Passing

Broncoshelmet_medium
Denver Broncos

Last week: Denver

Bucshelmet_medium
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last week: Tampa Bay

Passing

Rushing

Eagleshelmet_medium
Philadelphia Eagles

Last week: Eagles

Falconshelmet_medium
Atlanta Falcons

Last week: Atlanta

Rushing

The NFC South had two of the best teams in the NFL. They also had some other, less-impressive superlatives.

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