Continuing our 2017 betting preview of the NFL divisions (which already covered the NFC West and NFC North), today we’re focusing on the Super Bowl runners-up and their trio of rivals in the NFC South. Between the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers, the South is actually home to the last two Super Bowl losers. Before the South can disappoint on the biggest stage for a third straight year, it will first have to sort out its own hierarchy. Will Atlanta suffer a Super Bowl hangover? Will the Panthers finally shed their own from 2016? Or will the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or New Orleans Saints reign supreme in what should be a highly competitive division?
You can wager on divisional futures at most of the top online casinos, and the chances of hitting a winner are a lot better than with Super Bowl futures. But you still have to do your research, and that starts right here!
The Falcons went to the Super Bowl last year and, if you ignore what happened in the last 20 odd minutes of that game, there’s a lot to like as they head into 2017. Their biggest off-season loss was offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, meaning that one of the top-ten offenses in league history basically returns intact, minus fullback Patrick DiMarco. In theory, there will be a good deal of continuity and solid potential for another explosive year.
In practice, Shanahan may have been the most valuable play-caller in the league, and getting back to the championship is extremely tough at the best of times, just ask Carolina. If the offense suffers modest regressions, which is likely, the defense will need to step up. The good news is that it could easily do so. Though the Falcons gave up over 25 points per game last year, the return of a healthy Desmond Trufant at corner, and the addition of linemen Dontari Poe, Jack Crawford, and Takkarist McKinley should be significant.
If new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian finds a rhythm quickly, and the hangover doesn’t last too long, the Falcons certainly have the talent to go back to the Super Bowl.
If everything went right for the Panthers two years ago (which it almost did), last season was one to forget. The Panthers followed-up their 15-1 regular season and Super Bowl 50 appearance by starting 1-5 and jogging to a 10-loss campaign. The emphasis of the off-season was getting help for Cam Newton, who suffered 36 sacks in 2016, many of the bone-crushing variety, and needed surgery on his rotator cuff.
Mission (arguably) accomplished: their first-round pick, RB Christian McCaffrey, is as good a receiver as he is a runner; second-round wideout Curtis Samuel brings much-needed speed to the receiving corps; and fellow second-rounder Taylor Morton will help shore up Cam’s protection. They made a few significant moves on defense, too, with the return of old friend Julius Peppers and signing of DBs Captain Munnerlyn and Mike Adams.
The recent firing of GM Dave Gettleman doesn’t bode well for the future. It shouldn’t affect the Panthers this year, though, and this team could be a lot more like the 2015 version than 2016.
Jon Gruden led the Buccaneers to a division title in 2007. Four coaches later, the Bucs are still searching for their next crown. Dirk Koetter enters his second season at the help after a 9-7 rookie campaign (Tampa’s best since 2010). The Bucs beat Carolina twice last season, and split with Atlanta and New Orleans. They lost virtually nothing in the off-season, and added plenty of skill for quarterback Jameis Winston to utilize, signing veteran wideout DeSean Jackson, and then drafting tight end O.J. Howard in the first round and wide receiver Chris Godwin in the third. A defense that was about average last year should be aided by second-rounder Justin Evans, who can start at safety right away. Tampa might still be a year away, but if Atlanta comes back to earth and the Bucs’ young nucleus gels quickly, they’ll be a factor in 2017.
The Saints have finished 7-9 in three straight seasons, and last won the division in 2011. Sean Payton had a busy off-season: wide receiver Brandin Cooks and safety Jairus Byrd departe. A glut of new talent was brought in, but the skill-position additions come with question marks (see butter-fingered speedster Tedd Ginn Jr. and historically-great-but-seriously-old Adrian Peterson). The offensive line additions, Larry Warford and Ryan Ramczyk, look more dependable, and they’ll have to be with Pro Bowler Terron Armstead already lost for the season.
The loss of Cooks and the injury to Armstead notwithstanding, the concerns for New Orleans come on the defensive side, where they have been near the bottom of the league in [INSERT BASICALLY ANY CATEGORY] for much of Payton’s tenure. The signing of linebackers A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o are reasonable depth moves, while the addition of CBs Marshon Lattimore (11th overall) and Marcus Williams (42nd overall) will help a porous secondary. The new defenders need to make a dramatic impact for that unit to be good enough to challenge for the division title.
If the Falcons get off to a slow start after their unforgettably bad Super Bowl loss, then the division is up for grabs, and there is a pretty good argument for all three of their challengers. On the other hand, if Atlanta heads into its bye week at 3-1 or better, they will be in good shape and over any potential hangover. The schedule sets up well for the reigning champs to start strong, facing Chicago, Green Bay, Detroit, and Buffalo in their first four. Their first division game isn’t until Week 9 at Carolina. Given that they have the best roster, roughly 3/2 is solid value for Atlanta.
Photo Credit: By Georgia National Guard (Flickr: Playoff Pass) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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