And that includes the Falcons. I have come to the conclusion (and no I don't have stats to back this up) that the teams that are 10-6 are just as good as the teams that are 6-10 and everyone in between. These are the teams that are dangerous every Sunday, but they have serious flaws. Even if they make the playoffs, they are not a real title contender. The difference between these teams? A lucky break here or there, a slightly better coach, an injury to a major player, or (the topic of the column) one teams' schedule is easier than the other.
Here are the standings for the NFC South:
Carolina is 8-3
Tampa Bay is 8-3
Atlanta is 7-4
New Orleans is 6-5
All of the teams have winning records, but all of the teams are also imminently beatable. None of them scream "Title Contender." Are Tampa and Carolina really better than New England or Indy? Who would you rather put money on to win the Super Bowl?
So why are the records of the NFC South so good? We all get to play Detroit, Kansas City, and Oakland, who have a combined 4 wins. So that's three guaranteed wins right there. Delhomme threw 4 picks and a total of 72 yards against Oakland, AND THEY STILL WON! Then you throw in the underachieving Chargers, the defensive sieve that is Denver, and the rest of the NFC North (Bears, Packers, and Vikings) who are just average teams, and you have a recipe for a winning season if you have a decent team.
Now I'm not saying that Atlanta's good play this season is a mirage created by playing inferior competition. Far from it. I'm just saying I don't know if we're really 7-4 good. A few tweaks in the schedule and I could see us being 5-6 or even 4-7, which, considering my expectations coming into the season, I would still consider a rousing success. So don't buy Super Bowl tickets... until next season.