24 Jun Free NFC South Odds
Free NFC South Odds | Expand The Boxscore’s Divisional Futures Series
Continuing our Divisional futures series, we move on to the NFC South, one of the most interesting divisions in the NFL. With old faces in new places, there could be some fireworks in 2020 (Lines from Draft Kings Sports Book)
Last Season: 7-9
2020 O/U: 7.5
After two consecutive seasons of 7-9, this is a make or break season for the future of Dan Quinn.
After going 1-7 in the first part of 2019, Quinn saved his job by finishing with a 6-2 record after the bye week. D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitutional stated on the Pick Six podcast his feelings of this season being playoffs or bust in Atlanta. He expanded on this stating an 8-8, sliding into the newly formed seventh spot would not be satisfactory.
Todd Gurley comes home to replace the departed Devonta Freeman, whose bad contract and inability to remain healthy caused him to be released. Not only did the Falcons save $3-million by making the move, they also upgraded at the position with Gurley.
2019 was a rough season in Los Angeles for Gurley. The offensive line being a mess was a major reason. With the line of the Falcons being solid and second-year players Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary hopefully taking a step up, Gurley should be able to find more running lanes consistently. This means he is likely to improve on his 2019 numbers of 223 rushes for 857 yards and 12 TD. He will also have the backfield to himself as Brian Hill and Ito Smith are not in contention for any major role in the offense. This means his receptions will also increase from 31 in 2019 to the 55 range of the previous two seasons.
Matt Ryan is a better QB than a lot of people give him credit for. Julio Jones is a top five receiver in the league and Calvin Ridley seemingly ready to make a jump, the one-two threat of weapons is dangerous. If size and speed make a perfect receiver than Julio Jones is the perfect receiver. At 6’3″ and speed in the 4.3’s for majority of his career, Jones can out jump as well as out run you to get receptions. After some early career foot injuries, he has also been exceptionally reliable in recent seasons. He is still the favorite target of Matt Ryan which has shown in his top five ranking for targets each of the past three seasons in the NFL. After a solid rookie season of 10 TDs, Calvin Ridley’s his sophomore season was not as productive. Ridley played in 13 games and finished with only 63 receptions but managed seven scores in those games.
Turning to the tight end position, Hayden Hurst comes in to replace the departed Austin Hooper. This may be seen as a downgrade as Hooper finished 2019 because the fantasy TE6 after a career season. It may not be as bad. 75 receptions for 787 yards and six TD in 13 games is a great season for Hooper. All of these numbers represent career highs, highs not likely to be replicated year over year. Letting him go to Cleveland was the for the right move for the team.
Hayden Hurst has been a disappointment thus far in his career. Baltimore drafted Mark Andrews and Hurst in the same draft and played in a run-first offense. A fresh start on a team who passes far more than the Ravens could be what Hurst needs with his first round pedigree. There are 250 targets freeing up in Atlanta, and someone of someones have to claim them. Hurst has the upside to be this season’s Darren Waller.
The defense needs more re-tooling. Letting Vic Beasley go was a start. Signing Dante Fowler as a free agent will also help. If Grady Jarrett continues his play and Takk McKinley finally plays like a first round pick, the line could become particularly good in 2020. The secondary is lacking. The loss of Desmond Trufant to the Lions is a blow. To replace him, the Falcons will turn to rookie A.J. Terrell. The bar will be high for Terrell as the direct fill-in.
My biggest concern for the Falcons is their schedule. They bookend their season with games against the Cowboys and Packers, and in four of their last five games, they will play the Saints twice along with the Buccaneers and the Chiefs. The cherry on top is a trip out west to face the Chargers and their defensive front. They will need to make sure they beat up on the lesser teams on the schedule to get to their goals. Sweeping the Panthers especially needs to be a priority.
Last Season: 5-11
2020 O/U: 5.5
With Cam Newton on the shelf all of 2019, it was not a good season for the Carolina Panthers. After releasing him this off-season in favor of Teddy Bridgewater, it may not get any better for rookie head coach Matt Rhule. Maybe they do not want it to. Trevor Lawrence is right down the street at Clemson and the Panthers may want to take a flier on the 2020 season in hopes of being able to land him in the 2021 draft. Instead of dealing in maybes, let us look at the season as if they are going to fight for the best possible record.
