It was a down year for the NFC South in 2019, with the notable exception of the New Orleans Saints. The Saints were one of the top squads in the league for the entire year and took down the division with ease. The other three clubs in the division failed to reach the .500 mark.
Heading into 2019, the Saints are big favorites to win the division once again. Is that a fair assessment of the state of the NFC South? Do any of the other squads look poised to take a leap in the coming year?
Let’s take a closer look at the four teams in the division and find out.
*Betting odds provided by MyBookie.ag
Atlanta Falcons 2019 Division Title Odds (+375)
2018 Record: 7-9 | Standings: 2-NFC South | Playoffs: N/A
The Falcons were expected to contend for a division crown or at least be in the mix for a playoff berth in 2019. Neither of those things came to pass. The club started off the year with a mark of 1-4 and was never able to fully recover.
Some life was shown when the team ripped off a three-game winning streak to even the record at 4-4, but the team would follow that up with a dreadful five-game losing streak. Atlanta closed out the year with three straight wins, but it was too little, too late.
Dan Quinn will be back on the sidelines, but he could find his seat getting warm if the team has another poor start. He’ll oversee the defense too with Bob Sutton on board as a special assistant. Dirk Koetter has been hired to run the offense.
The team focused on its biggest needs, which were bolstering the defense and offensive line. The offense remained prolific last year with Matt Ryan behind center, and we can expect more of the same this year.
Ryan has plenty of weapons at his disposal, led by Julio Jones. Calvin Ridley looks like a bona fide threat as well, while Austin Hooper and Devonta Freeman will help move the chains too. The defense was a clear trouble spot last year, as the club finished 26th in the league for average points allowed per contest.
Looking ahead to this year, oddsmakers have set the bar at nine regular-season wins. That would probably not be enough for the division, but it could keep the team in the playoff hunt. Regardless, the Falcons need to show improvement on the defensive side of the ball for 2019 plans to come to fruition.
We’ll take a wait and see approach.
Carolina Panthers 2019 Division Title Odds (+550)
2018 Record: 7-9 | Standings: 3-NFC South | Playoffs: N/A
Halfway through the 2018 season, the Panthers were looking like a squad which would have a lot to say about how the division shook out. Then the bottom fell out in unceremonious fashion. A final record of 7-9 doesn’t tell the full story of how big of a decline it was from one half of the year to the other.
Carolina opened up the season with a record of 6-2, and they looked every bit the part of contender while doing so. Afterwards, the club would go through a nearly incomprehensible seven-game losing streak. The bleeding was finally stopped in a meaningless Week 17 game versus the Saints.
Cam Newton battled through shoulder troubles last year, but there are plenty of fingers to be pointed elsewhere. The defense evolved from a functioning unit in the first half of the year to one which couldn’t get out of its own way.
When you add that to a less than 100 percent signal-caller, it’s not tough to understand why the club tailed off so badly. Newton had work done on his injury in the offseason, so we’ll see if he can return to form. As for the defense, this club will be going nowhere in the absence of marked improvement.
Ron Rivera returns to lead the way, along with Norv Turner at OC. Eric Washington was receiving extra attention from Rivera at the end of last year, but he’s still coming back to lead the defense. In the offseason, the club would address that side of the ball, as well as the offensive line.
NFL betting sites are tempering expectations for the Panthers and have set a benchmark of 7.5 regular-season wins. It all comes down to how well Newton bounces back now that his shoulder is fixed up, as well as what the defense brings to the table.
The jury is out on Carolina.
New Orleans Saints 2019 Division Title Odds (-180)
2018 Record: 13-3 | Standings: 1-NFC South | Playoffs: Lost NFC Championship
The Saints received a wake-up call in the opening week of the regular season. Let’s just say that the team answered the bell without issue. After a 48-40 upset loss to the Buccaneers, the club would not taste defeat again until Week 13.
They followed that up by winning three of their final four games of the season to finish with a mark of 13-3. That was more than enough to take down the division, and the stellar record also earned the team the top seed in the NFC Playoffs.
After a six-point home win over the Philadelphia Eagles, it was time for a showdown with the Los Angeles Rams to decide the conference. The Rams would prevail by a score of 26-23 in overtime in a game which was not devoid of controversy.
The band has stayed together in New Orleans. Sean Payton is back to lead the way. He’s joined by OC Pete Carmichael Jr. and DC Dennis Allen. Drew Brees is coming in off of an excellent campaign, and he has shown no signs of slowing down as of yet.
The club addressed both sides of the ball in the offseason. The Saints are expected to contend once again in 2019. The estimated regular-season win total has been set at a lofty 10.5. New Orleans faces a tough road in the early part of the season as the first four games are against 2018 playoff teams.
If the team gets through that stretch in good shape, then there’s a good potential to make some noise the rest of the way. The remaining schedule is more manageable, but there will naturally be some rough patches to navigate through.
The Saints are favored to win the division for a reason, and they should clearly be contenders in the NFC once again if all goes well.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2019 Division Title Odds (+850)
2018 Record: 5-11 | Standings: 4-NFC South | Playoffs: N/A
The Buccaneers opened up 2018 with a pair of surprising wins over the Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles. That ratcheted expectations up substantially for the squad, but they would come back to earth quickly.
Tampa Bay would win just two more games the rest of the way. Along the way, the team went through a pair of four-game losing streaks. The final record stood at 5-11, and that was enough to confirm that it was time for some changes.
Dirk Koetter was let go as head coach. Bruce Arians is back to lead the way after taking a year away from the sidelines. He’ll be joined by Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles, who have been hired by the team to lead the offense and defense respectively.
Defense was a big focus of the club in the offseason. This was a unit which finished 31st in the league in average points allowed per contest, so there’s plenty of room for improvement. There are some pieces in place, and Bowles remains a solid defensive mind.
Football betting websites aren’t expecting too much improvement, as the baseline has been set at 6.5 wins. Schedule makers haven’t helped the cause. For the first nine weeks of the season, Tampa Bay faces five road games and an international tilt in London.
If they make it through that stretch with a decent record, then they could clear the bar. However, it could also break the other way and go south if the team gets off to a sluggish start.
Arians should help to improve the team, but he has his work cut out for him.
Our Pick to Win the AFC South
The New Orleans Saints are big favorites to win the division, but it’s a unique situation for the NFC South this season. A legitimate case can be made for each of the division’s other three teams to improve.
That said, the proof will be in the pudding for all of them. All three of the Falcons, Panthers, and Buccaneers have to improve on defense to have any hope of threatening the Saints.
Even with that, it just may not be enough. Brees still looked like he was on top of his game his last time on the field. Payton is one of the league’s top coaches, and the defense is pretty solid to boot.
We like the Saints to repeat as NFC South champs in 2019.