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In 2022, the NFC South was an absolute joke. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the division with an 8-9 record. Whereas the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, and Carolina Panthers all finished at 7-10 last season.
The Bucs needed a 20-point 4th-quarter rally in a crucial Week 17 game vs. the Panthers to seal the division. They had six one-score wins and needed Tom Brady to steal several games. Tampa got boat-raced 31-14 in the NFC wild card round by the Dallas Cowboys.
Atlanta gave supporters hope early by covering its 1st six games to open 2022. The Falcons capped off this 6-game stretch by crushing the San Francisco 49ers 28-14. But, they finished 4-7 after winning a meaningless Week 18 game vs. the Bucs
Carolina went Over its 6.5-win total last season despite firing former coach Matt Rhule after a 1-4 start and starting three different QBs. Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks went 6-6 last year but was not retained as head coach.
LISTEN: Dan Zaksheske and Geoff Clark Break Down The AFC and NFC South On The Latest Episode of “OutKick Bets”
In the 1st year of the post-Sean Payton era, NOLA underperformed expectations. The Saints went Under their 8.5-win total in 2022 even though they ranked 6th in net yards per play and 11th in net expected points added (EPA) per play.
- Odds provided by DraftKings Sportbook
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles is on the “hot seat” entering 2023. Bowles has only one winning year in his five full seasons as an NFL head coach.
Tampa addressed its weak run blocking this offseason. Last year, the Bucs’ offensive line was 28th in line yards per snap. Tampa averaged an NFL-low 3.4 yards per rush in 2022.
Granted, they had cluster-injuries all over their offensive line in 2022. But, Tampa signed G Matt Feiler, drafted G Cody Mauch, and C Ryan Jensen who missed most of last season with an injury.
Also, the Buccaneers have perhaps the biggest year over year downgrades at quarterback in recent memory. They are going from the GOAT to either QBs Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask this year.
Tampa still has two Pro Bowl wideouts for Baker or Trask to throw to in WRs Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. But, the Bucs already lost slot WR Russell Gage to a season-ending injury on August 17th.
Tampa Bay’s odds
- Super Bowl: +9000
- NFC: +4500
- NFC South: +800
- To make the playoffs: Yes (+400), No (-500)
- Wins: 6.5 (+120/-140)
The Super Bowl is out of question for the Buccaneers. Their +9000 odds should be more like +20000. Basically, Baker have to play like Oklahoma, Heisman-winning Baker and Tampa’s defense would have to return to it’s Super Bowl 2021-winning form.
It’s not going to happen. I’ve always been anti-Baker because he’s too small for the NFL and not athletic enough to produce like he did in college. Plus, I’m skeptical that Bowles is more than a defensive coordinator.
The probability of both of these things working out for the Bucs is lower than their odds to win the conference (+4500), NFC South (+800), to make the playoffs (+400), and go Over the 6.5-win total (+120) as well.
But, I’m not willing to fade the Buccaneers because I like their defense. Tampa FS Antoine Winfield Jr. and SS Ryan Neal form one of the best safety tandems in the NFL. Bucs LB Lavonte David and CB Jamel Dean are top-10 players at their respective positions.
They drafted a freak athlete and good pass-rushing DT Calijah Kancey in the 1st round of this year’s draft. Kancey joins a front four with Pro Bowlers in DT Vita Vea and DE Shaquil Barrett, and 2022 1st-rounder DE Joe Tryon-Shoyinka.
If Tampa’s O-line has a bounce-back year, the Buccaneers will be a tough out in 2023. However, I’d rather back Tampa in regular-season games. In fact, I like the Bucs +6.5 at the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1.
‘Unlimited bankroll’ bet for the 2023 Buccaneers
My favorite season-long look for Tampa this year is LB LAVONTE DAVID OVER 115.5 COMBINED TACKLES (-110) at DraftKings. This is David’s 12th NFL season and he’s made at least 117 tackles in nine of them including four out of the last five years.
David has one Pro Bowl appearance and three All-Pro selections in his career. In 2022, David graded out 3rd among 81 qualifying linebackers at Pro Football Focus (PFF).
With the question marks surrounding Buccaneers’ offense, their defense might be on the field more so in 2023. Last year, Tampa was 25th in average time per drive and 21st in average yards per drive.
Finally, David is a 4-down linebacker and QB of Tampa’s defense. According to PFF, David played 695 pass snaps last season and 448 rush snaps.
New Orleans Saints
Between schedule, upgrade at the quarterback position, and all their bad luck from last season, it’s hard to not back the Saints in 2023. NOLA has the easiest schedule this year and +4 games in rest disparity, per Warren Sharp.
Per NFL handicapper Clevta’s 2023 preview, New Orleans was 31st in turnover luck, 23rd in injury-luck, 26th in 4th-quarter variance, and 21st in fumble recovery luck. Also, the Saints signed QB Derek Carr to a 4-year, $150M deal this offseason.
Carr has plenty of weapons to work such as WRs Michael Thomas and Chris Olave, RBs Alvin Kamara and Jamal Williams and slash player Taysom Hill. Yet Thomas never stays healthy and Kamara is suspended the 1st three games of 2023.
However, NOLA lost depth on its front-seven this offseason. LB Kaden Ellis and defensive linemen Shy Tuttle, Marcus Davenport, and David Onyemata all left in free agency. This loss of depth puts pressure on the Saints’ offense.
That said, defense is the clear strength of the Saints. They still have a talented secondary, led by multiple-time Pro Bowl S Tyrann Mathieu. And New Orleans LB Demario Davis is still one of the best in the NFL.
