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League's most competitive division not what you might think


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Three teams in what might be the NFL's most competitive division have winning records and the squad in last place, which boasts a .500 record, might turn out being the best of the lot. None of the four teams are named Giants, Cowboys, Redskins or Eagles either.

This is the NFC South, where, from top-to-bottom, it's impossible to declare a true favorite. The NFC South is also where a surprise team could claim the division title and another might end up scooping a wild-card playoff spot -- something seemingly unfathomable a few weeks ago because three of the four teams in the NFC East seemed locks for the postseason.

Carolina, Tampa Bay and Atlanta, yes, Atlanta, are 4-2 and are tied for the division lead. New Orleans, the preseason favorite to win the division, is 3-3. While none of these teams may be as talented as those in the NFC East, Carolina and Tampa Bay boasts the types of defenses that can get each to the postseason while the Falcons and New Orleans have the offensive makeup -- particularly at quarterback -- to keep things interesting until the final weekend of the season.

"We won four games last year and we're 4-2 after we've played six," Falcons wide receiver Roddy White said. "We've got 10 more to go. It's wonderful to have four wins already. We've got to keep going now. We feel as if we're a pretty good team. We're 0-2 in the division. We've got to win some division games."

With that, let's break down the NFC South:

Atlanta, 4-2

Since 2002, the team that finished last in the division won the NFC South the following year. That string seemed set to be broken by the Falcons. They tore apart the roster, front office and the coaching staff. They re-structured a poor offensive line with a rookie left tackle (Sam Baker) and a right side made up of undrafted free agents (Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo). Rookie quarterback Matt Ryan was supposed to endure the rookie blues, especially behind that offensive line.

Arguably the surprise team in the NFL, Ryan has played like a veteran, coach Mike Smith has players loving to come to work and the coaching staff has been able to mask most of the team's flaws. As a result, players are making plays they might not ordinarily make and now there is a belief that they might actually have something brewing. The Falcons enter their bye week with back-to-back wins and players are hoping the reprieve doesn't interrupt momentum.

"Everybody has bought in," White said. "We're not the most talented team but if you play together as a team, as one unit, you end up getting wins. That's how we've been doing it this year."

The Falcons also have been doing it against the NFC North. They have beaten Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago. Their other victory came against Kansas City. While the victories have boosted morale, Atlanta was shredded by Carolina and Tampa Bay. Credibility will be established once they win a division game or two -- three of four which will be played in the Georgia Dome.

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