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NFL Power Rankings 2014: New Orleans Saints should win the NFC South

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The Saints have had an uncharacteristically poor 2014 season, but somehow they are tied for the division lead with a 5-8 record. New Orleans also leads the NFC South in most statistical categories. Let's take a look at how the team and the NFC South as a whole compare to the rest of the NFL at the moment.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Just when the NFL is ready to give up on New Orleans, the team serves up an unexpectedly admirable performance against a solid team.  Then, as hope creeps into the hearts of fans, the Saints give us another terrible loss to a mediocre team.

New Orleans is currently tied for the division lead, but how does the team compare to the rest of the division statistically? And how does the NFC South compare to the rest of the league?  We've gathered some key stats for the NFC South, to track where the New Orleans Saints and their division opponents each rank among all 32 teams in the league.

Current NFL Rankings: (NFC South)

Team Offense
(Yards)
Defense
(Yards)
Passing
Yards
Rushing
Yards
Offense
(Points)
Defense
(Points)
Record Point
Differential
Turnover
Differential
Saints 3 (↓1) 31 3 9 (↓1) 9 (↓2) 30 (↓6) 5-8 -26
-9
Falcons 8 (1) 32 5 (1) 23 (2) 10 (2) 24 (↓2) 5-8 -14
+5
Panthers 19 (2) 19 (↓2) 21(↓2) 11 (↑10) 23 (↓2) 23 (↓4) 4-8-1 -72
-1
Buccaneers 29 (↓3) 21(↓1) 19(↓1) 31 (↓2) 28 26(↓3) 2-11
-111
-8

For each statistical category, the extent to which each team has improved or worsened since last week is given in parenthesis.

The NFC South is floundering.   As this weekend approaches, the Saints and Falcons are tied for the unimpressive division championship.  The final three games of the season, particularly the head-to-head match in Week 16, will determine which of these two teams goes to the playoffs.  Regardless of either team's performance, no one in the division can finish the season with a winning record.  There is a good chance that football fans will see a team with a losing record hosting a playoff game in January.

While the Panthers and Buccaneers have performed very poorly on offense this season, every team in the NFC South has had major defensive issues.  The Saints have the worst defense in the division this year, and one of the worst in the NFL, but New Orleans leads the division offensively.

As the season comes to a close, will the Saints or the Falcons host a wildcard team with a winning record in the playoffs? Statistically, the two teams are rather close, and trying to predict anything this year is pure folly.


Saintshelmet_medium New Orleans Saints (5-8):
A week and a half ago, the Saints went to Pittsburgh and gave them a drubbing which had NFL fans and media thinking they might win out the rest of the year and take the division with a 9-7 record.  This past weekend, however, they embarrassed themselves at home against a lousy Panthers squad.

Every week for the past few months, teams throughout the NFL have reinforced the adage of Any Given Sunday, giving fans a number of big surprises throughout the regular season.  Yet no team has had more of a roller-coaster season than the New Orleans Saints.

This coming Monday, the Saints take on the Bears in Chicago, where Pierre Thomas has historically performed extremely well.  The last time Sean Payton was in Chicago was the first time he nabbed a win in the Windy City, despite having suited up as quarterback for the Bears years ago.

While the Saints are still competing for the division title and a postseason berth, the Bears have been knocked out of playoff contention; so Chicago is largely playing for pride.  And the Saints are statistically better across the board than the Bears, whose defense has allowed more points than any other team in the league this year.  But there is no way to know whether Sean Payton, Pierre Thomas, or anyone else affiliated with theSaints will have a good game or not this weekend.  Regardless of what happens in Chicago, and regardless of what happened last weekend or the weekend before, this year's team will remain impossible to predict, at least until the moment they are eliminated from the postseason.

