Well, well … While the AFC North might be the most compelling race, this one is in the running for second-most — that is, if it weren’t so darned ugly. Look, every season has a degenerate division winner, which is followed by a clarion call for playoff realignment. An annual tradition we won’t miss this year.
But this thing suddenly has gone from an ugly division win for the Buccaneers to … are we really sure they’re going to win this thing? Sitting atop the South at 6-7, Tampa Bay’s only win since Week 10 was a miracle, with the Bucs overcoming a 16-3 deficit in the final minutes to nip the Saints, 17-16. Had they lost that one, the Bucs would be in second place today.
And yes, the 5-8 Panthers would be in first. The team that fired its head coach and traded its best offensive player is suddenly very much in this thing. Since replacing Matt Rhule following Carolina’s 1-4 start, Steve Wilks has admirably gone 4-4. Could he be this year’s version of Rich Bisaccia, the interim coach who replaced Jon Gruden in Las Vegas and then led the Raiders to the playoffs, where they nearly took down the Bengals in Cincinnati?
What an insane story it would be if these Panthers somehow knocked off Tom Brady in what could be his final hurrah. The Falcons, also at 5-8, are right there, too. Right now, we’re still leaning toward the Bucs to take the South, but we are hedging hard.
Image & Story Credit: nfl.com