Get updated with what’s happening around the divisions, and take advantage of early NFL betting odds with our series of division predictions. This time, we look at the NFL teams in the NFC South, where the previous season’s champion and Super Bowl winner appears to be in better shape than their division rivals.
Odds to Win Division: +900
Veteran quarterback Matt Ryan must feel like he’s on the outside looking in. Entering his 14th season, he’ll be doing so with a new coaching staff that’s led to questions as to whether he’ll be under center come September.
The Atlanta Falcons, of course, ended the Dan Quinn era after Week 5 last season. The flaming husk of what was once a professional football team was handed over to Raheem Morris, named interim head coach with the hope of establishing himself permanently in the position. He managed a 4-2 to start but capped off the season on a five-game losing skid.
That left Atlanta well under the expectation of their NFL betting season win total of 7½ — they cashed the under in Week 14 — and never made the playoffs for the chance to cash their +5000 Super Bowl odds. That led to Morris’ dismissal and the hiring of Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator Arthur Smith as their new head coach. He brings with him the Titans’ defensive coordinator Dean Pees to serve in the same role. They replaced the former offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, with Chicago Bears’ assistant Dave Ragone.
The new coaching staff assumes a roster that’s handcuffed by salary-cap restrictions which causes some serious concerns about which of their 26 free agents will be wearing Falcons’ jerseys next year. Atlanta sits fourth from last in regard to cap space, current at about $23-million in the red.
Football-business pundits suggest Matt Ryan will be starting, in no small part because cutting him would leave them with a dead-money anchor they simply couldn’t manage. Their largest roster concerns focus on safety Keanu Neal and center Alex Mack (and about a dozen others). The expectation is running back Todd Gurley’s production dropoff will lead to his dismissal.
They’ll still need help at running back, not to mention wide receiver and tight end. On defense, their need for cornerback is arguably greater, not to mention safety, linebacker, and defensive end. Some of that might come from their position in the draft.
Their fourth overall selection might allow them some flexibility, like trading down and getting the running back they need. They also have picks in the first six rounds.
So, never say never, but the Falcons are still working through the fallout that started four months ago when president Rich McKay pushed the big, red “Franchise Reset” button. It’s not impossible to imagine a longshot scenario where the Falcons are the comeback team of 2021 winning the NFC South, but less imaginable that happens once in ten iterations. That makes the longshot waiver of +900 only of value if they make a large roster move before the odds change.
Early 2021 NFC South Betting Prediction W-L: 6-10
Odds to Win Division: +775
Another team with vast uncertainty at the quarterback position despite having a named starter, the Carolina Panthers return quarterback Teddy Bridgewater about whom no one seems confident. Mind you, there’s almost nowhere to go but up, as expectations set by NFL betting odds for the team last season had them at 5½ wins.
They failed to reach the over even on that total with a 5-11 finish but will be bringing Matt Rhule’s coaching staff back intact for their sophomore year — which leads back to questions about how they can hope to improve without replacing Bridgewater.
Christian McCaffrey is being fitted with bionic parts in the offseason, excited to return for a bounce-back year. He played only three games last season, so a full helping of CBC would help mitigate another season with Teddy.
Carolina has a reasonable amount of money under the salary-cap restriction in which to make some moves. Their $27.5-million mark under the cap ranks 11th among the teams.
One unrestricted free agent who helped himself to a chunk of that money this year was wideout Curtis Samuel. But, among the 30 players up for contract consideration in Carolina, they’ll be needing to re-sign practically their entire offensive line, including tackles Russell Okung and Taylor Morton. Add to their money list, defensive tackle Kawann Short, and the money should go quickly enough.
It’s too early to project what they might do in the draft, but they are in an advantageous position of selecting eighth overall and have picks in each of the first six rounds. Whether or not they trade up for a quarterback remains to be seen, but defensive needs, particularly cornerback, would seem to be their top requirement. Expect them to fill needs at linebacker and defensive tackle, as well as their offensive line.
