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Odds to Win the NFC South: Saints, Falcons Locked in at the Top

Alvin Kamara #41 of the New Orleans Saints, Marshon Lattimore #23 and Michael Thomas #13 celebrate after a game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 24, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

With three of its teams perennially in the playoff mix, the NFC South has become one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL over the years. The race to win the NFC South is not expected to be any different in 2018.

At Bovada, the New Orleans Saints are the slight +155 favorites, with the Atlanta Falcons (+185), Carolina Panthers (+275) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+950) behind them.

The Saints claimed the South in 2017, and it’s clear the sports betting world is expecting Drew Brees and company to march their way to a division title once again. Here’s a betting breakdown of how each team is shaping up for the upcoming campaign.

After a strong regular season, can the Saints put playoff letdown behind them?

On the heels of three consecutive 7-9 SU campaigns, the Saints broke away from the doldrums of mediocrity and finished the regular season with an 11-5 record in 2017. New Orleans suffered a heartbreaker in the divisional round in a game it surely should’ve won against the Minnesota Vikings, however, as Case Keenum connected with Stefon Diggs on a last-second touchdown to give the Vikes a 29-24 win in what’s been dubbed the “Minnesota Miracle.”

Don’t expect the Saints to let that disappointing finish slow them down, though. Besides, the Saints proved they’re a contender again after rallying to win 11 of their final 14 contests. New Orleans had a strong offseason, bringing in linebacker Demario Davis, tight end Benjamin Watson, safety Kurt Coleman, cornerback Patrick Robinson and guard Jermon Bushrod. The Saints’ vastly improved defense should be even better in 2018 and the emergence of the one-two running back punch of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram will continue to take more pressure off aging quarterback Drew Brees.

It’s anyone’s guess if the Falcons will sink or swim in 2018

After spending the offseason hearing all about their disastrous second half in Super Bowl 51, the Falcons were a puzzling team in 2017. Some games they looked like serious contenders, while looking lost on both sides of the ball in others. Atlanta did end up with a solid 10-6 SU record in the regular season, however, and beat the Los Angeles Rams in the wild-card round before falling 15-10 to the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round.

Oddsmakers are clearly expecting the Falcons to return to form due to their +185 price to win the NFC South, but it’s the riskiest bet in the division, in my opinion. The offense took a major step back in offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s first year at the helm, and Adrian Clayborn, Dontari Poe and Taylor Gabriel departed the team in free agency. Quarterback Matt Ryan can only do so much to carry the franchise, and unless they bounce back in a major way this year, the Falcons’ competitive window may start to close sooner rather than later.

Sportsbooks not expecting much from the Panthers

Carolina put a frustrating 2016 season behind it a year ago and made yet another postseason appearance after placing second in the NFC South at 11-5 SU. The Panthers weren’t able to keep the momentum rolling in the playoffs and suffered a 31-26 defeat to the Saints in the wild-card round. Despite the setback, you’d be hard pressed to find many people calling the season a lost one.

The Panthers bolstered a secondary unit that finished 28th in the NFL by signing cornerback Ross Cockrell and safety Da’Norris Searcy in the offseason. Carolina also brought in former division-rival defensive tackle Dontari Poe from the Falcons, as well as ex-Minnesota Viking wide receiver Jarius Wright and guard Jeremiah Sirles. Unlike some other teams across the league, the Panthers didn’t take a step back in free agency and could provide bettors some value at their +275 price if they can leapfrog New Orleans and Atlanta in the standings.

As always, Buccaneers are the forgotten team in the South

With all of the praise the NFC South gets for its competitiveness, the Buccaneers are rarely in the conversation. That’s because the Bucs haven’t been to the playoffs since 2007 and have only one winning season under their belts since 2011. Signal-caller Jameis Winston hasn’t been the difference-maker many pundits thought he would be since he was selected with the first overall pick by Tampa Bay in 2015, although the front office hasn’t surrounded the Florida State product with much of a supporting cast in that span.

To make matters worse, Winston has been suspended for the first three games of the season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, meaning Ryan Fitzpatrick will have the reins of the quarterback position in the early going.

Tampa Bay ended the campaign with an uninspiring 5-11 record and was mathematically eliminated from postseason contention after 13 games. The Bucs had a busy offseason and took advantage of a big chunk of cap space, locking up cornerback Brent Grimes to a one-year extension, trading for former New York Giant edge defender Jason Pierre-Paul, and signing fellow defensive end Vinny Curry as well as interior defenders Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein. The defense, which was one of the worst in the NFL in 2017, will be better, but the Bucs are clearly a few years away from truly challenging the Saints, Falcons and Panthers for the division title.

Odds to Win 2018 NFC South Division
New Orleans+155
Atlanta Falcons+185
Carolina Panthers+275
Tampa Bay Buccaneers+950

Odds as of August 30 at Bovada