There’s a case to be made that the NFC South is the toughest division in football.
Two teams here figure to flirt with double-digit wins while an 11-win club from last season could also be in the thick of things. The final team is in tough without its quarterback for the first three games, but could perhaps do a little damage with lowered expectations this season.
Here are my win-total picks for the NFC South.
Pick: Over 9 wins -150 (BetOnline)
You could pay a little less for 9.5 wins, but having nine as a cushion feels generous with the Falcons.
Atlanta benefited from close wins (three by three points or fewer) but would have been swept by the AFC East if it wasn’t for a five-point win over the New York Jets in the final leg of non-conference play.
Offensively, the team operates behind a top-five front and boasts a well-rounded skill corps that added wide receiver Calvin Ridley out of Alabama in the first round. The Falcons took a huge step back under first-year coordinator Steve Sarkisian in 2017 (who succeeded Kyle Shanahan), though after a full season with a new play-caller, they’re presumably ready to get back to lighting up the scoreboard on a regular basis.
On defense, we saw bright spots on all three levels at certain points last year. If the players who flashed potential all click simultaneously in 2018, head coach Dan Quinn’s arguably got the most balanced team in the NFL.
New Orleans Saints
Pick: Under 9.5 wins +130 (BetOnline)
Outside of the Minneapolis Miracle, the Saints had a lot going for them last season.
New Orleans’ rookie class was nothing short of spectacular. The Saints overcame an 0-2 start by ripping off eight straight wins. Drew Brees’ final stats weren’t very Brees-like, but the incredible one-two punch of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara out of the backfield eased the usual pressure on the quarterback to win shootouts.
However, all that surplus production from the first-year players should at least drift closer to the mean in their sophomore seasons, and Ingram’s suspended for the first four games.
New Orleans might not run into a full-blown regression, but it will be enough to get this one under 10 wins.
Pick: Under 8.5 wins -115 (BetOnline)
How quiet was the Panthers’ 11-win 2017? You could have told me they missed the playoffs and I would have believed it.
Carolina came out on top in close games, nabbing three wins by three points or fewer while posting a 7-1 record in one-possession contests. That might change – or at minimum even out – in 2018.
The left side of the line leaves a lot to be desired. The receiving corps is either inexperienced (Curtis Samuel, D.J. Moore), old (Torrey Smith), or still on the cusp of a breakout (Devin Funchess). Christian McCaffrey figures to see more time as a pure running back with Jonathan Stewart out of the picture, though he’s likely best suited to the receiving game.
Defensively, the Panthers are good, but not great, which matches my outlook on Carolina in the grand scheme of things.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Pick: Over 6 wins -110 (Intertops)
What a difference a year makes – and not in a good way.
The Buccaneers were the “Hard Knocks” darlings of 2017, ripe for a run behind a potential MVP candidate in Jameis Winston with brand-new weapons on offense.
Instead, Tampa fell flat on both sides of the ball and sputtered to a 5-11 season. Now it’s looking at one of the lowest win totals in the entire league.
The Bucs won’t get off to the hottest start in 2018 with Winston unavailable for three weeks due to suspension. Then again, they’re playing the Saints, Eagles, and Steelers, so would having him make much of a difference?
Despite underachieving and not being able to stop anyone defensively, the Buccaneers were still in the thick of things last year and dropped seven of their 11 losses by six points or fewer. With everyone else moving on from the Bucs’ bandwagon after riding it for just one season, I’m sitting in the back by myself, holding a sign that reads “Over 6, Please.”
Alex Kolodziej is theScore’s betting writer. He’s a graduate of Eastern Illinois who has been involved in the sports betting industry for 11 years. He can quote every line from ‘Rounders’ and appreciates franchises that regularly wear alternate jerseys. Find him on Twitter @AlexKoIodziej.
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