For anyone keeping score, the New Orleans Saints have dominated the NFC South for the past three seasons winning the division crown in each. With Carolina in the midst of a coaching change, Atlanta rebuilding, and Tampa Bay not having won a division title since 2007; No. 4 for New Orleans seemed like a lock.
Until Tom Brady landed in Tampa.
Yes, the former New England star that led the Patriots to six Super Bowl titles left the Beantown area and headed south in free agency. Almost immediately, the Buccaneers’ odds to win the division, NFC, and Super Bowl improved dramatically. First, Tampa Bay will have to get past the Saints.
It’s no surprise the Saints are a -120 favorite to win a fourth consecutive NFC South Division championship. New Orleans has an aging stud of a quarterback itself in NFL career passing yards leader Drew Brees. The rest of the offense is in pretty good shape as well.
Wide receiver Michael Thomas set an NFL record with 149 receptions last season. Running back Alvin Kamara is one of the most dynamic in the league and excels as both a runner and a pass-catcher.
Tampa Bay’s offense compares closely to the Saints. Now with Brady under center, the Bucs, like New Orleans, have a future Hall of Famer running the offense. Last year, Jameis Winston threw a league-high 30 interceptions. In the last four NFL seasons, Brady has thrown 29.
Brady is surrounded by some serious talent. Wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin each had over 1,000 yards receiving in 2019, and don’t forget the Bucs added Brady’s former teammate in New England TE Rob Gronkowski. Running back Ronald Jones is continuing to grow and head coach Bruce Arians added some more weapons via the draft.
The difference, of course, is defense. The Saints have gone 13-3 the last two seasons because they have improved defensively. The Bucs were outstanding against the run last year leading the NFL in rushing defense. If they can improve their pass defense (bottom five in the league), then the Bucs become a very enticing bet at +120.
Even More Enticing
With risk, there is reward. Lost in the NFC South shuffle is the Atlanta Falcons, who not long ago held a 28-3 second-half lead in the Super Bowl. Since, Atlanta has struggled through mediocrity, but there is hope in 2020.
The Falcons picked up former NFL Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley in free agency. They also traded for TE Hayden Hurst and they still have one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL in Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Quarterback Matt Ryan is a former league MVP.
Atlanta also added defensive end Dante Fowler who had 11.5 sacks last season with the Rams. It’s also worth mentioning Atlanta went 6-2 in its last eight games last season. That included a comeback win over NFC champion San Francisco. All of that plus the Falcons’ third-place schedule make a swing on Atlanta at +750 worth taking.
What is not enticing is Carolina at as high as +2000 to win the division. Yes, Christian McCaffrey is the most complete running back in the league. He became just the third player in NFL history to rush for over 1,000 yards and accumulate 1,000 yards receiving in the same season.
Sorry, but that just won’t be enough to overcome the losses of QB Cam Newton (free agency) and LB Luke Kuechly (retirement). Teddy Bridgewater was signed from New Orleans to come in and take over for Newton, but the defense is in trouble.
The Panthers gave up a league-high 31 rushing touchdowns last season. They ranked 28th in rushing yards allowed which is why Carolina’s first two draft picks – DT Derrick Brown and DE Yetur Gross-Matos – addressed the defensive line. There is hope for the Panthers, just not in 2020.