Football’s longest and most bizarre streak is on five years running, and it could be six after Sunday.
If Carolina loses at New Orleans, and Atlanta beats St. Louis, then the Falcons will become the sixth straight NFC South team to go from worst to first.
Every year since realignment in 2002, it has happened without fail, worst going to first.
The first year, Carolina finished last in 2002 (7-9) and first in 2003 (11-5). Then Atlanta finished last in 2003 (5-11) and first in 2004 (11-5). Then Tampa Bay finished last in 2004 (5-11) and first in 2005 (11-5).
Then New Orleans finished last in 2005 (3-13) and first in 2006 (10-6). Then Tampa Bay finished last in 2006 (4-12) and first in 2007 (9-7). Then Atlanta finished last in 2007 (4-12) in the most nightmarish season a team could not want to have, and look now.
No one thought the streak could hold this season. No one thought it could happen again with these Falcons. But then, no one thought it could happen in any of the other previous years, either — and it turned out to be even more automatic than Peyton Manning in a game’s final minutes.
The fact that it could happen again Sunday is disconcerting for Carolina, encouraging for Atlanta, and reassuring for New Orleans, which currently sits in last place in the NFC South. But in this division, last in one season has meant first in the next.
If only our last-place economy could belong in the NFC South.