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Around the NFC South: End of the run
January 16, 2018 08:00 PM | Bryan Strickland
A memorable year for the NFC South included three memorable playoff games, but the final three games of the 2017 season won't include football's best division.

A week after the Panthers lost a tough one to the Saints in the first-ever postseason matchup of NFC South foes, both the Saints and Falcons fell in dramatic fashion. For the first time in three seasons, the division won't be represented in the Super Bowl (or the NFC Championship), but it was a super season nonetheless.

Here's a quick look back the journey for each team in the first division to produce three NFC playoffs teams since 2007.

PANTHERS: Carolina's up-and-down season netted a fourth playoff trip in five seasons. But after winning seven of eight games to have a shot in the final week of the regular season at capturing the division crown, the Panthers finished with road losses to NFC South rivals - at the Falcons to send them to the wild card round, then at the Saints in the wild card round.

After being swept by the Saints during the regular season, the third time was nearly the charm, but the Panthers needed one more play and couldn't make it in a 31-26 loss. That wrapped up a fruitful and a frustrating year at the same time, with extremes like a victory at the Patriots and a loss at the Bears along with pretty much everything it between. It all added up to an 11-5 season and a return to the playoffs on the heels of a disappointing 6-10 campaign.

SAINTS: Expectations weren't great for New Orleans entering the season and that certainly didn't change after an 0-2 start, but a dominant victory in Charlotte in Week 3 jumpstarted an eight-game winning streak that propelled the Saints to the division title and their first playoff appearance since 2013.

The Saints were as dangerous as any team in the playoffs but found themselves in the danger zone in both postseason games and eventually were vanquished in one of the most amazing finishes in playoff history (surely you know about how the Vikings game ended). New Orleans resurfaced as a real contender in 2017 first and foremost because of the one-two punch at running back featuring veteran Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara, a dynamic duo that took pressure off both of Drew Brees and a developing defense.

FALCONS: Atlanta never truly looked like the team that rocketed into the Super Bowl last season, yet the Falcons were a goal-to-go away from returning the NFC title game. A gutsy victory over the Saints in Week 14 put them in position to return to the playoffs, and a clearly improved defense set the pace in a wild card victory over the Rams.

In the divisional round against the Eagles, however, the story of the Falcons' season - inconsistency on offense - caught up with them. Thanks to obvious progress on defense, Atlanta didn't lose a single game when scoring 20 or more points. However, the Falcons reached 20 points just 10 times during the regular season after rolling past the 20-point plateau in all but one game during their Super Bowl season.

BUCCANEERS: The latest in a long line of "this will be the season for Tampa" predictions proved off-base. The Buccaneers couldn't win close games and couldn't keep their quarterback healthy and as a result followed a promising 9-7 campaign with a 5-11 year and a 10th consecutive season without a playoff berth.

Quarterback Jameis Winston missed three games with a shoulder injury and was slowed by the same injury in three more, and a passing game that added exciting parts in the offseason never got going. A talented defense was sacked by injuries at every turn, and the Buccaneers (again) were never really a factor in the league's most competitive division, though they did push all three NFC South foes hard to end the season and did slip past the Saints.



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