NFC South: 2011 Week 18 NFL power rankings

The final edition of ESPN.com’s Power Rankings is out and two NFC South teams finished in the top 10.

The New Orleans Saints are No. 2 and the Atlanta Falcons are No. 7. The Saints finished behind only the Green Bay Packers and that’s fair enough. The Packers went 15-1 and defeated the Saints in the season opener.

But I will throw out the fact that I think the Saints are the hottest team in the league right now. I’m not saying they will beat Green Bay if they meet again in the postseason. But I think the Saints are at least capable of winning that game.

No. 7 is about right for the Falcons. They were inconsistent much of the season. But they were stronger in the second half of the season and their roster is talented enough that they could do some damage in the playoffs.

The Carolina Panthers came in at No. 23 and I think it’s safe to say they’re paying for their inability to win some close games in the first half of the season. If the rankings were based just on the second half of the season, I’d say the Panthers are definitely a top-20 team.

I think our voters were exceptionally generous in putting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 29. Let’s be real honest here: The Bucs were the worst team in the NFL by the end of the season. The Vikings, Rams and Colts were ranked below the Buccaneers. But I’ll make the case that if you had thrown the Bucs against any of those teams in the last few weeks, Tampa Bay would have found a way to lose. But this miserable season finally is over for the Bucs. They’re looking for a new head coach and some respectability.

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