The NFC South is the best division in NFL. This shouldn’t be a debatable statement after three of its teams won 10 games and made the playoffs in the league’s tougher conference. The New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons all return strong teams, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are building a better roster.
Various oddsmakers have advertised the futures on which squad will win this difficult division. Let’s preview each team’s season and then give our NFC South predictions on which squad or squads are your smartest betting investment with those USA online bookmakers.
New Orleans Saints (2017 record: 11-5, No. 1 in NFC South, Lost in NFC Divisional Round)
Saints quarterback Drew Brees just keeps on chugging along in his Hall of Fame career. The 39-year-old is fresh off a season where he completed an NFL-record 72 percent of his throws and has some elite weapons around him on offense, including halfbacks Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram and wide receiver Michael Thomas. Ingram, unfortunately, will have to serve a four-game suspension for PED use to start the season.
On defense, the Saints were a revelation in 2017. They ranked 10th in points allowed and created a lot of sacks and takeaways. New Orleans had been a bottom-five scoring defense in the four seasons prior to that.
The Saints are a team led by head coach Sean Payton, Brees and some promising young stars on each side of the ball. They have arguably the best offense in the entire NFC. Their main concern, though, is mediocre depth at several positions. If some of the big guns go down, the supporting cast may struggle to pick up the slack.
- Record Prediction: 11-5
- Best Odds To Win NFC South: +180 at Bovada.
Carolina Panthers (2017 record: 11-5, No. 2 in NFC South, Lost in NFC Wild Card Round)
Carolina has the best defense in the NFC South, and that is the unit it will lean on for success in 2018. The Panthers have a dominant front seven that rushes the quarterback and stuffs the run extremely well. The secondary is questionable, but the help it gets from the men in front of it is huge.
The Panthers also have the pieces in place for a nice offense, though there are some questions. 2015 MVP Cam Newton has struggled some as a pocket passer in the past two seasons, but injuries might be part of the reason for that. The running game is solid and bolstered by the threat of Newton’s scrambling. Carolina doesn’t have an elite receiver, but additions of Torrey Smith and first-round pick D.J. Moore will help.
Additionally, Norv Turner is the new offensive coordinator. He has been instrumental in the development of quarterbacks Troy Aikman, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees. If there’s anyone who can lift Newton back to his 2015 level, it’s Turner.
I like the Panthers on both ends of the field. They have a very good defense and should be average to good on the offensive side, too.
- Record Prediction: 11-5
- Best Odds: +300 at 5Dimes.
Atlanta Falcons (2017 record: 10-6, No. 3 in NFC South, Lost in NFC Divisional Round)
The Falcons only lost one win from their 2016 total last season, but it was still a disappointing season. Atlanta’s offense dipped 14 places in the scoring column, going from 540 to a modest 353 points. First-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian struggled to get the passing game going, despite possessing two elite players in quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Julio Jones.
The good news for the Falcons is that their defense took a considerable step forward to help combat their offensive free fall. The unit has young stars in cornerback Desmond Trufant, linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal.
Atlanta is banking on continued defensive improvement while hoping that Sarkisian unlocks the offensive combination that the Falcons had in 2016. Adding first-round rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley should give Jones some more room to work.
The Falcons should be about as good as last season. While they have some good youth that should improve, they were also the healthiest team in the NFL by various metrics and had the statistical profile of a nine-win team. It is unreasonable to expect very few injuries again.
- Record Prediction: 10-6
- Best Odds: +195 at 5Dimes.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2017 record: 5-11, No. 4 in NFC South)
The Buccaneers are the clear favorite for last place in the NFC South again this year. In a tough division, they have a legit chance at going 1-5 or 0-6 against the Saints, Panthers and Falcons. Tampa Bay hasn’t made the playoffs in a decade, and the squad’s odds at doing so this season are slim to none.
Tampa Bay should be better on defense than in 2017, when it ranked 22nd in points allowed and dead last in yards allowed. The Bucs stocked up on defensive linemen in free agency and the draft, forming what should be a better run-stopping and pass-rushing unit. This still isn’t an elite unit, but it definitely won’t be bad.
The offensive side of the ball is a concern. Quarterback Jameis Winston is suspended for the first three games of the season and he has stagnated a bit since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2015. The running game will pin its hopes on rookie second-round pick Ronald Jones II. Tampa Bay has some talent here, but it needs more experience and chemistry to be truly effective.
- Record Prediction: 5-11
- Best Odds: +1000 at 5Dimes.
Our Preview’s NFC South Predictions & Betting Picks Verdict
The Panthers are a really strong bet in this division. They have a much better probability of winning the NFC South than 25 percent, which is what their +300 line with 5Dimes suggests. Remember, Carolina still has almost all the pieces from its 15-win season in 2015. The Panthers are solid on both sides of the football.
New Orleans and Atlanta will both be very good, but considering their shorter odds, Carolina is the pick. Tampa Bay is a clear two or three notches behind the rest of the division and doesn’t have the winning culture for a huge turnaround in this cutthroat division.
If you aren’t comfortable with the Panthers and their year-to-year inconsistency, the alternative is Drew Brees’ Saints. If they can stay healthy, they could be dominant.
- But our NFC South prediction and betting pick is the Carolina Panthers @ +300 with 5Dimes.