Undefeated AND Winless Starts Meaningful in the NFC South

In this week’s NFC South Roundup on Buccaneers.com, it is pointed out that the New Orleans Saints are off to an 0-3 start for the first time since 2007.  Acting Head Coach Aaron Kromer says the 2012 Saints will overcome the challenge they’ve created for themselves, but the ’07 squad finished 7-9 and out of the playoffs.

In fact, particularly good or bad three-game starts have been quite prophetic during the first decade of the NFC South.

Starts like the one the Saints are enduring weren’t too common during the NFC South’s first 10 years of existence.  Combined, the four teams in the division had just seven 0-3 starts from 2002-11.  The bad news for the Saints is that none of those teams even rebounded to finish with a winning record, let alone make the playoffs.  The closest was the 2009 Panthers, who rallied to go 8-8.

Interestingly, there were also exactly seven 3-0 starts from the four South teams combined from 2002-11.  Those didn’t prove to be quite as much of a sure thing as the 0-3 starts, but the track record is pretty good, especially in terms of how far those seven teams went in the postseason.

Five of those seven teams made the playoffs, which lines up well with the league average for this sort of thing.  The NFL pointed out on Tuesday that 75.7% of the teams that started 3-0 since 1990 have made the playoffs.  The note-makers likely chose 1990 as the demarcation point because that was the season the NFL playoffs expanded from five teams per conference to six.  If the Falcons can ride their hot start to the postseason this year, the NFC South will be right at that 75% mark.

Four of those five teams that went from 3-0 to the playoffs in the NFC South then advanced at least as far as the NFC Championship Game, with the 2003 Panthers and the 2009 Saints winning that game and the 2009 Saints going all the way.  The two 3-0 teams from the South that didn’t make the playoffs were, interestingly, both in the first year of the division, 2002.  The Panthers and Saints both started 3-0 but neither made the playoffs, as the Bucs charged past them both on the way to a date with the Lombardi Trophy.

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