- Oddsmakers project a three-team race for the NFC South division title between the Saints, Falcons and Panthers. Who do we like to take home the division crown this season?
The Saints have the NFC’s most complete team, and all the pieces are in place for at least one more run in the Drew Brees era. The Falcons are searching for the 2016 magic they had with Kyle Shanahan running the offense. They might be able to scratch and claw their way into the postseason again. The Panthers are still ironing out the kinks on offense, but the defense will keep them in the playoff hunt as they hope to peak in January. The Buccaneers made some big moves to address the non-existent pass rush, but it won’t matter if Jameis Winston can’t take his game to the next level.
Odds to win NFC South:
New Orleans +163
Tampa Bay +700
Pick to win NFC South: New Orleans
Best NFC South value: New Orleans +163
New Orleans Saints
2018 Regular Season Wins Prop: OVER 9.5 (-130) / UNDER 9.5 (+110)
OFFENSE: Though he’s lost a little arm strength, quarterback Drew Brees is most prolific when working deep down the middle, where Michael Thomas thrived last season. Ted Ginn can still take the top off a defense, while Cam Meredith and tight end Ben Watson are quality role players. Alvin Kamara is almost unstoppable in space, averaging an eye-popping 9.0 yards per touch as a rookie. No other player with 100+ carries averaged more than 7.1.
DEFENSE: The 2017 Saints defense ended the team’s three-year run of finishing among the bottom-five teams in points allowed. Cam Jordan earned All-Pro honors with 13.0 sacks amidst countless double- and triple-team blocking. Marshon Lattimore is already a true shutdown corner, and fellow 2017 draft pick S Marcus Williams was key to New Orleans’ defensive turnaround. Free-agent arrivals Patrick Robinson and Demario Davis upgrade the unit.
BOTTOM LINE: It’s easy to take Brees and this offense for granted because of their consistently elite production. The defense finally became an asset for Brees to lean on, and the 2017 Saints were a missed tackle away from the NFC Championship Game. They’ve only gotten better since. OVER 9.5
2018 Regular Season Wins Prop: OVER 9 (-130) / UNDER 9 (+110)
OFFENSE: Matt Ryan’s 2017 performance was disappointing coming off his 2016 MVP season, but his production wasn’t far off from his career averages. Julio Jones is unstoppable at times, and Atlanta gets decent production from the rest of its receiving group when Jones draws defensive attention. Meanwhile, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman might be the NFL’s best tailback combo: Both are great receivers, patient runners and home-run threats in the open field.
DEFENSE: Atlanta allowed only 28 points in two playoff games, including stymieing wunderkind Rams head coach Sean McVay. Former first-rounders Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley need to improve on the edge, though the secondary is one of the league’s best with corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford flanking safety Keanu Neal. The front seven is athletic, but lost key contributors with Adrian Clayborn and Dontari Poe leaving in free agency.
BOTTOM LINE: Atlanta’s offense is far removed from its 2016 dominance, as coordinator Steve Sarkisian has proven to be a major downgrade from former OC (and current 49ers head coach) Kyle Shanahan. Head coach Dan Quinn’s defense is trending up, but that won’t be enough in a tough division. UNDER 9
2018 Regular Season Wins Prop: OVER 9 (+110) / UNDER 9 (-130)
OFFENSE: Carolina kept Cam Newton fresh by running him less often in 2017, then let him loose late in the year. New coordinator Norv Turner has acknowledged that the Panthers are at their best when Newton uses his legs, despite the injury risk. C.J. Anderson will try to revive the power run game, while Christian McCaffrey is in for a larger role as both a runner and receiver. Tight end Greg Olsen’s return from an injury-mired 2017 offsets a weak group of wide receivers.
DEFENSE: New coordinator Eric Washington, a Carolina assistant since 2011, won’t be changing a thing about the Panthers’ 4-3 scheme. Linebackers Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson give the Panthers the most athletic and effective linebacking corps in the league, although Davis will serve a four-game suspension to open the year. The secondary is a weakness (partially by design because of zone scheme), though the defensive line helped out by racking up sacks last season.
BOTTOM LINE: The NFC South is a very competitive division, and a defense susceptible in the passing game could be an issue against the likes of Brees, Ryan and Winston. We don’t think there is enough talent on both sides fo the ball to sustain enough wins this year. UNDER 9
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Regular Season Wins Prop: OVER 6.5 (+110) / UNDER 6.5 (-130)
OFFENSE: Head coach Dirk Koetter emphasizes a vertical passing game and quarterback Jameis Winston (who’s suspended until Week 4) shows no fear on his aggressive throws. Mike Evans is a high-point specialist who Winston throws to even when he’s covered. And the tight end combo of Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard gives the Bucs options up the seam. The running game hopes to get a boost from rookie Ronald Jones II joining Peyton Barber in a committee.
DEFENSE: Tampa’s defense struggled in every facet of the game last year, giving up a league-high 378 yards per game. The non-existent pass rush generated a league-low 22 sacks on the season and left the basic, zone-based secondary to cover for far too long. So much is riding on the success of newly acquired defensive ends Vinny Curry and Jason Pierre-Paul. Gerald McCoy and linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander are the lone returning bright spots.
BOTTOM LINE: With Koetter on the hot seat and matchups with the Saints, Eagles and Steelers while Winston is suspended (followed by trips to Chicago and Atlanta when he’s back), 2018 could go off the rails in a hurry. Tampa Bay may be the NFC’s worst team by season’s end. UNDER 6.5