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Saints Marching as Favorites for the NFC South

Raise your hand if you had New Orleans as the favorite to win the division after seven weeks. Stop it, you liars! The most competitive division in the NFL has some interesting odds for each team but it’s looking like a solid pick at +110 for the Saints to march again in the NFC South.

New Orleans, sitting at 4-2, has exceeded expectations, to say the least. Opening at +350 with a 7.5 O/U win total, bettors who took the OVER should have a payout by Thanksgiving. The main knock on New Orleans is they’ve only played one divisional game this season and are still vulnerable to clunkers on the road. If this new trend of playing above-average defense doesn’t continue, they could be susceptible to regression.

On the flip side, Atlanta has severely disappointed experts who believed they would continue their reign in the NFC South. Starting out hot with three wins, the Falcons have lost three games in a row to AFC East opponents and now pay +170 to get back to the mountaintop in the division. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has taken a step back statistically this season as he ranks 11th in QBR, compared to last season’s MVP performance, when he topped the chart. The saving grace is they still have six divisional games left and bettors should take a hard look at the Dirty Birds to rebound.

Carolina was my preseason pick to win the division and it could still come to fruition. The Panthers opened at +225 and are now listed at a juicy +250 with a 4-3 record. Despite coming off back-to-back losses to the Eagles and Bears, they also possess two signature road wins against New England in Foxborough and Detroit at Ford Field. Quarterback Cam Newton may be evasive to the media but he’s also hard to catch for opposing defenses. Cam has three rushing touchdowns and 211 yards on the ground and has shown flashes of his MVP form. If they can keep All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly on the field, bettors may want to jump on the Panthers before teams get into the thick of divisional play.

What can you say about Tampa Bay? It seems like every year experts predict a leap or progression to the next level for the Buccaneers. So, what gives? Well, when your starting quarterback keeps forcing the issue and continues to come up short in big games, your growth can get stunted. Jameis Winston may eventually become a top-five quarterback in the NFL. But for this season, it’s best to avoid this sad-sack team which is 2-4 and paying +2000.

Odds to Win 2017 NFC South Division
New Orleans+110
Atlanta Falcons+170
Carolina Panthers+250
Tampa Bay Buccaneers+2000

Odds as of October 26 at Bovada

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Of all the divisions in football, the NFC South has the potential to be the most interesting in 2017. A case can be made for all four teams but it’s the defending NFC champs who are being held in the highest regard by sportsbooks.

Bovada has given the Falcons +170 odds to reclaim the title with the Panthers (+225), Buccaneers (+350) and Saints (+400) not far behind.

Atlanta didn’t rearrange the puzzle pieces too drastically after its failed Super Bowl bid but Matt Ryan and the rest of the Falcons offense will have to adjust to new play-caller Steve Sarkisian with Kyle Shanahan’s departure to the not-so-greener pastures of San Francisco still a bit of an open sore.

Sarkisian comes in with quite the pedigree, though, and is not expected to be a downgrade by any stretch after his time with the Crimson Tide. The Californian has spent the last 16 years of his life in the collegiate system, holding head coaching jobs with USC and Washington. He nearly claimed the national championship in his lone season with Alabama last year and jumped at the opportunity to join the NFL.

How he clicks with Ryan, though, is the highlighted bullet point. Last season’s MVP led the league’s best offense to historic heights and if he and Sarkisian get off on the wrong foot, it’s unlikely the 32-year-old gunslinger has a repeat of 2017.

That said, the weapons on offense remain basically the same for the Dirty Birds and a defensive unit that made a lot of progress in the offseason could help head coach Dan Quinn improve on last year’s 11-5 record.

For the Panthers, a successful year will have to be triggered by Cam Newton. The signal-caller’s health put a cap on the club’s potential last season but in the great words of another North Carolina legend, Michael Jordan, “the ceiling is the roof” for the Panthers if Newton is back to full health.

Eighth overall draft pick Christian McCaffrey will look to make an immediate impact when he pairs up with Jonathan Stewart in the Cats backfield. The 21-year-old back is a serious offensive talent who should add an interesting wrinkle to an already dynamic arsenal. Can the Panthers match the Falcons in offensive output, though? Doubtful. If Carolina is going to win the division this year, its pass defense has to be way better than it was in 2016.

Finishing second in the South last year by virtue of a 9-7 record, the Buccaneers are a considerable threat to leap the Falcons and claim the division crown. Signing DeSean Jackson in free agency before drafting WR Chris Goodwin and TE O.J. Howard, the Bucs have surrounded rising star Jameis Winston with pass-catching talent and the FSU product is primed for a career year.

At +350, the Bucs are by far the best value in a division that could be extremely competitive.

A team to possibly fade is the Saints. New Orleans didn’t do enough to improve one of the worst defenses in NFL history and Drew Brees doesn’t seem to have the fire he once did. Expect another year of obscurity in the Big Easy.

