Though it might not seem like it, the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the NFL are actually pretty similar. Both sports are called football, and they represent the top sports for fans on either side of the Atlantic Ocean. The best athletes in the world are put on display, and they compete in divisions of four teams with the end goal of earning the title of "World Champions."
And sure, the athletes themselves are pretty different, but the story lines and themes from the World Cup are also similar to those in the NFL. So what if the NFC South was a World Cup group? Which nations would represent each team? Let's start with the Bucs' rivals from Atlanta.
Atlanta Falcons = The Netherlands
Much like the Atlanta Falcons, the Netherlands have been pretty good for a while now, but never seem to put it all together and bring home a championship. They've come agonizingly close, but never hoisted a World Cup trophy despite a long history of talented players.
The Dutch have won a European championship, just like the Falcons won an NFC Championship, but neither team has ever been able to taste victory in the final game of a playoff tournament for the title of "World Champ."
The comparisons don't stop there, though. The Dutch and the Falcons both have talented offenses, with Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben representing the Roddy White and Julio Jones of the Holland squad. Robben is like Jones in that other teams know what he's going to do, and still can't stop him. Robben has blazing speed and loves to cut inside to take a shot, and despite being so predictable, he still manages to play at a world class level. This isn't unlike Julio Jones, who is an obvious deep threat who still manages to get open downfield.
However, the negatives for both teams are similar as well. The Dutch and the Falcons both lack for depth, and despite having a few star players, they don't have great overall rosters. The biggest area of weakness for both teams is in the defense, where the Falcons had a historically bad season last year using numberFire's advanced metrics, while the Netherlands had the worst defense among top-10 teams in ESPN's SPI.
Both Atlanta and the Oranje must be respected for their offensive firepower, but do they have the full team capable of winning it all?
New Orleans Saints = Germany
Technical. Efficient. Tactical. Controlled. Both the Germans and the Saints have systems that work perfectly, and the talent to execute them. The Saints are led by Drew Brees and Sean Payton's offense, while the Germans have Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger commanding the midfield and setting up their well-oiled machine of an offense under Jogi Low's coaching.
Among top-10 teams in the SPI, the Germans have the second best offense. And according to numberFire's NEP data (which measures how many more expected points than average a team gained through its actions), the Saints had the second best offense in the NFL in 2013. Both teams are respectable on defense, but it's a strong offense which sets the tone. But both the Saints and Germans have big, strong defenders, as both defenses feature a plethora of players standing 6'3" or taller.
The Germans are one of the best European teams in this year's World Cup, just like the Saints are one of the best NFC teams heading into 2014. Can they translate that advantage on paper into a championship?
Carolina Panthers = Mexico
If you're a fan of teams with good defenses that have fallen on hard times recently, then you'll love the Panthers and Mexico. El Tri have stumbled their way into the World Cup, while the Panthers have been losing talent in bunches this offseason after a disappointing end to the 2013 campaign.
However, there's reason to be optimistic about either team. The Mexicans have a young star on defense in Diego Reyes, who not unlike Luke Kuechly, is going to be relied upon to hold things together with a cast of veterans around him. Both players are sound and capable, but can they be a superstar that changes the game for their team?
According to ESPN's SPI, Mexico have one of the worst offenses among World Cup qualifiers, but one of the best defenses. This is despite having an All-World player on offense (Javier "Chicarito" Hernandez) who just can't do it all on his own. This should remind you of the Panthers and Cam Newton, who have a massive talent on offense but can't rely on him to do everything needed to win games.
Can the role players and unheralded supporting cast do enough to get these teams to the upper echelon? It's going to be tough, but it's certainly not impossible.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers = Belgium
Both teams wear red. Both teams have a ton of talent. But can both teams put it all together on the big stage?
The Bucs and the Belgians are hip selections this summer to do better than expected in the NFC South and World Cup, respectively. There's a lot of new talent and reason for optimism for both teams, but in their current states, neither squad has done anything of note yet. Can they live up to the hype?
The Bucs have solid defenders at every level, just like the Red Devils of Belgium. Gerald McCoy is the Vincent Kompany of the Bucs, a strong, talented, versatile defender who is a leader and an example to his teammates. Lavonte David is Marouane Fellaini, a skilled and multi-faceted defender who is frustrating to play against.
The offenses also feature some exciting players, as Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku of Belgium are reminiscent of Doug Martin (shifty and able to make a huge play when needed) and Mike Evans (young, raw, but huge and dripping with talent) of the Bucs.
But can they put it all together and win a championship, or even contend? There's plenty of buzz around both of these teams, but they've never put it all together on the field of play before. Either one could flame out and be a huge disappointment, or exceed expectations and surprise everyone. Which one will it be?