Welcome to the LazyBets preview of the NFC South. We’ll be taking a look at each team in the division and their odds of finishing in the top spot, so that we can find the best value bets available before the season starts on Thursday.
The NFC South has a history of seeing playoff teams regress, while teams that missed the playoffs rise up to win the division. In fact, outside of a three-year stretch of dominance for the Panthers from 2013-2015, a new team has won the division in every season since the South’s inception in 2002.
While New Orleans won the division in 2017, Atlanta and Carolina were right on their heels - each had double-digit wins and made the playoffs. Can Tampa crash the party this season? Who has the best odds of taking home the division crown in 2018?
Let’s take a look at the odds to win the NFC South provided by BetOnline.
Last year’s New Orleans Saints should have made the NFC Championship Game, and they were a couple of plays from doing so until the Vikings’ miracle touchdown as time expired rained on their parade. This New Orleans team has unfinished business, and they enter the 2018 season as favorites to win the NFC South. Their strength is their offense - they finished 1st overall in yards per play last year, but it’s possible that they improved coming into 2018.
One of the ways that the Saints will be better offensively is through their running game. Alvin Kamara is a second-year player with a full year of experience destroying NFL defenses under his belt. The team has also added Terrance West and Shane Vereen to go along with Kamara and Mark Ingram. Whether Vereen and West will remain on the roster long-term is anyone’s guess, but surrounding Kamara with veteran players will only help him during his development.
New Orleans may have improved at wide receiver as well. They lost Willie Snead during the offseason, a year after losing Brandin Cooks. But the team added Michael Floyd and Cameron Meredith, who looked dangerous for the Bears before suffering a season-ending knee injury last year.
As has been the case for much of the Drew Brees era in New Orleans, defense will be the undoing of the Saints if anything is. Their linebackers aren’t an impressive group, and they rely on many young players in the secondary, which can lead to mistakes like the one the secondary made during the Miracle in Minnesota.
Getting New Orleans at plus money (+160) isn’t a bad value, considering that they are a top-10 team in the NFL in terms of the talent that they are bringing onto the field this season. However, the thought of betting on a repeat winner in this division doesn’t appeal to us, especially with Brees’ advanced age and the uncertainty on the defensive side of the ball. We’ll be looking elsewhere for a better bet in this division.
Last year was just about a perfect storm of bad things happening to the Atlanta Falcons, derailing their attempt to get back to the Super Bowl. It started with the team losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who left before last season to be the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. This had a noticeable impact on the Falcons’ offense, which started slow and never seemed to fire on all cylinders last season.
Despite all of that, the team still got to the playoffs, and even won a road game against the high-flying Rams. But they quite literally ran into the perfect storm in the Divisional round against the Eagles, with bitter cold temperatures neutralizing their fast-paced offense and giving the advantage in that game to the Eagles and their superior line play. Even with the weather disadvantage, the Falcons came a play away from knocking off the Eagles. Atlanta had the ball on Philly’s goal line in the final moments, but just couldn’t convert.
This year, the Falcons bring back largely the same team as last year, with a full year of experience under offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian under their belt this time around. Sarkisian has had success in most of his stops in college football as an offensive mind, and along with this group of weapons - Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, and rookie Calvin Ridley amongst them - could make Atlanta very dangerous on that side of the ball again.
They were 3rd in yards per play offensively last season, and that was with QB Matt Ryan completing fewer passes than he had any season since 2009. If Ryan can regain his MVP form from 2016 - look out. This Falcons team could easily be sitting atop the offensive ranks when the calendar turns to January.
The defense won’t be a strength, but there is athleticism on each unit. Former #8 overall pick Vic Beasley will be moving back to defensive end, after only registering five sacks in 2017 as a linebacker after a league-leading 15.5 in 2016. While Beasley should improve the pass rush, ILB Deion Jones and SS Keanu Neal are both young leaders on their units who will be looking to make their second consecutive Pro Bowls.
Last year, the Carolina Panthers were stuck in a rut on the offensive end. They struggled to move the ball against even some of the worst defensive teams in the league - for example, they only managed 30 points total in their two games against Tampa Bay, a team that allowed 30 in five games last season. Cam Newton took the blame for a lot of the struggles, but the team also failed to put weapons around him.
Carolina got rid of Kelvin Benjamin prior to the 2017 season, in a surprising move given his closeness to Newton and the Panthers’ lack of receiving talent elsewhere on the roster. The Panthers didn’t bring in a suitable replacement for Benjamin’s level of talent - instead, they hoped that Devin Funchess and an uninspiring wide receiver group around him would be good enough. It was good enough to make the playoffs, but not enough to advance any further than the first round.
Questions still abound for the Panthers offense in 2018. The team will be relying heavily upon second-year running back Christian McCaffrey, who will be looking to improve upon a solid (if unspectacular) rookie season as the #8 overall pick. While Carolina did bring in free agent Torrey Smith and first-rounder DJ Moore to shore up the receiving corps, McCaffery will still need to pick up a lot of slack in the passing game.
Defensively, the secondary was a huge weakness for the Panthers in 2017. They thought they addressed that need by bringing in Ross Cockrell to play corner for a team that was sorely lacking at that position last season. Unfortunately for Carolina, Cockrell has already been lost to the season due to injury, leaving the team with the same vulnerabilities as last year.
Star linebacker Luke Kuechly is back once again, and defensive tackle Kawann Short is a monster in the middle of the Panthers defensive line. While it should be a solid unit, those questions in the secondary should prevent it from being an elite one.
A team that doesn’t seem to be getting any better, with a quarterback who is suspended for nearly a fifth of the season, with three top-tier teams to leap over to win the division. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be the least justifiable pick to win a division this season in the NFL.
Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David form a strong tandem in the defensive front-seven. Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson are a dynamic receiving duo. Outside of that, this team has serious lack of talent, especially along the offensive line and in the defensive secondary.
Getting nearly 2-to-1 odds on the Falcons is an enticing selection, as the team has a real chance to improve now that they have had more time to get accustomed to their offensive coaching staff. If they can avoid the early season losses to subpar teams that they suffered last season, they should lock down a first round bye in the loaded NFC.