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Cross-Sport Doppelgängers: NFC South

We reveal our cross-sport doppelgängers for the Falcons, Panthers, Saints and Buccaneers.

Michael Lombardo

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The second-to-last stop in our cross-sport doppelgängers series is the NFC South, home of the most depressing playoff race in NFL history. While these teams may be down, that didn’t prevent us from getting up for the challenge of finding their look-a-likes from either the MLB or NBA.

Read on to find the which franchises we’ve paired up in this week. You can find the rest of our doppelgängers by using the following links. We’ll cover our final division, the NFC West, next week.

AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West | NFC East | NFC North

Atlanta Falcons = Phoenix Suns

High octane offenses, sieve-like defenses and no championships to show for it. Those are the common ties that bind these franchises together.

The Falcons boast the NFL’s No. 7 offense and its fifth-best passing attack. Atlanta’s weapons are off the charts, with the dynamic duo of Julio Jones and Roddy White leading the way. Explosive role players such as Harry Douglas and Jacquizz Rodgers give Matt Ryan even more arrows in his quiver.

The Suns offense is equally explosive and is likewise led by a trio of cornerstone players: Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas. Phoenix has its share of dynamic role players, too, including Gerald Green and the Morris twins.

While the Falcons and Suns have kept fantasy owners happy for years, that success has not always translated into the win-loss column. The Falcons are in danger of missing the playoffs for a second straight season, while the Suns have not been to the postseason since the 2009-2010 campaign. Neither franchise has ever won The Big One.

That does not mean fans of either team have been left wanting. The “Dirty Bird” Falcons and the “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns were among the most entertaining groups in the history of professional sports.

Carolina Panthers = Miami Marlins

Call these the “feast or famine” franchises.

The Panthers are wrapping up their 20th season and have been to the playoffs just five times. However, three of those five postseason endeavors resulted in Carolina advancing all the way to the NFC Championship game, including one Super Bowl appearance. The Panthers do not eke into the tournament, either; each of their five playoff teams won at least 11 games in the regular season.

The Marlins, who recently completed their 22nd season, are the ultimate “feast or famine” franchise. Miami (formerly Florida) has only been to the playoffs twice, with both trips resulting in World Series championships. The Marlins’ last triumph, in 2003, came during the same season the Panthers advanced to the Super Bowl.

Both franchises are also owned by reviled men. The Panthers are owned by Jerry Richardson, who forced his own sons out of business in 2009 and insulted the intelligence of Peyton Manning and Drew Brees in the lockout of 2011. The Marlins are owned by Jeffrey Loria, who a few years ago demanded Miami’s taxpayer dollars to build a new stadium to house a “competitive” team, only to trade away all his established talent in a salary dump one season after the stadium was built.

On the bright side, Carolina and Miami are currently home to a couple of the most exciting young stars in their respective sports: Cam Newton of the Panthers and Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins.

New Orleans Saints = Los Angeles Clippers

Both of these teams were down for a long, long time. But because of the arrival of a future Hall of Fame player, they are now — at long last — enjoying an extended run of contention.

The Saints made the playoffs just once between 1993 and 2005. Then Drew Brees joined the team as a free agent in 2006 and the franchise’s fortunes changed immediately. Assuming the Saints hold onto their current lead in the NFC South, they will have made the playoffs in six of Brees’ nine years with the team. That includes the 2009 season, when Brees led New Orleans to its first Super Bowl victory.

The Clippers, too, were long-time losers. Los Angeles made the playoffs just once between the 1997-98 and 2010-11 campaigns. Then, in December 2011, the Clippers acquired Chris Paul in a trade with the then-league owned Hornets. The Clippers have been to the playoffs every season since, advancing to the second round twice.

Another reason for Saints and Clippers fans to smile is those teams are under the guidance of elite coaches. Sean Payton has played just as significant a role in New Orleans’ turnaround as Brees. And in Los Angeles, Doc Rivers — who coached the Celtics to a championship in 2008 — gives credibility to the Clippers’ aspirations to finally secure their first title.

Another connection: Saints owner Tom Benson is also the owner of the New Orleans Pelicans, taking over the franchise formerly known as the Hornets shortly after Paul was shipped out of town.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers = Arizona Diamondbacks

Both of these franchises are among the newest in their sports. Only four other teams have joined the NFL since the Buccaneers came aboard in 1976, while the Diamondbacks are the newest MLB franchise (entering in 1998 along with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays). Yet both teams have already claimed a championship and did so in the most gratifying way possible.

The Buccaneers suffered a prolonged playoff drought from 1983 to 1996. But the team finally turned it around in 1997 under the leadership of coach Tony Dungy, spurred on by a dominant defense featuring Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch and Ronde Barber. The team then made the playoffs four times in a five-year span, but was unable to break through, costing Dungy his job. The Buccaneers made the bold move to replace Dungy by trading for Oakland head coach Jon Gruden, a swap that paid immediate dividends when Gruden led the Bucs to a win in Super Bowl XXXVII over his former team, the Raiders.

Arizona’s championship victory was arguably even more gratifying. The Diamondbacks made the World Series in just their fourth year of existence, where they were paired up against a Yankees franchise that had already won 26 titles at the time. After losing Game 4 and Game 5 in heartbreaking fashion (both in extra innings), the Diamondbacks showed incredible resilience by winning the final two games to upset the favored Yankees. Arizona relied upon that resilience all the way to the final inning, as the Diamondbacks went into the ninth inning of Game 7 trailing by a run, only to rally for a victory that was capped off by an unforgettable walk-off hit from Luis Gonzalez.

Neither franchise has done much recently. The Buccaneers have not won a playoff game since that Super Bowl victory, while the Diamondbacks have missed the playoffs altogether in six of the last seven seasons. But both fan bases can always look back at their team’s über-gratifying championship and smile proudly.

Currently, both teams are trying to shake things up to get back to their glory days. The Buccaneers are in the first season of the Lovie Smith regime, while the Diamondbacks will have a new leader next season, as well (new manager Chip Hale). They are counting on elite young prospects, such as Ender Inciarte (Arizona) and Mike Evans (Tampa Bay), to help expedite the process.

Michael Lombardo has spent more than 10 years as a team expert at Scout.com, primarily covering the Chargers, Cardinals and Panthers. He has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and other venues.

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