The team has arguably the best player in the NFL in Christian McCaffrey. He is at least the best running back. He had a historic season in 2019 in which he ran the ball 287 times for 1,387 yards and 15 TD. CMC also caught 116 of 142 targets for an additional 1,005 yards and four receiving TD. His 2020 numbers are not likely to exceed these by any means. The chance is there, in this offense to come awfully close to matching them as long as opposing teams do not put 11 in the box.
New QB Teddy Bridgewater is known to be conservative in his approach. His career yards/attempt of 7.2 does not breed confidence in the down field pass game, which may be an issue for downfield threat and free agent signee Robby Anderson. This means McCaffrey as well as starting tight end Ian Thomas could be in for the biggest seasons in the offense. Bridgewater showed in limited time with New Orleans he has the ability to be a starting QB in the league. The offensive line in Carolina is not near as good as the one that stood in front of him in New Orleans, and this means a difficult season could be ahead for Teddy and the Panthers.
With D.J. Moore having a breakout season in 2019, the hopes coming into this season for him are high. If any of the receivers in Carolina are going to live up to their hype, it is going to be Moore. After playing with less talented last season, the stability of Bridgewater and the connection they could build is going to be a relief as the third-year receiver tries to prove his number one status on the team. After having 87 catches for 1,175 yards, many feel a star has been born.
The defense looks to be going through an entire rebuild. For the first time in modern NFL history, the Panthers spent all of their draft picks on the defensive side of the ball, and the defense is still one of the worst in the league.
Derrick Brown was taken to try to bolster a defensive line ravished by injury in 2019. They also needed to upgrade at linebacker and secondary after the departures of Luke Kuechly to retirement and James Bradberry to the Giants via free agency. This problem will not be solved in one season. Neither will anything else for this team.
New Orleans Saints
Last Season: 13-3
2020 O/U: 10
Over the past three seasons, the Saints have the most regular season wins in the NFL. They have also had three of the most heartbreaking losses when it came to playoff time. From the miracle in Minneapolis to the shamble of last season, the Saints have been bitten hard as of late.
2020 may be their last chance at winning another Super Bowl before the window closes on the Drew Brees era. It is a good thing they have the deepest roster in the NFL and few weak spots to show.
On the field, everything starts with Drew Brees. The most accurate and prolific QB in NFL history also has the best wide receiver in the NFL. Brees was on pace to finish the 2019 season with 40 TD to only four interceptions had he remained healthy. Michael Thomas had an incredible season. Whether Brees was behind center of Teddy Bridgewater, it did not matter. Thomas finished with a record 149 receptions. This also led to leading the league with 1,725 yards and adding nine TD for good measure. With Brees throwing him the ball, another year of great numbers is in store for both.
The real free agent prize of any team this off-season is Emmanuel Sanders. No, he is not the biggest name to sign, but he is the perfect signing. For the first time since the departure of Brandin Cooks, their will be a true compliment across from Michael Thomas in the offense. Although Sanders will be 33 years of age, his physicality and ability to draw coverages away from Thomas will be a key to making the offense in New Orleans even more potent. Add to this the rapport of Jared Cook with Brees, and the pass game of the Saints will rival any in the league as the best.
The run game should be just as strong as the pass game in New Orleans. Alvin Kamara should be back healthy and running behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. This does not always mean they will do so just by running the ball. In each of the first three seasons of his career, Kamara has had 81 receptions out of the back field. He also logged 200-plus carries, putting him firmly behind Christian McCaffrey as the biggest duel threat back in the league. Latavius Murray is there to back him up and is arguably an RB1 if replacing Kamara. Murray averaged over 20 carries in two games without Kamara in 2019. The return of Dwayne Washington, while not exciting, adds another receiving threat for defenses to have to look for.
The secondary has a true star in Marshon Lattimore. The rest of the secondary is also rather good. 2019 rookie Chauncey Gardener-Johnson came on strong to finish his season and will compete for the starting strong safety position across from Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins to New Orleans returns after a stint in Philadelphia. Jenkins brings another veteran presence to a locker room already filled with them. If the team can get anything out of Janoris Jenkins, they will have two cornerbacks who are able to matchup one on one allowing the safeties to flex their coverage and rush capabilities.
