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In a little over 10 weeks, the greatest sport and the best sport to gamble on returns. People have started to break down who will be on their fantasy team, and fans have convinced themselves that this will be their year, even though their team missed the playoffs last year. This is the time when fans are the most hopeful, no injuries are happening in training camp, and your heart isn’t broken because you haven’t yet realized that your team sucks.
Today we look at the NFC South. Even though the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl last year, they haven’t won the NFC South since 2007. The division has been ruled by the New Orleans Saints, who have won the division for the last four years. Is this year going to be the fall of the Saints, and will the Bucs steal the division from New Orleans? Or will there be a surprise from the Panthers or the Falcons?
Last year, Tom Brady shook the NFL world when he decided to play for the Bucs. The public and experts were torn. Some figured Brady was washed and that Tampa Bay would miss the playoffs, while others thought that Brady still had some left in the tank and would have amazing weapons around him and lead them to the playoffs. Well, Brady showed the world that he still had gas in the tank even at 43 years old as he led the Bucs to a Super Bowl victory. The Bucs are looking to be the first team since the 04-05 Patriots to win back-to-back Super Bowls. No big deal, but Tom Brady was also on that 04-05 Patriots.
Last year, Tampa Bay went 11-5, and they have brought most of the band back except for T Joe Haeg, CB Ryan Smith, and S Andrew Adams. In free agency, they added RB Giovani Bernard, OLB Joe Jones, and CB Antonio Hamilton. They drafted DE Joe Tryon, QB Kyle Track, and OT Robert Hainsey. Tom Brady still has his offensive weapons as he’s looking to throw 40 touchdowns again this year.
The Bucs were a steady team on both sides of the ball last year. They were top five in both offense and defense, which led them to a Super Bowl victory. Tampa finished with the 5th overall offense, scoring the 3rd most points, 7th yards, 2nd passing yards, 28th rushing touchdowns, and 15th rushing touchdowns. The rushing part of their offense was lacking, with Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette being the No. 1 and 2 running backs. This year, Jones and Fournette are back, but will the addition of Giovani Bernard help their running game? Tampa finished with the 4th overall defense, 9th in points allowed, 6th yards allowed, 20th passing touchdowns, 21st passing yards, 1st rushing yards, and 1st rushing touchdowns. They were amazing at stopping the run but they were near the league’s bottom in stopping the passing game. In 2021, with teams throwing the ball more and more, having a bad passing defense isn’t ideal. Regardless, the defense worked enough for them to win it all.
I understand why the over 11.5 wins are at -150; their schedule is very easy. At my first glance, the games against Colts and Bills are the only two tough games that I see. Last year, the Bucs dropped a game against Chicago, and there will be a couple of games where they get upset. But I still see over 11.5 wins and for the Buccaneers to win the division.
The Saints have dominated this division, winning the NFC South for four straight years. The run can easily come to an end with Drew Brees retiring and the next starting quarterback still in the air. Will Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill lead the Saints or will it be a combination of both that head coach Sean Payton decides to use?
Last year, the Saints went 12-4, and there were questions about Drew Brees’s health all year. He missed multiple games because of broken ribs, and when he came back his shoulder never looked right. The ball never looked great when he had to throw deep or pass 20 yards, and the rocket arm that Brees had was gone. Brees decided that his time was done and hung up the cleats. The Saints also lost CB Janoris Jenkins and TE Jared Cook. In free agency, they added TE Nick Vannett, DE Tanoh Kpassagnon, and FB Alex Armah. Instead of looking to draft a young new quarterback, they decided to promote from within their own quarterback room and drafted DE Payton Turner, LB Pete Werner, and CB Paulson Adebo.
With Brees gone, WR Michael Thomas and RB Alvin Kamara will need to carry the offense. We saw a little bit of what the Saints will look like with Taysom Hill starting as he started four games last year and went 3-1 threw for 233, 78, 232, and 291 yards. He had a total of four touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Brees and Hill led New Orleans with the 4th best offense, 5th in points, 12th yards, 19th passing yards, 11th passing touchdowns, 6th rushing yards, and 1st rushing touchdowns. It wasn’t only the offense that led the Saints to a 12-4 record, but their defense was great. They finished with the 6th overall defense, 5th points allowed, 4th yards allowed, 5th passing yards allowed, 16th passing touchdowns allowed, and 2nd rushing touchdowns allowed.
