Our NFL season preview series moves from the East to the South, specifically, the NFC South, home of the defending Super Bowl champion, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Likely forgotten in the midst of Champa Bay’s triumphant title win is the fact that the Bucs didn’t actually win the NFC South last year, the New Orleans Saints did. This year, the South is 100 percent there for the Bucs’ taking.
Tampa Bay returns most of their title-winning roster, headlined by head coach Bruce Arians and legendary quarterback Tom Brady. The Bucs will face competition from the Saints as well as the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers. The odds with the betting sites tell much of the story as the Buccaneers are heavy favorites and with good reason. Let’s take a look at the 2021 NFC South.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+650 to Win Super Bowl, +300 to Win NFC, -200 NFC South)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the class of the NFC and it’s easy to see why. While last season got off to a slow start and caused many to question if Father Time had indeed finally caught up to Brady, the Bucs roared back with their QB at the helm.
Brady put up Brady-esque numbers throwing for over 4,600 yards and 40 touchdowns. It was an MVP-caliber performance for the 44-year old. Brady was the final piece of a championship-level team and the same can be said in 2021 as the Bucs look to run it back.
Rob Gronkowski has shown he still has value as has Antonio Brown and Leonard Fournette. The rest was just a lot of good players doing a lot of good things. Guys like Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and Ronald Jones and the return of OJ Howard help make up the rest of Tampa’s exceptional offense.
On defense, the Bucs aren’t slacking either as this group looks to play as good if not better than last year’s. Sometimes Super Bowl winning teams get better, sometimes they get worse. The Buccaneers hands down got better and they’ll look to show that as they open the season on Thursday night.
New Orleans Saints (+3000 to Win Super Bowl, +1800 NFC, +315 NFC South)
For over 15 years, the New Orleans Saints saw Drew Brees as QB1 on their depth charts. Brees was phenomenal. After being cast off by the then-San Diego Chargers, Brees found a home in New Orleans and they embraced him all the way. The ‘aints needed a hero and Brees fit the part. Entering into 2021, for the first time in a long time, Brees won’t be the guy calling plays. The future Hall of Famer retired this offseason leaving the starting job up for grabs between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill.
As of now, it seems Winston has the inside track on the job as he’ll start game one under center, but the Saints will likely also give Hill his looks. No matter who occupies the QB role however, one thing is clear and that’s that this offense will run as Alvin Kamara does.
Kamara is one of the best running backs in all of the NFL and is an absolute stud both in the running and passing games. Kamara can’t do it alone and the Saints will certainly hope a recovered Michael Thomas will make his presence known sooner rather than later. For those who may have forgotten, Thomas is just two years removed from being the best wide receiver in the history of the sport.
Gone are the days however when the Saints will win shootouts so they will certainly be looking to their defense as well to make an impact. Unfortunately, their defense is missing some key pieces from a unit that was pretty good last year. There is some wildcard potential for New Orleans, but it is hard to see them defending their divisional crown this year.
Atlanta Falcons (+8000 Super Bowl, +4000 NFC, +750 NFC South)
As the Atlanta Falcons learned just a few years ago, some losses can truly define you. After losing Super Bowl LI to the Patriots (and Tom Brady), despite carrying a 28-3 lead late into the game, the Falcons have been in freefall.
This team simply hasn’t been the same and while they had the core to remain competitive for a while, that is no longer the case. Atlanta has plummeted down the NFC South ranks and they project to be in or near the cellar yet again this year.
While Brees did retire for New Orleans, Matt Ryan has not for the Falcons. Atlanta will once again ride it back with Ryan, no doubt with eyes on a top draft pick and finding their QB of the future. Ryan wasn’t bad last year, but he is far removed from being one of the top gunslingers in the league. Much like his team, it seems the deflating Super Bowl loss really did take a lot out of him.
The Falcons are a team in flux and while they have some guys worth watching, such as new number one wide out Calvin Ridley and rookie draft pick, Kyle Pitts, overall this team is rebuilding. Their defense especially is being remodeled as it is unlikely this unit, which was one of the worst defenses in the NFL last year, will perform that much better this time around.
Carolina Panthers (+8000 Super Bowl, +4000 NFC, +1000 NFC South)
The Carolina Panthers are such an interesting and somewhat confusing team. This is a group that enters with more questions than answers. They’ll turn to New York Jets castoff Sam Darnold at quarterback, hoping the former USC star will succeed better in a new environment.
Darnold wasn’t bad for the Jets but he’s not Zach Wilson either. New York was right to move on from him but the Panthers may end up getting more value than expected if Darnold can find some of the form that made him a top pick all those years ago. Of course, it’s not like Darnold is walking into a creampuff situation in Carolina. The team is possibly moderately better than New York in some ways, though in others, projects to be worse.
Of course, there are some real positives to look toward, and one will no doubt be watching Christian McCaffery do what he does best. That of course being run the ball and then run it some more. McCaffery is a weapon for Darnold but so too is Robby Anderson and DJ Moore, both coming off 1000+ year seasons. The offensive line has holes and the defense is young and inexperienced. Carolina may take a step forward but they aren’t at a place of challenging the Bucs just yet.
NFC South Predictions & Picks Verdict
This is Tampa Bay’s NFL division to lose. While New Orleans, if all goes right, could challenge Tampa a little, the Saints have a tougher road to the NFC South crown.
- Our pick is the Bucs, who are also worth a look as NFC Champions. Place those bets with Bovada.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.