The NFC South is one of the two most intriguing divisions in the NFL this year alongside the AFC West. On the field, I think every team has a shot to win the division. They play the AFC East this year and the division winner is going to come down to who can beat up on all three of the non-Patriot teams throughout the season.
Cody Jinnette’s NFC South Predictions
1. Atlanta Falcons – Over 9.5 -125
Even though they lost offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, I still think this will be one of the three best offenses in the NFL. New OC Steve Sarkisian can keep the offense humming, and I believe reigning MVP Matt Ryan has a real shot to repeat. The defense improved over the course of the year and they added another dynamic pass rusher in the draft in Takk McKinley. The Pick: Falcons over 9.5 (-125).
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I love this Tampa Bay team. I loved them last year and I think they’ll be better with Jameis Winston having another year under his belt. They added two great weapons in Desean Jackson and OJ Howard. I know everyone always believes in the Hard Knocks team and that team becomes cursed, but I think they’re the real deal. These guys love Jameis, and this is the year he shows the rest of the league why they believe in him. For those that believe in him like me, his MVP odds are +2500 and are worth a look. If you disagree with everything I said, well, he’s also +600 to have the most interceptions. I would also consider parlaying the Bucs over 8.5 with them making the playoffs at +160. The Pick: Bucs over 8.5 (-115).
3. Carolina Panthers
I’m a huge Cam Newton fan and I love the two guys they added in the draft. Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel should both help Cam in the passing and running game. My major concerns are health on the defensive side of the ball and their brutal December schedule. I think every Carolina fan is worried that Luke Kuechly is one concussion away from an early retirement. Their other standout linebacker, Thomas Davis, is 34 and has had major injuries in the past. If their health on defense holds up, they’ll probably hit the over and compete for the division title. But I just don’t see it happening. If they’re not healthy, the back-end of their schedule is going to be keep them from making the playoffs. They end the season at the Saints, home for the Vikings, home for the Packers, home for the Bucs, and at the Falcons. I’d personally stay away from this team, but there is some value in taking the under. The Pick: Panthers under 8.5 (+145).
4. New Orleans Saints
There are three constants in New Orleans:
1. Drew Brees will throw for the most passing yards in the NFL (+350).
2. He passes for so many yards each year because his defense is terrible and they’re always trailing.
3. Take the over in pretty much every game they’re in. It makes for a fun afternoon.
I will say: I really, really liked their draft this year. I don’t think it’s enough to get them back into the playoffs, though. I like their offense (as does everyone), but I like it a lot less without Brandin Cooks. I understand why he was traded, but I don’t really like the move when Drew Brees only has a few more years left to try and win another title. The Pick: Saints under 8 (-130).
Favorite Player Prop: Vic Beasley +2500 for Defensive Player of the Year
Beasley’s stats were a bit of an anomaly last year. He had an incredible sack total and a disproportionately low QB hit and hurries total. So, one of three things is going to happen this year.
1. His sack totals regress to the mean. Yikes.
2. His hurries, QB hits, forced fumbles, and all the other stats that usually correlate with sack numbers go up a little and he’s a better pass rusher overall this year.
3. This is what he is. Doesn’t get to the QB as much as the other elite guys, but sacks them as much as they do.
I think there’s a good chance number 2 happens now that he’s had another year in Quinn’s system, and he also has another legitimate pass rusher next to him in McKinley.
Cole Frederick’s NFC South Predictions
1. Carolina Panthers
The differences between the best team in this division and the worst team will be miniscule this season. The Panthers had awful injury luck last year, and they also had a difficult schedule. This year, they play a last-place schedule, which includes games against the Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles. The addition of McCaffrey should benefit this offense greatly, but this pick is completely dependent on Cam Newton’s health. I have them getting to 10 wins and contending for the NFC championship. The Pick: Panthers over 8.5 (-175).
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
One thing Cody and I both agree on is our affinity for the Bucs this season. Jameis has the potential to be a star, and he has plenty of weapons surrounding him. In the Bucs’ first four games of the season, they are at the Dolphins, home for the Bears, at the Vikings and home for the Giants. They will need to win at least three of those if they want to contend for a playoff spot. The Pick: Bucs over 8.5 (-115).
3. Atlanta Falcons
The Buffalo Bills famously lost four straight Super Bowls from 1990-1993. Since those Bills, no Super Bowl loser has made the Super Bowl the following season. In face, nearly half of the teams to lose in the Super Bowl in the last 23 seasons have failed to even reach the postseason the following year. Last year’s Panthers were a great example, and there’s even more evidence piling up against this year’s Falcons.
The Falcons still have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, and the offense should still be dangerous. But how does a team come back from blowing a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl? They collapsed in historic fashion, and now they play a first-place schedule in one of the toughest divisions in football. Atlanta has road game at the Seahawks and Patriots—perhaps the best two teams in the league—and they also play the Packers and the Cowboys. I love the under. This feels like a .500 team who limps down the stretch. The Pick: Falcons under 9.5 (-105).
4. New Orleans Saints
I have the Saints finishing last in the division, but I’m not exactly selling the Saints. There is reason for optimism for the offense despite the trade of Brandin Cooks. Adrian Peterson might not have much left in the tank, but the combination of him and Mark Ingram should give New Orleans a very balanced offense. If they can control the clock and keep their horrid defense off the field, I think a wild card berth is within reach. They’ve finished 7-9 the last three seasons, but I think they can get to eight wins for the push or possibly even nine. The Pick: Saints over 8 (even).