8 Reasons Why the NFC and AFC South Are the Worst Divisions in Football
Before the season, I wrote numberFire's AFC South preview, and noted that it may be the worst division in football. There were numerous issues with the teams in that division that drove down their preseason projections, and through the first seven weeks of the season, those issues seem to be legitimate.
I also wrote an article which relayed the five worst teams in our preseason rankings, which included two teams from the AFC South. And while this article wasn't too popular with fans of the team's included, it proved correct in predicting that the AFC South would kinda suck.
But it's the brief mention I made to my childhood team, the Buccaneers, that would prove to be the darkest bit of foreshadowing I could have possibly imagined. Because despite the AFC South's struggles this season, and despite most of our metrics proving to be correct when it comes to the teams in that division, it's not the worst division in football.
Instead, it is the NFC South, led by my beloved Bucs, bringing up the rear as the worst division in the NFL. So what's gone wrong in the southern divisions this year, and why are those teams so bad?
Here are eight facts explaining why the southern divisions are so bad in the NFL this year.
1. The NFC South is the only division without a team with a winning record and is the only division with every team currently sitting at a negative point differential on the season.
2. Our numbers predict that won't be getting better anytime soon, as the NFC South has the worst average nERD calculation of any division in the league. That means that our metrics predict the average NFC South team would lose to an average NFL team by more than any other division's average team.
The AFC South is the second-worst division, and the two Souths are the only two divisions with an average nERD below -.30. The AFC South currently sits at -2.1, while the NFC South is at -2.9.
3. The defenses in the NFC South are awful. The "best" defensive unit among the four teams comes from Carolina, and the Panthers rank 26th in our Defensive Net Expected Points (NEP) metric when adjusted for strength of opponent. The Buccaneers, who have the worst pass defense by a country mile, have the 29th overall defense, while the Falcons and Saints have the 31st and 32nd overall defenses in the league.
This translates into pure points allowed, as the three teams who have been scored against most often in the NFL this season are all in the NFC South: the Panthers, Falcons and league-worst Bucs.
4. In the AFC South, the offenses are the problem. Jacksonville currently ranks last in our Adjusted Offensive NEP per play rankings, while the Titans sit in 28th and the Texans are 25th. The Colts are doing just fine on both sides of the ball, which helps bring up the average of the division, which would be downright embarrassing otherwise.
Again, this translates to raw data just as well, as the Titans and Jaguars (as well as the NFC South's Bucs) are currently in the bottom six in offensive yards per game.
5. The reason for the bad offenses in the AFC South? Quarterback play! The two worst quarterbacks so far this season in Passing Net Expected Points both come from the Jacksonville Jaguars (Chad Henne is still the worst signal caller this season, with Blake Bortles landing in the second-to-last spot).
And out of 38 quarterbacks to drop back at least 70 times this season, Titans' quarterbacks Charlie Whitehurst (27th) and Jake Locker (29th) are only slightly worse than Ryan Fitzpatrick (26th). Andrew Luck sits atop the quarterback rankings, but again, the Colts are the bastion of hope in these southern divisions. (They're the "south" team located furthest north geographically. Maybe that's the problem?)
6. The NFC South's quarterbacks are a bit better, as Mike Glennon and Josh McCown are the only signal callers outside of the top-12 in the league from that division. Their issue is stopping the pass and getting after opposing quarterbacks. New Orleans, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta all rank 25th or worse in the NFL in sacks and have bottom-five pass defenses according to our opponent-adjusted Defensive NEP rankings on a per-play basis.
7. According to our projections, there are currently 8 teams in the NFL with a 0.0% chance of winning the Super Bowl. Three of those eight teams are from southern divisions (the Jaguars, Buccaneers and Titans). In fact, those three teams are three of the five worst teams in the league, according to nERD calculations, with the two Florida teams projected to lose by over a touchdown to an average NFL opponent.
8. Apart from the Colts, no AFC or NFC South team will finish with more than eight wins according to our algorithms. The Texans are currently projected to finish at 8-8, while the Panthers are predicted to "win" the NFC South with 7.4 wins, 7.6 losses, and a tie in our current rankings.
The NFL is a very competitive league, and every year there are surprise teams who perform better or worse than expected and shock everyone. This year, the play of the NFC South has to be the most surprising of all, as the division is clearly the worst in the NFL and features four of the league's most disappointing teams. It was easy to see how the AFC South would wind up being among the worst in the league, but the fall from grace of the NFC South is a big surprise.
Yet there will still be playoff teams from these divisions, and while the AFC South seems to be a one-horse race (sorry, bad Colts pun), the NFC South is wide open. Will the division champion from the South be able to shock the world in the postseason, or will 2014 be a year to forget for NFL football in the south?