The defending NFC South champion Carolina Panthers enter the 2016-2017 season as prohibitive favorites to repeat. According to NFL betting odds at Bodog, the other three NFC South teams are all equally valued in regards to future odds, and even then they’re a distant second in comparison to Carolina.
• Carolina Panthers -240
• Atlanta Falcons +650
• New Orleans Saints +650
• Tampa Bay Buccaneers +650
2015-2016 Division Review
The Carolina Panthers were the only playoff team to come from this division a season ago. Nevertheless, they did so in grand style, losing only one regular season game, and hammering Arizona 49-15 in the conference championship game. In doing so, they made just their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. Unfortunately, they came up short in their bid for its first ever world championship, and lost to the Denver Broncos by a score of 24-10.
The NFC South featured the top two NFL teams in offensive 3rd down efficiency. New Orleans was the best in football in that regard, converting on 47.7% of their 3rd down attempts. Next in line came Atlanta at 47.0%. It’s no coincidence that each team possesses quality veteran quarterbacks named Drew Brees (Saints) and Matt Ryan (Falcons). Both signal callers return for this upcoming season, and are primed for more prolific passing performances
You may be surprised to know, Tampa Bay finished last season 5th in both rushing (135.1 YPG) and total offense (375.9 YPG). Those numbers were spearheaded by quarterback Jameis Winston and running back Doug Martin. Winston had a terrific rookie campaign, throwing for 4042 yards, tossing 22 touchdowns passes, and running for six scores as well. All Martin did was rush for 1402 yards, and that was second best in the entire NFL.
On the defensive side of the ball, Carolina’s stop unit was one the finest in football. The Panthers finished 6th in both scoring (19.2 PPG) and total defense (322.9 YPG). Carolina also forced a NFL best 30 turnovers. When you couple that data, and their #1 scoring offense (31.2 PPG), it’s easy to see why they had so much success.
2016-2017 NFC South Outlook
It would be extremely difficult to make a case against Carolina repeating as division champions. That being said, I’m not going to waste time in an attempt to do so. Nonetheless, you won’t catch me ever wagering on a futures chalk of -240, let alone before a season has even begun. A more logical and saner option is their world championship futures odds. According to current NFL odds at Odds Shark, Carolina is anywhere from +750 to +1021 to be Super Bowl champions.
If you’re looking for a sleeper, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be my choice. Based on last year’s performance, the Buccaneers will have no trouble moving the ball. I fully expect Jameis Winston to improve upon his 15 interceptions from a year ago, and in turn the Buccaneers offense will score more frequently. The wild card for Tampa Bay is their defense. The Buccaneers actually ranked 10th in the NFL last year by allowing a very respectable 340.4 yards per game. Furthermore, they signed unrestricted free agent defensive end Robert Ayers. The former New York Giant recorded a career best 9.5 sacks last season. Additionally, they chose Noah Spence (DE) in the 2nd round, and Vernon Hargreaves (CB) with their top pick during the 2016 NFL draft.
Atlanta and New Orleans will both be entertaining to watch. Each team possesses an impressive group of offensive players at the skilled positions. However, neither defense is a playoff caliber unit. New Orleans finished last season dead last allowing 29.8 points per game, and next to the bottom in total defense at 413.4 yards per game. When assessing their defensive depth chart, there’s very little reason to believe the Saints defense fortunes will improve much, let alone in a dramatic fashion. Atlanta’s pass rush was non-existent a season ago, evidenced by a NFL low 19 sacks. They did sign veteran edge rusher Dwight Freeney this past offseason. Nonetheless, Freeney is in the twilight of his career, and no longer the dominant pass rusher he once was.