There was a time when the NFC South was one of the NFL‘s tightest divisions.
While the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the favorites to win the division again, they faced challenges by the middle of the year.
That opening gave the New Orleans Saints, the Carolina Panthers, and the Atlanta Falcons a chance to snatch the lead from the Buccaneers possibly.
But this period seemed so long ago because the race is now Tampa Bay’s to lose.
With some of their starters making their return, it’s safe to settle the division title even if there’s still five weeks or the regular season remaining.
The Buccaneers Are Pillaging Victories
After winning six of their first seven games, Tom Brady and company picked up where they left off from the previous season.
Their only loss came against the Los Angeles Rams, which has a solid defensive unit.
However, the two losses that Bruce Arians’ squad suffered in Weeks 8 and 10 left the division up for grabs.
Unfortunately, even a two-game losing streak gave the Buccaneers’ critics tremendous cannon fodder.
— NFL (@NFL) December 5, 2021
They proclaim that the 44-year-old quarterback is slowing down.
Their defense, mainly the secondary, couldn’t prevent the big plays.
While the Buccaneers still possessed a 6-3 record, the other teams in the NFC South were gaining ground.
New Orleans’ Week 8 win over Tampa Bay improved their standing at 5-2.
BUCS WIN!!! 🏈🏈🏈 The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Atlanta Falcons 30-17! pic.twitter.com/b1Du1dfggj
— FOX 13 Tampa Bay (@FOX13News) December 5, 2021
Meanwhile, the Falcons defeated the Saints to earn a 4-4 slate.
Likewise, Cam Newton‘s performance against the Arizona Cardinals brought Carolina to their fifth win in ten games.
But the tight contest is over as the Super Bowl LV winners have won three in a row to settle the division practically.
Atlanta was one of the teams they defeated during that stretch.
TOUCHDOWN 🏈: These high schoolers scored big when they accidentally added the wrong number to a group text and ended up talking with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers👀 pic.twitter.com/9r7tDeaZrW
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) December 6, 2021
The other two teams that fell were the New York Giants and the Indianapolis Colts.
Tampa Bay improved to 9-3 and looked like the squad that won last year.
As the Buccaneers rediscovered their groove, the other three teams went on downward spirals.
The NFC South Race Is Over
The homestretch of the regular season is when contenders separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
That’s why the Buccaneers found their second wind to settle the division race for good.
Their three rivals all have a 5-7 record, and it’s close to impossible that they can catch up with Tampa Bay.
The Panthers, Saints, and Falcons can snatch the division if either of them can win all their remaining games.
Literally ended the nfc south race in one play lmaooo pic.twitter.com/dKRzgkJPup
— JC/i Lost (@DeadJAYC) December 3, 2021
But that’s only half of the bargain because the Buccaneers must lose all their remaining games, bringing them to 9-8.
The latter scenario is unlikely to happen since the division leaders look invincible at this point.
In contrast, the other three teams are reeling.
The Falcons’ campaign never took off, though they had flashes of brilliance.
Ndamukong Suh on having a four game lead in the NFC South. “We can’t be calm by any means. We have a lot of football left.”
— Rick Stroud (@NFLSTROUD) December 5, 2021
Meanwhile, the Saints still have one game left against the Buccaneers, but they’ve lost their last five.
Finally, the Panthers have two games remaining versus Tampa, and they don’t look good either after losing their last two games despite Newton’s return as starting quarterback.
Bucs only need five outcomes to clinch NFC South next weekend, and a Saints loss tonight would be the first. Bucs win their next two, Falcons beat Panthers and Saints lose to Jets next week and Bucs clinch division title in 10 days.
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) December 3, 2021
Winning in Week 14 against the reeling Buffalo Bills will finalize Tampa Bay’s first division title since 2007.
When that happens, the other NFC South teams must undergo significant upgrades to dethrone the kings in 2022.