The NFC South will likely end up being the last division left up for grabs this season. And, the team it sends to the playoffs probably won’t have a winning record after going 1-3 in Week 15.
The New Orleans Saints were the only team in the division to win Sunday, beating the Atlanta Falcons, 21-18, leaving a muddled NFC South picture that might not become clear until at least Week 17.
This is a race that’ll come down to the wire for all the wrong reasons, with the Carolina Panthers’ 24-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15 being a prime example of a division that can’t get out of its own way.
• How Tyreek Hill has changed the Dolphins
• Inside Jonathan Taylor’s 2022 drop-off
• The balanced RB attack in KC
• What Cole Beasley brings to the Bills
• Should Panthers draft QB regardless?
The division is inching closer to becoming the first to produce two playoff teams with losing records all-time. Only three teams have made the postseason with a losing record, excluding the strike-shortened season in 1982.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8) are the only team that can get in with a winning record, and they would have to win out to avoid becoming the fourth team to get in after blowing a 17-0 lead and falling 34-23 to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
The Washington Commanders made the playoffs at 7-9 in 2020, the Panthers did it at 7-8-1 in 2014 and the Seattle Seahawks were the first in 2010 at 7-9.
The Seahawks and Panthers each won one playoff game in those years, while the Commanders lost 23-21 to the Buccaneers in the first round.
The Buccaneers remain the leader to clinch the division with three weeks remaining and will make the playoffs if they win their final three games (at Arizona, vs. Carolina, at Atlanta).
However, there’s still a path to the playoffs for the other three teams (who are all 5-9) as well — they’ll just need some help to get there.
Here are the other playoff scenarios via ESPN Stats & Information research:
The Panthers, who fired coach Matt Rhule on Oct. 10 after a 1-4 start, have an advantage over the Saints and Falcons because of tiebreakers. If they win their final three games (vs. Detroit, at Tampa Bay, at New Orleans), they’ll have swept the Buccaneers and will win the division.
The Falcons would be eliminated from wild-card contention if they lose next week, but could remain alive in the division race. The Falcons need to win their final three games (at Baltimore, vs. Arizona, vs. Tampa Bay); they also need the Buccaneers to lose their final three games, the Panthers to lose to the Saints and Lions and the Saints to lose to the Browns and Eagles.
The Saints could make the playoffs at 7-10 (as long as they beat the Panthers). They would need the Buccaneers to lose their final three games, the Panthers to lose to the Lions and the Falcons to lose to either the Ravens or the Cardinals.