The New Orleans Saints are stacked. They are the class of this division and possibly the NFC. Expect them to make another major play for the Super Bowl in what could be last season of Drew Brees.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Season: 7-9
2020 O/U: 9.5
Not only did the Buccaneers manage to get Tom Brady and his leadership skills. By getting him, they also got the best tight end in NFL history when Rob Gronkowski came out of retirement to join him. Both of these players are not what they used to be but used correctly, enhance Tampa’s potent offense. Even at 80%, Brady is still a top 15 QB in the league and Gronkowski is a top eight TE. This does not consider the winning culture and dogged work ethic both bring.
O.J. Howard came into the league and was seen to be a Gronkowski-like player. He could block great and the Buccaneers hoped he would turn into a pass catching threat. In 2020 at minimum, he will be able to learn from the best…as long as he is on the team. Not only is he the best pass catching TE of all time, Gronkowski is quite possibly the best blocking TE ever as well. Add this to the duo of Howard and Cameron Brate and this is the best tight end group in the NFL. Bruce Arians could lean heavily on two tight ends sets with this much talent at the position.
The Bucs have arguably the best one-two punch at wide receiver with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, who had a breakout season in 2019. Mike Evans has yet to finish a season with less than 1,000 receiving yards. Although his run after the catch ability is nil, his league leading depth of target makes him a down field threat. Something Tampa Bay will need with all the short routes being run by the tight ends and Godwin. It will be interesting to see if Brady is willing to air it out the his big target.
Chris Godwin ran more than 60% of his 2019 in the slot. With Tyler Johnson being drafted from Minnesota, Godwin will likely move outside. This will allow Johnson to battle for the slot role in three-wide packages with Justin Watson. A role which saw Julian Edelman grab 100 receptions in 2019 as the Alpha Dog in New England.
Peyton Barber is out the door and Ronald Jones has shown no ability to be the pass catcher out of the backfield Arians will want. This bodes well for rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn to take over the back-field duties, and at the very least pass-catching duties early on. Vaughn he can be the type of back James White has been for Brady in recent years, and the opportunity is there for him to succeed. If the Buccaneers want to succeed in any manner in 2020, they will need to get more out of their run game.
The defense is mediocre but getting better. After coming over on a one-year contract, Shaq Barrett led the league in sacks garnering him a franchise tag designation. 2019 rookie Devin White is already proving to be as good as we thought he would be. Lavonte David is an all pro and still getting better as he takes over as leader of the defense along with veterans Jason Pierre-Paul and free agent signing Ndamukong Suh. The secondary got better last season after releasing Vernon Hargreaves. It will hopefully continue to grow with the addition of draft darling Antoine Winfield Jr. at safety. Although a bit undersized, he is a ferocious hitter and if he is even close to as good as his father was, the Buccaneers will be set at the position for a decade.
With all the new faces joining the team, the growing pains could come into play for the Buccaneers, especially early in the season. This and this alone could sabotage what they are hoping is a special season. With all the hype surrounding the team, the O/U number has gotten out of hand. While 10 wins is certainly possible, is it likely?
With all of the hype surrounding the Buccaneers, there will be a lot of people picking them to surprise in the division. Much like the Cleveland Browns of 2019, we need to be careful.
The Saints are the class of the division. They have the most regular season wins over the past three seasons in the NFL, not to mention they have the best offense and defense in the NFC South. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will pose the most challenge to them in 2020, but with all the moving pieces this off-season for them in contrast to the stability of the Saints it should not matter. Look for the Saints to win the division by two games or more.
Bet: Saints -134
Dominick is a lifelong resident of the Philadelphia area. Playing fantasy football for more than 20 years and writing for more than five, he has a vast knowledge of both the NFL and fantasy football. Despite his being blind, Dominick is a consistent ranker amongst FantasyPros experts, and always strives to be better than last season. Follow him on Twitter @EnvisionFF and read his weekly Best Bets articles during the season.