The Atlanta Falcons Will Definitely Win the NFC South
The NFC South is one of the most intriguing divisions this season. Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were expected to run away with the division, but there have been problems and distractions both on and off the field.
So, entering Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons were surprisingly in first place, with the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints also in contention. Atlanta lost 20-17 on a last-minute field goal to the Los Angeles Chargers. At the same time, the Buccaneers captured victory from the jaws of defeat against the Los Angeles Rams with an impressive last-minute drive orchestrated by Brady.
Tampa reclaimed first in the division on Sunday, but the Falcons could temporarily return to the top spot with a win on Thursday against the Panthers. Not only are the Bucs not in the clear, but they’ll actually miss the playoffs this season.
That’s because Atlanta will win the NFC South, even if they don’t have the best odds. Tampa Bay was a -200 favorite to win the division after Sunday, while the Falcons are paying out as high as +360 at one sportsbook.
Marcus Mariota Has Been Quietly Impressive This Season
One of the main reasons the Falcons will win the division ahead of the Buccaneers is because they have the better quarterback – at least based on performance this season. In years past, you’d be vilified for suggesting Marcus Mariota is better than Tom Brady, but that’s not even debatable in 2022.
While Brady is second in the league in passing yards (2,547), that figure is more than a little misconceiving.
Brady has just ten touchdowns this season. Matt Ryan is the only other QB in the league to throw for more than 2,000 yards and ten or fewer touchdowns. Brady is still relatively accurate, as he has just one interception, but he is definitely losing arm strength. He ranks 16th in average yards per attempt at 6.8. He had 7.4 and 7.6 in his first two years with Tampa Bay.
Mariota is a dual-threat QB who, despite having 197 fewer pass attempts, is tied with Brady at ten passing touchdowns. He also has 304 rushing yards and three touchdowns. What stands out most, however, is both Brady’s and Mariota’s QBR, a rating calculated by ESPN.
Brady is 17th among QBs with a 51.4 QBR, while Mariota ranks ninth at 59.7. For context, Tua Tagovailoa ranks first with a QBR of 80.2.
Strength of Schedule
In large part because of the divisions they play, the Buccaneers and Falcons have relatively easy schedules down the stretch. Tampa Bay’s remaining opponents have a combined record of 30-40, whereas the Falcons remaining opponents are a combined 27-44. Atlanta has the second-easiest remaining schedule in the NFL.
Atlanta has winnable games against the Chicago Bears, Washington Commanders, and Pittsburgh Steelers after this Thursday’s match against the Panthers. They close out their season with games against the New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens, and Arizona Cardinals before playing the Bucs in a Week 18 clash that could decide the division.