Tuesday, December 16, 2014

An Argument: The Saints Will Win the NFC South

The NFC South is terrible.  The four teams that make up the division have a combined win percentage of .330 so far this season. The division champion will have, at best, an 8-8 record.  But someone has to win that division.  Someone has to.  And I think that someone will be the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints are the best team in this very bad division.  They're currently in first place with a won-loss record of 6-8, just a half-game ahead of the 5-8-1 Carolina Panthers.  But the Saints' remaining schedule is entirely winnable: A home game against Atlanta followed by an away game against Tampa Bay.  The Falcons and Bucs are 26th- and 25th-best, respectively, in stopping their opponent from scoring.  The Saints, meanwhile, have the ninth-best scoring offense in the NFL.

New Orleans also has a better simple rating system (SRS, a pro-football-reference.com stat) than any of their NFC South counterparts, even though their SRS for the season is -2.1 (0.0 is average).  Again, they're the best team in a bad division.

The biggest threat to the Saints is the Atlanta Falcons.  Atlanta has the tenth-best scoring offense in the league, and also plays its remaining schedule against incredibly poor scoring defenses in New Orleans and Carolina (28th-best and 23rd-best in points allowed per game, respectively).  The Falcons also have the second-best SRS rating among NFC South teams and play the Saints head-to-head this week.  A victory would make up the one-game difference with their division rivals, though Carolina would move ahead of both teams if they were to beat Cleveland and Atlanta defeated New Orleans.

But if you measure the Saints' margins of victory against those of the Falcons, you'll find New Orleans' to be more impressive. Atlanta's biggest win was a 56-14 blowout over Tampa Bay, a 42-point victory.  If you remove those 42 points from Atlanta's total margin of victory from their five wins, you'll find the Falcons other four triumphs this season came by an average of just 6.5 points per win. By contrast, the Saints beat Green Bay by three touchdowns, but still defeated Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Chicago by an average margin of 10.8 points per game.  

So here's my prediction for the NFC South this season: The Saints are the best of the worst, and will retain that title long enough to add another division championship to their resume.

**Note:  All stats and records used in this post came from ESPN.com, except for SRS ratings, which came from pro-football-reference.com.  Margins of victory for the Saints and Falcons were calculated by me using scores from ESPN.com. Total win percentage for the NFC South was also calculated by me using records from ESPN.com.

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