The NFC South, a division that consists of the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, underwent a bit of a facelift in the offseason. So much so, two of the division’s four teams are among the top four favorites with the major offshore bookmakers to win the Super Bowl this year.
In defense of their title will be the Saints, who won 13 games last year but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Minnesota Vikings. It was not the finish to the season New Orleans had been looking for but it was one that suggested the window for Drew Brees, Sean Payton and company, may be closing.
The timing isn’t exactly ideal because while it may be a short window, it would appear it’s about to be now or never for the Buccaneers, who went from finishing third in the NFC South a year ago to now just slightly behind the Saints in terms of favorites to win. We’ll call that the Brady effect. Tampa Bay invested a lot to get Tom Brady, fresh off his 20-year career with the New England Patriots. Then Brady convinced future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski to end his retirement to join him with the Bucs. If Tampa Bay can recapture what made the Patriots so great, the NFC South may see the rise of a new, albeit short-lived, dynasty.
Let’s take a look at how the division could shake out this year and, in conclusion, give our NFC South predictions.
New Orleans Saints
+1000 to win Super Bowl; +550 for NFC; -105 for NFC South, all odds with Bovada
A division since just 2002, no one has won the NFC South more than Saints, who captured their sixth title last year and third in a row. The Saints have been the dominant force in the NFC for a while now and last year cemented that as New Orleans won 13 games largely thanks to a backup quarterback. When Brees returned to helm his team in week eight of the season, for the first time, there were signs of decline among the division’s top QB. That dip in production showed in the playoffs as the Saints were unable to get out of the first round despite having won 13 games in the regular season.
One of the biggest reasons behind New Orleans’ success was Michael Thomas, who was a revelation at wide receiver. The 27-year-old finished the year with 149 receptions (a single season record) and 1,725 receiving yards, both the most of any pass-catchers. Thomas and Brees became a lethal duo and that is one thing the Saints can expect to count on in 2020. Another player who the Saints will look to is Alvin Kamara. Kamara experienced some setbacks in his third season in the league, recording his fewest touchdowns and most fumbles of his career. At his best, Kamara has been a top-5 running back in the league and should he return to that kind of performance, the Saints will feel good about their chances.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
+1000 for Super Bowl; +550 for NFC; +140 for NFC South
How much difference can one player make to a team? We’re about to find out. So far, the odds seem to suggest that when that one player is future Hall of Fame QB and perhaps the best to play the position, Tom Brady, can make a huge difference. Odds for the Bucs shortened when Brady signed with the team in the offseason and contracted more when Rob Gronkowski unretired to join him in pursuit of one more ring. The combination now has the Buccaneers tied with the Saints at fourth favorite to win the Super Bowl. It is impressive given last year Tampa Bay finished third in the South with just seven wins.
As mentioned, this is the Brady effect. Already possessing some top weapons including Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, OJ Howard and of course Gronkowski, Brady will have arguably better weapons to throw at than he has had in a long time. Evans is a top wideout and with an elite quarterback finally throwing to him, the young star could experience a breakthrough year. Tampa Bay would need just that as they look to prevent the Saints from four-peating in the division.
While Brady seemed to slip in his final year in New England, he is still a better option than Tampa Bay had with Jameis Winston, when the team finished with the fourth best scoring offense in the league. Brady will surely be able to match or even improve on that as the Buccaneers hope their big investment to win now pays off.
+3500 Super Bowl; +2000 NFC; +700 NFC South
The fall came swiftly and harshly as it wasn’t that long ago that Atlanta was playing in the Super Bowl. In fact, it was just four seasons ago but the loss was devastating and it’s safe to say the Falcons still haven’t recovered from the crushing blow. Atlanta led New England 28-9 entering the fourth quarter but allowed the Patriots to score 25 unanswered points including the game-winning overtime touchdown. At times, the Falcons led by 25 points as late as the third quarter before blowing the 25-point lead, the largest blown lead in Super Bowl history.
The following year, the team once again blew an opportunity, this time in the divisional round, losing to the eventual champion Philadelphia Eagles. Since those losses, the Falcons have recorded a pair of seven-win seasons, seeming to falter despite strong opportunities to regain their status as the top team in the division.
Questions now swirl around if Matt Ryan really is an elite quarterback, if Julio Jones can stay healthy in order to help the team attempt another playoff run, if Devonta Freeman can recapture some of the energy he has as a top rusher in years past.
There are a lot of what ifs with the Falcons right now, but one thing is certain. If there is still a window in Atlanta, Brady might once again be the one to close it. After all, it can’t help with Atlanta’s psyche that they will now have to face Mr. 28-3 twice in a season. The ghosts of the pasts can be haunting and it looks like the Falcons could be in for another losing season as a result.
+12500 Super Bowl; +6600 NFC; +2000 NFC South
Another NFC South team that went from contender to pretender is the Carolina Panthers. Winners of the NFC South for three straight years from 2013-15, the Panthers also reached but ultimately lost in the Super Bowl, doing so the year prior to the Falcons. The two NFC North teams went back-to-back as NFC Champions but since then, the South has yet to produce a conference champion despite the Saints last three tries.
The biggest change for the Panthers is at quarterback as the team has opted to move on from former MVP and Rookie of the Year, Cam Newton, who is now looking to replace Brady in New England. Replacing Newton is Teddy Bridgewater, who stepped in for Brees and the Saints last year and had a remarkable performance in his first games back in the league in two years. Bridgewater showed the same talent that made him such a top prospect prior to his injury and 2020 should be a big year for him as he continues to work his way back to an NFL starter. All told, Bridgewater is overseeing a team in the midst of a rebuild under the first season of new head coach Matt Rhule.
Expectations aren’t particularly high for Carolina as in addition to the loss of Newton, the Panthers lost their best player on defense, Luke Kuechly, who opted to retire this offseason at just 29 years old and after leading the NFL in tackles for eight straight seasons. The Panthers are rebuilding so expectations both on offense and defense aren’t particularly high. Carolina may be able to return to the pinnacle of the division one day, but that day won’t come this year.
Our Betting Preview’s NFC South Predictions & Picks Verdict
It is our prediction that as far as the division goes, there will be payoff. Tom Brady has only missed the playoffs twice in his career and entering 2020, he is riding an 11-season streak of reaching the postseason.
- Look for that to continue as Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will dethrone the Saints to win the NFC South @ best odds of +173 with Bookmaker.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB & 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.