Current Bears (5-8) Rankings:
Offense (Yards) - 18th; Defense (Yards) - 28th; Passing - 11th; Rushing - 26th
Offense (Points) - 18th; Defense (Points) - 32nd

Falconshelmet_medium Atlanta Falcons (5-8):
This weekend, the Atlanta Falcons host the same Steelers the Saints defeated in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago.  Both of these teams are fighting to maintain their place in the playoffs.  But the Falcons have allowed more yards than any other team in the NFL this year, and the Steelers are one of the only two teams in the league which have racked up more offensive yards (or passing yards) than the Saints this season.  Will the Falcons, who performed admirably in Green Bay a few days ago, surprise everyone and defeat the Steelers?  Or will the Georgia Dome be empty by the start of the third quarter?

Currently, there are fans from both Atlanta and New Orleans which claim they would rather their team didn't make the playoffs.  Whatever they might say now, likely hoping to stave off the possibility of eventual disappointment, long-time fans of either team will undoubtedly be rooting for their squad to earn another championship banner and -- perhaps more importantly -- keep their rivals out of the postseason.  A Falcons loss this weekend, combined with a Saints win on Monday, could really heat things up for at least one more week.

Current Steelers (8-5) Rankings:
Offense (Yards) - 2nd; Defense (Yards) - 16th; Passing - 2nd; Rushing - 8th
Offense (Points) - 6th; Defense (Points) - 21st

Panthershelmet_medium Carolina Panthers (4-8-1):
This past weekend, the Panthers -- hyped up on their teammates' whining about how New Orleans ran the score up on them a year prior -- managed to give the Saints a big black eye in the Superdome.  Other than pride and spite, however, there wasn't much to the victory for Ron Rivera's team.  Except perhaps the coach's job.

Carolina has been highly unlikely to win the division for some time.  Now that Cam Newton won't be on the field, following a car accident in which he suffered a similar injury with which Tony Romo has been successfully leading the Cowboys to the playoffs for several weeks, it's time for the Panthers to play their rookies and look towards next season.  And who better to test their rookies against than the worst of the worst? This Sunday afternoon, Carolina plays host to the Buccaneers, in what is sure to be either a comedic or horrifically boring approximation of professional football.

Current Bucs (2-11) Rankings:
Offense (Yards) - 29th; Defense (Yards) - 21st; Passing - 19th; Rushing - 31st
Offense (Points) - 28th; Defense (Points) - 26th

Bucshelmet_medium Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-11):
Once again, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the undisputed worst team in the NFC.  As the only team in the conference who has yet to manage a third win this year, the worst of the slovenly NFC South is tied with the Jaguars, Raiders, Jets and Titans in the race for the first pick of the 2015 NFL Draft.

As of last weekend, the Bucs were officially eliminated from even the possibility of winning the lowly NFC South.  Their new head coach, Lovie Smith, largely gets a pass for poor performance in an expected rebuilding year, and he's unlikely to try too hard to earn himself a worse pick in the upcoming draft.  But if this year has shown us anything, it's that there are few sure bets in the NFL league this season.  If Tampa Bay loses to a Carolina team without Cam Newton, however, the Bucs can likely be written off for the last two weeks of the season as well.

Current Panthers (4-8-1) Rankings:
Offense (Yards) - 19th; Defense (Yards) - 19th; Passing - 21st; Rushing - 11th
Offense (Points) - 23rd; Defense (Points) -23rd

Lagniappe: The Best and the Worst in the NFL

Who currently holds the best and worst ranks in the NFL in each category?


Best
(Current #1 Rank)


Worst
(Current #32 Rank)


Offense

(Points)

Green Bay Packers (1)
Last Week: Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars (↓1)
Last week: Raiders

Offense

(Points)

Defense

(Points)

Detroit Lions
Last week: Lions

Chicago Bears (↓2)
Last week: Titans

Defense

(Points)

Offense

(Yards)

Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: Colts

Oakland Raiders
Last week: Raiders

Offense

(Yards)

Defense

(Yards)

Seattle Seahawks
Last week: Seahawks

Atlanta Falcons
Last week: Falcons

Defense

(Yards)

Passing

(Yards)

Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: Colts

New York Jets
Last week: Jets

Passing

(Yards)

Rushing

(Yards)

Seattle Seahawks
Last week: Seahawks

Oakland Raiders
Last week: Raiders

Rushing

(Yards)

.