NFC South; can anyone stop Brady and the Bucs?

Based on win totals from 5 UK-based bookies, best prices from Oddschecker.com

Last season the Buccaneers followed up their Super Bowl win from 2020 with a first divisional title in 15 years, finishing above the Saints who had won the previous four. The Saints narrowly missed out on a Wild Card berth in their first season without Drew Brees, meanwhile Atlanta and Carolina were both left propping up the division and outside the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. 

All four teams in the NFC South have either a new head coach or new starting quarterback (or both) heading into 2022. But with Tom Brady returning for the Bucs, it comes as no surprise that they are odds on favourites to win the division again. The 2/5 price might be enough to put bettors off following a fairly turbulent off-season and I would be the same but you can’t argue with the favourites tag. 

The Saints will hope that an improved offense and a healthy QB will give them enough to challenge the Bucs for the division and a playoff spot should be the bare minimum. For the Panthers it will be about seeing whether coach Matt Rhule gets enough out of the roster to still be there in 2023 and the Falcons are in a full rebuild following Matt Ryan’s departure. 

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons managed to scrape together seven wins last season and it wasn’t until week 17 that they were actually eliminated from playoff contention. That seems pretty remarkable when looking at their roster heading into this year. Matt Ryan has moved onto the Colts and if we’re honest he probably had a lot to do with elevating them to a 7-10 record. Marcus Mariota was signed to replace him with Desmond Ridder also being drafted in the third round. The only guarantee is that Mariota will start in week one because the Falcons are surely going to want to see what they have in Ridder before the 2023 draft in which they will likely have a top five pick. 

They do have some exciting pieces on offense with tight end Kyle Pitts and first round receiver Drake London plus the surprise package from last season, Cordarelle Patterson. At the very least they should provide some entertainment and fantasy value, particularly when you consider they are going to be chasing a lot of games. In a couple of years if either Ridder has proven himself as an NFL level starter or if the Falcons take a top QB in the 2023 draft, this has the makings of a very good offense. 

However on the other side of the ball, only two teams (the Lions and Jets) allowed more points than the Falcons last season. AJ Terrell looks to be a star for the future but regression from Grady Jarrett and Deion Jones have contributed to this unit being one of the worst in the league only a few years after being among the best during that 2016 Super Bowl run. They did spend a couple of second round picks upgrading the front seven but they will need instant production to prevent it from being a long season for Atlanta fans. 

The win line is either 4.5 or 5 and given the unkind schedule (ninth hardest) that sounds about right. I expect the Falcons to finish comfortably at the bottom of this division and to picking in the top five next year. 

While there aren’t many player props for us to consider, one pops out for me. Kyle Pitts had one of the all time rookie seasons for a tight end and yet somehow only came away with one touchdown. That is a mark he surely exceeds this season and his line is set at 4.5. I can’t see how he doesn’t come away with at least five this time out so I will definitely be taking the over at 8/11 with Paddy Power. 

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers endured a third straight season with just five wins, two of those years being under current head coach Matt Rhule. I think anything less than a playoff berth and this will be Rhule’s third and final year with the team. He enters the year with a different starting quarterback again after trading for Baker Mayfield, although it was tedious to hear all off-season that Darnold still had a chance at retaining the job. A relatively easy start to last season saw Carolina jump out to a 3-0 start with Darnold leading the league with five, yes five rushing touchdowns. It didn’t take long for things to unravel and after falling to 5-5 they lost their final seven games, which included a Cam Newton experiment following Darnold injuring his shoulder and missing time. 

I think there are some reasons to be optimistic about the Panthers going forward though, starting with Mayfield surely being an upgrade on what they have had at QB the last few years. DJ Moore leads the receiving room and is coming off three straight 1,000 yard seasons. If he can strike up a fruitful relationship with Mayfield and get in the end zone a bit more he won’t be far away from being considered a top ten player at the position. And it goes without saying that when healthy Christian McCaffrey is one of most exciting players to watch in the league. 

If they can put it all together and make some strides in their solid, young defense then there is a slim chance of a spot in the NFC playoffs. There are too many ifs for me to bet on that though, and the win line is 6.5 for a good reason. My guess would be they hit around seven wins, so while I would lean the over I wouldn’t take the bet. 

I hinted earlier about DJ Moore being one to look out for and I like the over on 4.5 touchdowns for him this year. He has had four in each of the last three seasons with mediocre quarterback play and while I don’t think Mayfield is the answer he has shown that he can hit 20 a year and I like Moore to get at least a quarter of those. You have to go to Bet365 for the 4.5 line as it looks to be 5.5 most other places, odds are 5/7

In two full, healthy seasons as the starter McCaffrey has averaged almost 2,200 yards from scrimmage and this year has a line of 1,600.5. Given his injury history the under on this is tempting but unless we see a fall in his workload or efficiency he could realistically hit that line in 12 games, which is enough to put me off. 

