"Everything we've ever done or will do, we're gonna do over and over and over again." Rust Cohle (of "True Detective") wasn't talking about football when he opined on the recurrence of events in our lives, but he might as well have been in a deep discussion on the NFC South, a routinely disgusting division which once again finds itself in a flat circle of time, with Sunday's results yielding a three-way tie for first with teams under .500.
The Atlanta Falcons stymied Mike Evans to the tune of just eight yards on Sunday, which would lead you to believe the Falcons romped past the Buccaneers. You would be incorrect -- Baker Mayfield managed to gut out a fairly impressive offensive performance against a tough Atlanta defense en route to a 29-25 victory that vaulted the Bucs into first place at 6-7. Credit to Rachaad White, who has really developed into an underrated lead back this season, for a 100-yard game on the ground and a screen pass he housed from 33 yards out to give the Bucs a two-score lead late in the third quarter.
The Falcons would answer with a Bijan Robinson touchdown to make it a 19-17 game before a Desmond Ridder rushing touchdown and ensuing two-point conversion gave them the lead with around three minutes left. And that's when Baker did Baker things -- it felt like every single play on Tampa's final drive was a dangerous scramble or a tight-window throw or a shocking fourth-down conversion before Mayfield hit tight end Cade Otton for the game-winning score.
Meanwhile, the Saints were hosting the Panthers, with the most shocking starting quarterback decision of the year, putting Derek Carr under center despite the QB coming off his second concussion of the season and battling rib and shoulder injuries. A cynic might suggest Carr loves to let the world know he's very tough and a REAL cynic might suggest Carr is extremely insecure about losing his starting job to Jameis Winston. Fortunately I'm not a cynic (as far as you know), so I'll simply give Carr props for playing a fairly efficient game against a hapless Panthers team that should be humiliated it's not even sniffing this divisional race.
New Orleans flat-out overpowered the Panthers, who couldn't muster more than six points on a pair of field goals. Carolina drove more than 50 yards once while compiling seven drives that went 25 yards or less. The Saints blew them out, but both of Carr's touchdowns were in what amounts to garbage time even though the Saints were only up eight points.
The Panthers are only relevant for draft purposes and even then there's far more interest in Chicago than there is Carolina. When I do local radio and spend segments talking about the offensive line's inability to protect or the offense's inability to push the ball down the field, I feel a lot like Matthew McConaughey spinning a crushed aluminum beer can. They're eliminated from division contention despite the leaders sitting in a three-way tie at 6-7. The Bryce Young trade looks like one of the worst decisions in modern draft history right now.
So let's look at the rest of the teams here.
For three teams tied within the division, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head, followed by divisional record followed by common games.
In this case the three-way tiebreaker eliminates New Orleans (0-2 against the Bucs and Falcons this year), then with a tie in the division, Tampa beats Atlanta with a better record in common games (4-2 to 3-3).
Tampa is 2-1 against the Falcons and Saints with a game remaining against New Orleans, and, for divisional purposes, a game left against the Panthers as well. Atlanta's 2-1 against the Bucs and Saints with a record against the Panthers as well. New Orleans can win four more divisional games and create a tie in the head-to-head situation by beating Tampa and Atlanta the rest of the year.
In other words, given how close these teams are in terms of quality, this thing is WIDE OPEN. I'd give the Bucs and Falcons a slight edge because of games against the Panthers remaining but Tampa an even slighter edge because its matchup against the Saints is at home, with the Falcons on the road.
Tampa's quarterback situation is maybe the most stable based on injury and performance -- it's probably a wash across the board in terms of skill-position guys for all three teams.
Time remains, as always, a flat circle.