NFC South Betting Preview

There's a heavy favorite, but two contenders should create a challenge

Keith Allison, Flickr

The odds to win each NFL division have been released. Let's dive into what should be an intriguing and competitive NFC South. 

The Favorite: New Orleans Saints (-190)

Key Free Agency Additions On Offense: C Nick Easton, TE Jared Cook, RB Latavius Murray 

Key Free Agency Departures On Offense: RB Mark Ingram, TE Benjamin Watson

The horrific NFC Championship no-call that denied the New Orleans Saints a shot at the Super Bowl will forever mar what was a spectacular 2018 campaign. It'll be interesting to see if the Saints will suffer some sort of hangover as a result. 

On a positive note, the Saints offense still has explosive weapons in running back Alvin Kamara and wide receiver Michael Thomas. They also added pass-catching tight end Jared Cook in free agency. The most important piece of the offense is undeniably Drew Brees, who is entering his 19th season. Due to a decreased velocity on his throws and lack of heroics in the playoffs, regression speculation became a reality for the future Hall of Famer despite his typical regular-season efficiency. His yards per completion in the playoffs fell almost a yard from his regular season statistics (11 to 10.2 yards) and his yards per pass attempt also fell from his regular season totals (8.2 to 7.1), but it’s worth noting the small sample size. His production will undoubtedly be one of the most important storylines of the division.

Key Free Agency Additions On Defense: DT Malcom Brown, DT Mario Edwards, CB Marcus Sherels

Key Free Agency Departures On Defense: DE Alex Okafor

The Saints defense gave up the 29th-most passing yards in football last season, but that is a misleading fact. Since the Saints had double digit leads in the second half of eight games, opposing teams typically took to the air in garbage time, inflating that number. New Orleans is counting on a big year from last season's first round pick Marcus Davenport who finished with 4.5 sacks. With the loss of defensive end Alex Okafor in free agency, it's imperative that Davenport, who had offseason toe surgery, provides a pass rush to help take pressure off the secondary. 

The Saints are -190 to win the division and should be the favorite. Considering the talented rosters of the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers, the odds may be too favorable, though.

The Contenders: Atlanta Falcons (+350)

Key Free Agency Additions on Offense: G James Carpenter, G Jamon Brown, TE Luke Stocker

Key Free Agency Departures On Offense: RB Tevin Coleman

Head coach Dan Quinn made a few changes to his staff after last season including the addition of Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator. Quinn also decided to take over the defensive coordinator duties himself. This is an important season for Quinn, who might be on the hot seat following an underwhelming 2018 campaign. The Falcons have the talent to be a playoff team and if healthy, they should have a much more productive season. With the talents of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley at wideout, Matt Ryan should continue to post elite numbers through the air. The team should also benefit from the return of multi-dimensional running back Devonta Freeman, who only played two games last season due to several injuries. Even without him in the lineup the Falcons averaged 6.2 yards per play last season, which was the fourth-highest in the league. With the return of Freeman, there is no excuse why the Falcons shouldn’t have an elite offense. 

Key Free Agency Additions On Defense: DE Adrian Clayborn

Key Free Agency Departures On Defense: CB Robert Alford, DE Bruce Irvin
Atlanta was decimated with injuries a year ago. Deion Jones and Keanu Neal, two of their young and most talented defenders, were lost to injuries early and the Falcons couldn't recover. Both players should be healthy entering 2019 and bring much-needed versatility and production to the table. Much of Atlanta’s defensive prowess will hinge on Vic Beasley. After posting 15.0 sacks in his rookie 2016 campaign, he has only combined for 10 sacks over the past two years.

If healthy, there’s no reason to suggest that the Falcons can’t improve off of last season and challenge the Saints for the division. At +350, these odds seem much too low.

Another Contender: Carolina Panthers (+550)

Key Free Agency Additions On Offense: C Matt Paradis, WR Chris Hogan

Key Free Agency Departures On Offense: WR Devin Funchess, OT Matt Kalil

Last season, Carolina was 6-2 at the midway point and was even a dark horse to make a run at the Super Bowl. Then, everything began to crumble. Cam Newton injured his shoulder and the team went on a seven-game losing streak. The talented quarterback had surgery in the offseason and hopes to be ready to go by Week 1. If Cam is healthy, he will have plenty of options at his disposal. Christian McCaffrey is a freak athlete and an all-around tremendous football player. McCaffrey set a franchise record with 1,965 yards from scrimmage a year ago. Carolina also has two young receivers (D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel) that are difficult to contain in space and are only scratching the surface of their abilities. 

Key Free Agency Additions On Defense: LB Bruce Irvin, DT Gerald McCoy

Key Free Agency Departures On Defense: LB Thomas Davis 

On paper, the Panthers have perhaps the best defensive front in the entire NFL. Gerald McCoy signed as a free agent and feels he has something to prove after being released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Kawann Short and Mario Addison will be productive and they have great depth with Bruce Irvin and Dontari Poe on board. You also can't forget about first-round pick Brian Burns from Florida State who has great upside and should make his way into the rotation. The heart and soul of the defense is Luke Kuechly who is still one of the best linebackers in the league. Shaq Thompson should have an expanded role due to the release of Panthers legend Thomas Davis. All-in-all, this defensive unit should be fun to watch.

If Newton is healthy, Carolina will be a dangerous team and could easily be a playoff contender. There is great value at +550 and it's tempting to roll the dice, but much of the team’s success hinges on Newton, which is never a situation that evokes confidence at this point in his career.

Maybe Next Year: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+1200)

Key Free Agency Additions On Offense: WR Breshad Perriman

Key Free Agency Departures On Offense: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR Adam Humphries, WR DeSean Jackson

It's a new era in Tampa as Bruce Arians takes over as head coach. Tampa has only two winning seasons since 2010 and it will take some time for the front office to rebuild the roster. It's a make-or-break season for quarterback Jameis Winston. The former first overall pick has had issues off the field and hasn't lived up to expectations on the field either due to a lack of sound decision-making skills. Tampa is loaded with viable receivers including Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and tight end O.J. Howard, but Winston’s performance in a contract year will ultimately determine the team’s fate.

Key Free Agency Additions On Defense: DT Ndamukong Suh, OLB Shaquil Barrett 

Key Free Agency Departures On Defense: ILB Kwon Alexander, DT Gerald McCoy

New defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is taking over what was the NFL’s worst defense last season. Opposing quarterbacks completed a league high 72 percent of their passes against them and had a quarterback rating of 110.9 (the highest mark in the NFL). The Bucs gave up almost four touchdowns per game which was dead-last. Tampa opponents reached the red zone 58 times and managed to score 45 touchdowns which placed them last in defensive touchdown efficiency. Their major move of the offseason involved releasing Gerald McCoy and replacing him with Ndamukong Suh. One bright spot for the Bucs was drafting Devin White in the first round of the 2019 Draft. The versatile linebacker from LSU should be an instant starter and should contribute immediately. The combination of White and Lavonte David at linebacker could be formidable. 

The Bucs will stay in games if and only if Winston takes care of the football. If history is a barometer, don’t count on that happening. It’s a rebuilding season in Tampa.

Best Bet: Falcons

Carolina and Atlanta have both improved and could challenge New Orleans for the division title. Due to the uncertainty with Cam Newton, the Falcons are in the best position to rebound and take down the Saints. At +350, there’s significant value and upside to pull the trigger.