Odds to Win 2017 NFC South Division
Atlanta Falcons+170
Carolina Panthers+225
Tampa Bay Buccaneers+350
New Orleans Saints+400

Odds as of September 1 at Bovada

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Sitting on top of the NFC South with a 5-3 record, the Atlanta Falcons are -275 favorites to win the division entering Week 9. After coming into the season with +550 odds to win the NFC South, the Falcons put together a four-game win streak from Weeks 2 to 5 that vaulted them to the top of the division. They’ve been a bit tricky to figure out, though, with a few impressive wins over the Broncos, Raiders and Packers mixed in with letdowns at home vs the Bucs and Chargers.

The favorite to win the division entering the season was the Carolina Panthers, who’ve seen their odds go from -220 to +600 over the course of the season. A four-game losing streak from Weeks 3 to 6 might have burned them for the rest of the season as they’re currently last in the division, three games back of the Falcons. They appeared to make some adjustments coming off their bye in a 30-20 win over the Cardinals, but they might be in too deep of a hole to make any sort of noise. It also doesn’t help that they have the hardest schedule in the division the rest of the way based on this season's results so far.

Tampa Bay and New Orleans are tied for second in the division at 3-4 and they’re also tied on the division futures oddsboard at +750. With wins in three of the last four weeks and a game vs the 49ers on deck, the Saints have some serious momentum going, but it’s hard to imagine them winning the division with that pitiful defense. The Bucs, meanwhile, will have the opportunity to complete a season sweep of the Falcons on Thursday Night Football, which would give them the edge in a tiebreaker scenario.

A lot of ifs and buts for the teams trailing the Falcons, who seem destined the win the division given their two-game lead to go along with the third-easiest schedule in the league the rest of the way. They last won the division in 2012 and it would be a significant flop if they fail to win it this year.

2016-17 NFC South Champion

Odds as of November 3 at Bovada

  • Atlanta Falcons -275
  • Carolina Panthers +600
  • New Orleans Saints +750
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers +750

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After years of uncertainty, the Carolina Panthers have emerged from the pack to solidify themselves as the class of the NFC South. After winning the division the past three seasons and making it to the Super Bowl last year, the Panthers are posted as large -220 favorites to win the NFC South once again.

The rest of the NFC South is filled with teams that have plenty of positives but who are also dealing with huge holes.

The Atlanta Falcons have an offense that could be one of the best in the NFL. Julio Jones is arguably the best wide receiver in football, Devonta Freeman looks like a revelation at running back and the team also inked Mohamed Sanu to a big contract to fill out the receiving unit. However, the Falcons’ defense continued to be mediocre at best last season, as they ranked no better than 14th in any defensive category – while posting the fewest sacks in the NFL.

The New Orleans Saints continued to be exactly what we’ve grown accustomed to last season, as they ranked second in total offense and 31st in total defense. The offense could be bolstered with the addition of Michael Thomas to an already young receiving unit, but little has been done on the defense. The only real additions on defense have been James Laurinatis and Nick Fairley – both cast-offs from the Rams.

The future could be very bright for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as the young trio of Jameis Winston, Doug Martin and Mike Evans has the potential to be elite. Winston suffered through plenty of mental lapses in his rookie year, but another year should see growth from the quarterback. The Bucs defense was solid – yet unspectacular – last season with Lavonte David leading the group.

2016-17 NFC South Champion

Odds as of August 16 at Bovada

  • Carolina Panthers -220
  • Atlanta Falcons +550
  • New Orleans Saints +600
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers +650

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After coming up short in the Super Bowl against the Broncos following an almost perfect 15-1 regular season, oddsmakers think the Panthers’ success will continue for the upcoming season and, unsurprisingly, have them as the favorites to win the NFC South.

Listed at -300 at online sportsbook BetOnline, the Panthers are the biggest favorite in NFL division futures, with the Patriots next in line at -200. Among the biggest changes to the roster from last season is the departure of cornerback Josh Norman, but a big part of the Panthers’ draft revolved around the cornerback position, with the team selecting corners in rounds two, three and five. They’ll also see the return of a major offensive weapon in receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who missed the entire 2015 season due to a torn ACL.

The Atlanta Falcons are a distant second behind the Panthers at +650. After storming out of the gate last season with five straight wins, they went on to win just three more games the rest of the season. After allowing just 19 touchdown passes, which tied them for third least in the league last season, they built upon an already strong secondary with the selection of strong safety Keanu Neal at 17th overall in the draft.

Looking to improve off a 6-10 season, which was an improvement from their 2-14 2014 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ odds to win the division are +700. They were at 6-6 at one point but lost four straight games to close out the season. As a bit of a surprise, they canned head coach Lovie Smith and replaced him with Dirk Koetter, who was the team’s offensive coordinator in 2015.

With the worst odds in the division is a team I like to surprise this season, the New Orleans Saints at +800. The team had a 7-9 record in 2015 and had a league worst defense, and as a result, used some draft picks and free agent dollars to hopefully improve the defense. It seemed like a foregone conclusion that Sean Peyton would split for a new job during the offseason, but instead he signed a five-year extension. The last time this team missed the playoffs in two straight seasons, they followed it up with a Super Bowl victory.

2016-17 NFC Soth Champion

Odds as of May 6 at BetOnline

  • Carolina Panthers -300
  • Atlanta Falcons +650
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers +700
  • New Orleans Saints +800