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints

2021 was the Saints’ first season without Drew Brees for 16 years and 2022 will be the first without head coach Sean Payton in that same timespan. Former Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen has taken the reigns and Payton has left him a team that looks in good shape. Jameis Winston was the starter last year and took surprisingly good care of the football getting off to a 5-2 start before tearing his ACL in week 8 against the Bucs. Five straight losses followed before a recovery saw the Saints finish 9-8 and only miss out on the playoffs due to the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Eagles. 

There are still questions marks over whether Michael Thomas (if he actually plays) is going to be anywhere near the level he was in his previous full season in 2019 but rookie Chris Olave and Jarvis Landry still represent massive upgrades over last year’s receiving options. Marquez Callaway was a preseason favourite but only managed to catch 55% of his team-leading 84 targets. Alvin Kamara is facing a suspension for a Vegas bar fight but all indications are that it is more likely to come next season so should not be a concern for now. 

The defense is in the top five in the NFL and was one of only four teams to give up under 20 points per game last season. Combined with what should be a better offense than last year, this looks to be one of the most balanced rosters in the league and as long as they can get steady production out of Winston should be in and around the playoff spots. If you fancy a punt the 7/2 odds for them to win the division is definitely not bad considering a favourable schedule. 

Because of the potential suspension to Kamara and unknowns over Michael Thomas there is not too much in the way of player props to be looking at here. Chris Olave is 7/1 to be the rookie receiving yard leader with Paddy Power which looks to be good odds as he is the 5/1 favourite elsewhere. Other than that we would only really be looking at Winston’s passing line which is 3,650.5 with PP or 3,750.5 with SkyBet. I would lean the under based on how the offense looked last season but with a new head coach and some unknowns it’s probably not worth it. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There has been a lot going on in Tampa Bay over the last two or three years and this off-season was no different. As well as Brady’s retirement and un-retirement, head coach Bruce Arians retired (for a second time) with Todd Bowles taking the job. There was the news that Brady almost joined the Dolphins on various occasions and then he missed a week or two of practice sparking all sorts of weird and wonderful rumours. Anyway the important information is that Brady is back with the team and will be playing NFL football at 45 years old. 

With Brady still around the Bucs once again have one of the best rosters in the league and the bookies have only the Bills ahead of them in the Super Bowl betting. Notable new signings include Russell Gage and Julio Jones coming in to replace Antonio Brown and cover for Chris Godwin as he recovers from his ACL injury. Akiem Hicks is also a solid addition to a defensive line that already includes Vita Vea and he should contribute to this being one of the best defenses in football again. 

The only area there are question marks over on this roster is on the offensive line following a training camp injury to centre Ryan Jensen and the departures of two other starters. The reality is that while this is no longer one of the best (if not the best) offensive lines in the league as it was last year, the issues have probably been exaggerated somewhat. Yes, Tom Brady historically struggles when pressured down the middle but if history has taught us anything, it’s that you always lose if you bet against him. 

I still think the Bucs win the division and have an easy enough schedule to be fighting for top seed in the NFC. But at 2/5 to win the NFC South I think I would be putting my money elsewhere. 

Brady is among the favourites to win the MVP at 9/1 which might not be a bad shout if he is able get close to his league leading 43 touchdowns and 5,300 yards from last season. His line is down at 4,500.5 on Paddy Power if you fancy him exceeding that and his touchdown line is either 35.5 or 36.5. I think we do see his numbers drop a bit but we know better than to bet against him by now. 

Leonard Fournette led the team in rushing last season but only had 812 yards to go along with his eight touchdowns. Rookie Rachaad White might take some of the workload as the season wears on this time around and so I think I will steer clear of Lenny’s 750.5 or 800.5 rushing line. His rushing touchdown line is down to 7.5 but again I think I would avoid. 

Mike Evans was a touchdown machine in 2021, catching 14 to go along with just over 1,000 yards. With a line of 10.5 this year I think I would lean under which you can get for evens at Bet365. This may be a slightly risky bet with the loss of Gronk as end zone target but I feel like they will be spread around a bit more with Julio and Gage on the roster this year. 

What should we be betting on?

Although I don’t think the Saints have enough to get the division back from the Bucs, they are definitely the best value at 7/2. They have won seven straight against Tampa and if they can keep that going in week two we could see the Bucs start slowly before figuring it out at the right time as they did in 2020. 

The Saints are also 13/8 with SkyBet to make the playoffs which looks a good price, so you can take your pick of those two.

Saints/Bucs to finish as the top two in any order is 4/9 (SkyBet) and I really can’t see anything other than that happening so it should be a safe bet. 

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