This is one of the hardest divisions to call, the team has supplied a Superbowl loser in the last 2 years, and I would say there’s a good chance that they could do the same this year. I wouldn’t be shocked to see them providing a wildcard slot as well, although the competition within the division could restrict wins to 10 at most.
I have the Buccs (4/1) to win it, they are the trendy pick and I’ve said elsewhere I probably need to cool my jets on them and look at it a little more balanced! But they were within a game or two of making the playoffs last year and have improved their offence. The defence was pretty darn good last year anyway, so if they can overcome the OL problems then, like the Bengals they could make some waves in their division. Having a burner in D Jax opposite Mike Evans should help open up the offence and free him up a little, he was one of the best in contested catches last year, mainly because that was pretty much every catch. OJ Howard was regarded as the best TE in the class so he’ll help out blocking for the returning Muscle Hamster, Doug Martin is due for his good year if he follows form, he has an up year, down year, up year… so we’ll see! McNichols and Godwin were good rookies to add to the offence as well.
Will the Falcons (9/5) be able to overcome their capitulation in the Superbowl? Well… more importantly will they be as dangerous without Kyle Shanahan there calling the plays? I think he’s a big loss for them, the playbook won’t change a whole lot, but the choice of plays might not be as effective. Player-wise they haven’t lost much, and gained a few good rookies in the draft adding more youth to a youthful defensive group who looked great last year. Devonta Freeman signed the biggest contract for an RB (until Lev bell signs) this week and is a key cog for them, he and Coleman were a cracking tandem last year. We all know about Julio Jones, he’s probably the best WR in the league talent wise, hopefully for him he will be able to stay away from niggling little injuries that slowed him down a little last year. Sanu should do well in his second year in the offence, then you’ve got scat players like Taylor Gabriel mixing it up with set plays for him. However, I think the Shanahan move will hit this team more than others seem to think. Also they had a lot of luck last year, everything fell right for them, keeping their OL together week in, week out was a huge boost, only they and the Pats had the same OL for over 90% of their games last year. They both made the Superbowl.
The Saints (6/1) could be anything if they can snap their 7-9 streak. They need to improve on defence, but that’s not exactly Sean Paytons area of expertise and he’s not bothered about it for the last few years despite everyone seemingly knowing that it needs to improve there. On offence they obviously signed AP in free agency, will he be able to do it still? He’s been good in training camp apparently. Ingram is a very good running back and the offensive line they’ve got is very helpful with the run game, although they seemingly don’t ever seem to want Ingram to succeed so it’ll be interesting to see the mix in the backfield. Alvin Kamara was a good pick (despite the fact they should have taken defence) and adds even more depth at RB. The WR department took a hit losing Brandin Cooks, but Michael Thomas proved in his rookie year to be a favourite target for Brees, it will be interesting to see how he copes now he’s known and they have less to distract defences this coming season. Oh, and while I think they will try and emphasise the running game, I still think Brees will be 4,700+ yards. He loves to chuck that rock, especially in the dome.
Will the Panthers (5/2) bounce back from last year? I think this is the hardest team to call. The draft picks show that they want to change the way they play, but will Cam Newton be able to do that? They had the lowest RB targets in the league last year, and his accuracy was way off, it looks like that could have been due to the shoulder injury that’s keeping him out of games as the moment, but it’s difficult to change your natural instinct and not run with the ball. I would hope the smash that he got while trying to showboat into the endzone like a twat last year would have made him realise that he maybe shouldn’t be running as much! Christian McCaffrey is just great to watch though so i’m hoping he can be an integral part of the offence. He was their top pick, Curtis Samuel is CMcC light offering a similar skillset, and they still have Jonathon Stewart there as a more typical RB. The passing game will rely on Cam, and probably Kelvin Benjamin proving himself after a poor year. Greg Olsen will probably get his 1,000 or so yards in the middle of the field. Their defence could be adequate, they had a lot of rookies in there last year who didn’t excel, but a year of experience will help them out.
I have taken the Buccs to win it, and I’ve got a bet or two on them winning the Superbowl as well, so it’s safe to say I’m keen on them this year. I am however pretty shocked to see 6/1 about on the Saints, that’s huge odds in a very open division.