The Giants, Football Team, Titans, and Dolphins are all young teams on the rise, and that’s four games that the Saints will need to win to get over 9 wins. New Orleans won’t be favored against the Packers, Seahawks, Bucs, Titans, and Bills. They will need some great upsets against those teams for a chance to win the division. I don’t know how much I believe in Taysom Hill, and I know for a fact that I don’t believe in Jameis Winston. Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas will have to carry this team, and I don’t know how effective a running back can be at carrying a team in 2021. That’s why I’m not betting on them to win the division, and I’ll be bet the under in wins.
It was only four years ago when the Falcons choked away a 25 point lead in the Super Bowl versus the Patriots. Since that loss, it has been a rollercoaster that has gone off the rails and has been heading straight down a cliff. After that loss, Kyle Shanahan fled to San Francisco and became the head coach for the 49ers. Since then, the Falcons’ offense never looked the same, and their defense hasn’t been great either. Will this be the year that Matt Ryan and the offense turn things around? Or will it be another season of heartbreak, and maybe even trade their former MVP away?
Last year, the Falcons went 4-12 and finished dead last in the NFC South. In most of those losses, the Falcons had an excellent chance of winning those games and instead let them slip away. Atlanta lost seven games by five or fewer points. They win those games, and they finish 11-6, which is an entirely different season. They would’ve tied with the Bucs for the 2nd best record in the NFC South. Maybe if that happens, Julio Jones doesn’t request a trade, and this Falcons team would have much better odds to win the division.
Julio Jones isn’t the only player they lost in free agency. RB Todd Gurley and RB Ito Smith are also gone. They did add S Erik Harris and RB Mike Davis. Davis took over the starting running back position for the Panthers last year when Christian McCaffrey went out with injuries. He wasn’t McCaffrey, but he did play great, putting up a total of 1,015 yards from scrimmage, 8 total touchdowns, and only 1 fumble. Atlanta drafted TE Kyle Pitts, S Richie Grant, and OT Jalen Mayfield. At the end of last year, rumors were flying around that Matt Ryan would be traded; one of the teams brought up constantly was the Chicago Bears. Da Bears traded up and drafted Justin Fields instead, so it looks like that team is no longer in the Ryan sweepstakes. It also makes no sense for the Falcons to trade Matt Ryan yet anyway. Not because of football reasons, but because of money. If the Falcons traded Ryan before June 1st, they would’ve had to carry $44.4 million in dead money. Since they waited, they will now save $23 million.
Last year, the Falcons had the 8th best offense, 16th points, 18th yards, 5th passing yards, 13th passing touchdowns, and 27th rushing yards. Those passing stats will be greatly affected with Julio Jones no longer on the team. Even though he only played 9 games last year in 2019, Julio had 1,394 yards, 6 touchdowns, a 63.1 catching percentage, and 92.9 yards per game. Hopefully, the addition of Mike Davis will help their dismal running game. The defensive side of the ball is where the Falcons really fell short. They had the 23rd overall defense, 29th yards allowed, 32nd passing yards, and 13th rushing touchdowns allowed.
The Falcons were gift-wrapped games against the Eagles, Jets, Jaguars, and Lions. That’s four easy wins, and maybe they sneak in a couple of wins against their NFC South rivals, and that brings you close to eight wins. I don’t think they will have such bad luck with closing games again this year, and even though I’m not taking them to win the division, I will take over 7.5 wins.
Remember when the Panthers were great and competing for Super Bowls? That feels like a lifetime ago. They won the NFC South in 2015, 2014, and 2013. Carolina has had three straight losing seasons and has gone 17-31 since 2018. The Teddy Bridgewater experience is over in Carolina, and Sam Darnold is getting the chance to restart his career in Carolina. Will Sam Darnold be the star quarterback he was thought to be, or will the woes for the Panthers continue?
Last year, Carolina finished 5-11, and they were riddled with injuries the entire season. Christian McCaffery only played three games, and they were missing his 2,392 yards from scrimmage and 19 total touchdowns. Not only will the Panthers get a healthy McCaffery back this year, but they also added WR David Moore and LB Denzel Perryman. They drafted CB Jaycee Horn, WR Terrace Marshall JR, and OT Brady Christensen. They lost RB Mike Davis and WR Curtis Samuel.
The Panthers finished the season in the bottom of the league on both offense and defense. They had the 21st ranked offense, 24th points, 21st yards, 18th pass yards, 28th passing touchdowns, and 21st rushing yards. Their defense was somehow worse, finishing as the 26th ranked defense, 18th points allowed, 18th yards allowed, 18th passing yards allowed, and 20th rushing yards allowed.
Truthfully, I only see two games where the Panthers will be the favorite, and that is against the Jets and Texans. Other than that, Carolina will be the underdog in the rest of those games. The public and I both agree that the Panthers won’t win eight games this year, and I’m obviously not taking them to win the division.