The NFC South is the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the NFC’s favorite to win the Super Bowl in 2022-23. While some NFL divisions paint a picture of competitive play and a tough road to the crown, the NFC South is not that. In fact, the NFC South may be the biggest example of a division where parity does not exist.
The division’s top team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, are looking for their second championship in the last three seasons. The USA-friendly offshore bookies seem to support that goal as the Bucs are ranked as the NFC team with the best odds to win the conference and challenge the favorite, the Buffalo Bills, to win another title.
The team with the worst odds among NFC teams? The Atlanta Falcons, also located in the NFC South. In the middle of the NFC’s projected first and worst are the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers, neither of whom have the firepower to go toe-to-toe with Tom Brady’s squad.
Much like our AFC East preview where we suggested the Bills should breeze through that division, we’re expecting the same here. This is Tampa’s division to win – just look at the projections. The Bucs have better odds to win the Super Bowl than the Panthers and Falcons are being given to win the division. Barring something crazy or catastrophic, it’s hard to see a scenario where Tampa won’t win the South yet again.
There is a reason why we play the games. Will Tampa continue their dominance brought about in the Brady era? Or will another team rise like a phoenix from the ashes to claim their first division title since 2020? Read on for the rest of this NFC South preview, with predictions and betting picks.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+700 to win Super Bowl, +325 to win NFC, -250 to win NFC South)
Last offseason saw quarterbacks change teams like no one’s business. It also saw one very prominent quarterback return to his team. Yet, the biggest story among signal callers was the announcement that Tom Brady, the greatest to play the game, would be retiring. It was a whirlwind of a time but fortunately for the Bucs, it didn’t last long as just 40 days later Brady announced he had changed his mind as he still believes to have something left in the tank.
Now, Brady isn’t even committing to this being his last year saying he’s going to take things one year at a time. With Brady still at the helm, there is comfortability in backing the Bucs to go all the way to, and perhaps even win a Super Bowl. But despite evidence to the contrary, a team has more than just one player. Brady has made a career out of making something out of nothing, but his streak may just run out this year given all the injuries the Bucs are already dealing with.
Tampa’s offensive line took some hits in particular with the losses of Ryan Jensen, Aaron Stinnie, and Ali Marpet, which for a 45-year-old quarterback who isn’t exactly (or at all) mobile, that’s a big concern. It is a big ask for Brady to run an offense effectively if he’s got to worry about protecting his six. Even with guys like Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Julio Jones there as perhaps one of the more reliable three receiver set in the NFL. Leonard Fournette could also face issues with the offensive line, undoubtedly one of Tampa’s biggest weaknesses this season. But even so, that is a weakness that could keep the Bucs from a lengthy playoff run. It’s not the kind of weakness that will stop them from winning in this division, where every other team has more complex questions and problems.
New Orleans Saints (+4000 Super Bowl, +1600 NFC, +300 NFC South)
There is no Drew Brees and no Sean Payton in New Orleans and that is inviting the biggest culture change this team has experienced in over a decade. Second perhaps only to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, Payton and Brees were one of the NFL’s most dominant head coach/QB combinations.
Together, they won a Super Bowl, set countless records and helped lead one of the NFL’s most successful turnarounds in recent memory. The Saints went from paper bags over their heads to reasonable expectations of making the playoffs every year. Then in 2021 Brees retired and the following year, Payton announced he was stepping away from football. In one fell swoop, the Saints found themselves needing to address the two positions that have been the most vital to their championship hopes.
To their credit, the organization is trying. They looked internally for Payton’s replacement, promoting long-time defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to the role. There are a lot of pluses to elevating someone who has been with your organization for a while (12 years to be exact). There are even more pluses to elevating someone who turned the league’s worst defenses into one of its best. New Orleans’ defense once again looks to be a strength as this group, anchored by guys like Cam Jordan, Demario Davis, Marshon Lattimore and Tyrann Mathieu can go toe-to-toe with any group in the league.
Offensively, that’s more of a question as the Saints have turned to Jameis Winston, who is no Brees. Winston has been an average at best QB in his career and while there were flashes of positivity in that span, Winston hasn’t shown the consistency to be regarded among the better passers in the league. In today’s NFL, it is very rare to see a team go all that far with a less than stellar guy under center.
Carolina Panthers (+12500 Super Bowl, +7000 NFC, +900 NFC South)
It hasn’t been since Cam Newton led this team to the NFC Conference Championship in 2015, that the Carolina Panthers really had someone they could call a franchise quarterback.
The Panthers parted ways with Newton in 2019, and since, have been searching for the answer at this vital position. It appears they may have finally found it in Baker Mayfield. Mayfield’s unceremonious exit from the Cleveland Browns was not pretty. While still rostered on the team, the Browns went and traded for Deshaun Watson, effectively signaling the end of the Mayfield era in Cleveland. Perhaps the Browns hoped to have their cake and eat it too, expecting Mayfield to hang around and start while Watson was suspended. Well, Mayfield wanted nothing of it and worked his way to a trade to the Panthers, which could prove to be a happy marriage for both parties.
Mayfield has the potential to take this Panthers team from a position of an afterthought to one that can contend for the playoffs. He won’t be doing it alone as defensively the Panthers have a really exciting young group that could be on the verge of being one of the better defenses in the league. As is, they’ve already worked well in their scheme to cause headaches to opposing offenses, including some of the top such groups in the NFL.
Atlanta Falcons (+20000 Super Bowl, +10000 NFC, +3500 NFC South)
It has been a rough few years for the Atlanta Falcons. Ever since the team reached and failed to win their first Super Bowl thanks to a devastating 25-point blown third quarter lead against the New England Patriots, the wheels slowly began falling off. Nothing was going right for Atlanta, and it was clear that Super Bowl missed opportunity haunted this team.
Atlanta hasn’t been over .500 since the 2017-18 season, winning seven games or fewer for the last five seasons. It is hard to say the Falcons had been in a rebuild however, that seems finally to be changing. Atlanta parted ways with long-time franchise quarterback Matt Ryan this offseason, opening the door to a new signal caller in Marcus Mariota.
Mariota had an uneasy start but in Atlanta, alongside top tight end Kyle Pitts, Cordarelle Patterson and Drake London, he’ll have a chance to revive his career. But defense has been and continues to project as a problem for this team. In a tough division, the Falcons should hope to take a step forward, but any sort of playoff aspirations will have to wait at least one more year.
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.