Saints lead NFC South in popularity

The New Orleans Saints are the seventh most popular NFL team, according to the latest ESPN Sports Poll.

When asked to name their favorite team, 4.1 percent of fans pointed to the Saints. The Dallas Cowboys led the way at 8.8 percent. The Packers, Giants, Steelers, Patriots and Bears occupied the next spots.

ESPN Sports Poll conducts 1,500 monthly telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of Americans age 12 and older. The results here are from the first-quarter poll of 2012.

I'm not at all surprised that the Saints are the most popular team in the NFC South. They've been very good in recent years and have a lot of diehard fans.

The Saints narrowly edged out some pretty popular teams like the 49ers, Eagles and Broncos. But the rest of the NFC South didn’t fare nearly as well.

I often hear from readers who say NFC South teams don’t get the national attention they deserve. I don’t disagree at all with that perception, but there might be a reason for it. No other NFC South team ranked better than No. 24.

The Falcons and Buccaneers tied with the Houston Texans at No. 24 with 1.2 percent of respondents listing them as their favorite team. That’s a little surprising on several levels. The Texans are an expansion team and haven’t had a great deal of success or a long time to build a fan base. I’m also surprised that Atlanta and Tampa Bay are tied. Atlanta’s a huge market and the Falcons have had four straight winning seasons. The Buccaneers haven’t had a lot of success lately and have struggled to sell out home games.

The Carolina Panthers came in at No. 28 with 1.0 percent of those polled listing them as their favorite team. Only the Cardinals, Bengals, Rams and Jaguars came in below the Panthers.