New Orleans’ odds
- Super Bowl: +3000
- NFC: +1200
- NFC South: +120
- To make the playoffs: Yes (-190), No (+160)
- Wins: 9.5 (+105/-125)
The biggest concern for New Orleans entering 2023 is head coach Dennis Allen. Everyone dumps on Bowles but Allen has a career 28.3% winning rate (15-38) in 3+ seasons as an NFL coach.
In 2022, Allen ranked dead-last in plus-EV decision-making, according to RBSDM.com. Allen himself cost the Saints several games last season, it wasn’t just bad turnover and field goal luck.
NOLA’s interior offensive line was lousy last year. Per PFF, Saints’ guards Andrus Peat and Cesar Ruiz graded out 68th and 59th among qualifying guards. And New Orleans C Erik McCoy was 23rd out of 36 centers in 2022.
No NFL quarterbacks like pressure in their face. If the interior of NOLA’s offensive line doesn’t improve year over year then the addition of Carr may not be a difference-maker.
‘Unlimited bankroll’ bet for the 2023 Saints
I was all over the Saints season-long futures entering 2022. New Orleans was my preseason pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and the Saints winning the NFC South last year was one of my best bets.
That said, I learned the hard way that Allen is not a coach you want to invest in for the long-term. If the Saints have another year like they did last season I could see Allen getting axed.
There is a world where New Orleans has a top-five defense, Carr is a top-five quarterback in the weak NFC and all of his weapons stay healthy, both of which could make the Saints a top-five to -10 offense in the NFL.
My favorite season-long mock bet here is UNDER SAINTS RB ALVIN KAMARA 600.5 RUSHING YARDS (-130) at DraftKings.
In 2022, Kamara had a -0.17 rushing yards over expectation per carry, per NFL’s Next Gen Stats. He ranked 36th in broken tackles per rushing attempts out of 45 eligible ball carriers last season, which includes QBs.
Kamara gained 3.7 and 4.0 yards per rush over the past two years, which are his two worst outputs. He split carries with Hill last year. Plus, the Saints signed Williams this offseason and drafted RB Kendre Miller in the 3rd round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
According to Warren Sharp, Atlanta has the 2nd-easiest schedule in the NFL this season. That’s obviously a product of the Falcons playing in the soft NFC South.
Falcons 2nd-year QB Desmond Ridder will be their Week 1 starter. In 2022, Ridder’s 55.9 PFF grade would put him 34th out of 40 qualifying QBs. Atlanta averaged just 16.8 points per game in Ridder’s four starts last year.
After having one of the worst defenses in the league last season, Atlanta invested heavily in that side of the ball in free agency. The Falcons signed Ellis and Onyemata away from the Saints.
They also signed elite former Cincinnati Bengals S Jessie Bates III along with two other defensive backs and pass rushers Bud Dupree and Calais Campbell. So, Atlanta 1st-year defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen has pieces to work with.
- Super Bowl: +6000
- NFC: +2800
- NFC South: +215
- To make the playoffs: Yes (+105), No (-125)
- Wins: 8.5 (-120/+100)
‘Unlimited bankroll’ bet for the 2023 Falcons
Fading the Falcons is one of the 2023 futures in my account already. They won seven games last season and the market leans toward Atlanta improving by two games. I just don’t see it.
Ridder has shown nothing to suggest he’s a franchise QB. Falcons WR Drake London could be a legit No. 1 receiver and TE Kyle Pitts was considered one of the best tight end prospects ever when drafted 4th in 2021.
While I like Atlanta’s defensive investments, the Falcons have a long way to go to be an average NFL defense. They ranked 29th in defensive EPA/play last season despite playing several backup QBs.
Lastly, the Falcons should’ve won only five games in 2022. They got bailed out vs. the Panthers by D.J. Moore ripping his helmet off after a would-be go-ahead TD. Tampa pulled its starters in Week 18 vs. Atlanta as well.
Again, my favorite season-long look here is UNDER 6.5 ATLANTA FALCONS ALTERNATE WINS (+310) at DraftKings.
The Panthers have the best QB-coach combo in the NFC South. They traded up for the 1st pick in the 2023 NFL Draft to select QB Bryce Young and hired head coach Frank Reich.
Even though Carolina had two different head coaches and three different starting QBs last season, the Panthers still went Over their 6.5-win total. I.e. Carolina has talent on its roster.
Panthers have two top-25 LBs per PFF in Shaq Thompson and Frankie Luvu. They have a legit shutdown CB in Jaycee Horn and added above-average S Vonn Bell in free agency.
Moreover, Carolina has a solid front four led by Pro Bowl Panthers pass rusher Brian Burns and DT Derrick Brown. Burns had 12.5 sacks last season. Brown graded out 7th out of 127 eligible interior defensive linemen, according to PFF.
- Super Bowl: +8000
- NFC: +4000
- NFC South: +400
- To make the playoffs: Yes (+205), No (-245)
- Wins: 7.2 (-120/+100)
Best bet for the 2023 Panthers
I approve of the three following season-long Carolina futures: OVER 9.5 ALTERNATE WINS (+350), PANTHERS TO WIN NFC SOUTH (+400), and BRYCE YOUNG TO WIN NFL OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR (+500) at DraftKings.
Reich finally has a possible franchise QB to run his offense. Reich had five different Week 1 starting QBs in all five of his years as the Indianapolis Colts coach. No NFL coach has a chance at consistency with that kind of instability.
My favorite look is Young to win NFL OROY. I could see Young being good enough to win rookie of the year with Carolina not winning the NFC South in 2023. But, the Panthers can’t win this division if Young has a bad season.
A similar analysis applies to Carolina winning the NFC South. At full-health, the Saints have more talent than the Panthers and Young’s OROY odds are fatter than Carolina’s divisional odds.
NFC South 2023 Projections
- CAROLINA PANTHERS 10-7
- New Orleans Saints 8-8-1
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-11-1
- Atlanta Falcons 5-12
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