Presuming Bridgewater plays out the season, it’s reasonable to think they’ll improve on last year’s results but that’s a far cry from taking the division crown. If they make some dramatic move in the coming weeks, taking a +775 waiver wouldn’t be a bad bet before a subsequent line move — were they to acquire a quarterback, for instance.
Early 2021 NFC South Betting Prediction W-L: 7-9
New Orleans Saints
Odds to Win Division: +175
No other team bought in harder to win it all in 2020 than the Saints. They had top-shelf expectations. The New Orleans Saints were projected for a season-win total of 10½ games. They boasted slender 10-to-1 odds to hoist the Lombardi trophy. New Orleans cleared the over in season wins with their 12-4 record, but they didn’t get that last one.
Now they’re burdened with a division’s worth of salary-cap issues. Like, if the Philadelphia Eagles’ and Los Angeles Rams’ salary-cap issues got together and gave birth to a horrible money-hemorrhaging nightmare — that’s the Saints’ salary cap position.
For that reason alone, the current wisdom holds that the Saints will have little choice but to roll with Taysom Hill at quarterback. They’ll also likely sign Jameis Winston, as he’s an unrestricted free agent, and perform the ritual of competing quarterbacks.
The team that will surround Hill in 2021 will look remarkably different than the one whose season just ended in the divisional round to the Buccaneers. They only have a couple of dozen free agents, a relatively low number. However, the situation is so strapped there’s speculative consideration of not being able to pay someone like wide receiver Michael Thomas.
The reality will likely not involve losing Thomas, pending how he looks after offseason surgery, but the team will have to jettison a number of players like tight end Jared Cook, defensive end Trey Hendrickson, guard Nick Easton, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, free safety Marcus Williams, Alex Anzalone — and the extensive list goes on.
Even assuming they could somehow keep their current roster intact, they still present shortcomings at a number of positions. That’s mostly defensive. In fact, the case could be made New Orleans needs an upgrade at pretty much each position on the defensive side of the ball.
They’ll be challenged to fill most of those needs in the draft, as they pick 28th overall bearing selections in only the first four rounds.
With the usual caveat of how early it is in the season, odds of +175 on the Saints seem highly overpriced. If there was a way to bet against this number, you’d want to do that instead. As already mentioned, this would be why it would be worth taking a stab at the earlier teams. But only if they make a drastic move to improve at quarterback.
Early 2021 NFC South Betting Prediction W-L: 6-10
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Odds to Win Division: -150
Don’t break up the band! The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did exceed the 9½ wins marked as their season win total. They are on their way to being the chosen ones who cashed short Super-Bowl winning odds of +1000. Higher odds were available just before their bye week, when they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs. That was when they dropped to a 7-5 record.
But for a team who shipped it all, they’re not in a highly disadvantageous position to compete again in 2021. They rank tenth best in the league in relation to free salary-cap space. That is with a current number of about $28-million available.
That said, there are a number of unrestricted free-agent mouths to feed. Among them are lead outside linebackers Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David, defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Steve McLendon. On offense, the Bucs will have to negotiate with running back Leonard Fournette and wide receiver Chris Godwin. Both of whom are not locks to return. There are a couple of other high-profile one-year signings. Tight end Rob Gronkowski and wideout Antonio Brown, have both expressed interest in returning.
It should also be pointed out that tight end O.J. Howard will return from injured reserve from a torn Achilles’ with the hope that he’ll look like the same player when he left.
During the free-agency shakeup, Tampa Bay should still address needs on offense at wide receiver and running back. On defense, they could use an extra body at defensive end and tackle. While they do pick dead last in the draft, they possess a pick in all seven rounds.
The Buccaneers positioned to make a viable run at a second title. The competition in the division are all struggling to rebuild. It makes sense for Tampa Bay to be the odds-on favorite to win the division. The price is far too steep to want to invest in a result. It requires better than a 60% occurrence in order to cash, ten months in the future. Given the current situation, they are likely closer to a little better to win half the time in a division full of competition in rebuilding phases.
Early 2021 NFC South Betting Prediction W-L: 11-5
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