NFC South Predictions: Vegas Likes The Falcons In 2013
The Saints’ bounty suspensions, Panthers’ slow start and Buccaneers’ horrid defense allowed the Falcons to run away with the NFC South in 2012, and they got one step closer to the Super Bowl. If young QBs Cam Newton and Josh Freeman have big years, this could be the most competitive division in football in 2013.
– Odds to win NFC South: 11/10
The Falcons’ offense lit it up in 2012 en route to an 8-0 start, but they still fell in the NFC title game to the San Francisco 49ers 28-24, adding pressure to this upcoming campaign. To shed salary cap, the Falcons parted ways with veterans Michael Turner, John Abraham and Dunta Robinson, but added rookie CB Desmond Trufant, veteran DE Osi Umenyiora and RB Steven Jackson. TE Tony Gonzalez is returning for one more year, along with the rest of last year’s electric offense. Atlanta has the second-easiest schedule in the division, and gets the Seahawks, Patriots and Redskins at home, but they do have to travel to play the 49ers and Packers. 11-12 wins is certainly not out of the question for Matt Ryan and company, but an improved NFC South will make that tougher.
New Orleans Saints
– Odds to win NFC South: 2/1
The Saints had a season to forget in 2012, started over a year ago with the bounty scandal that left head coach Sean Payton suspended for the year. New Orleans got off to an 0-4 start, and after rallying to get to 5-5, lost three in a row. With Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator, the Saints will move to a 3-4 “D” and added rookie Kenny Vaccaro and ex-Steeler Keenan Lewis to help the secondary. The question on offense will center on the O-line (without Jermon Bushrod) and its ability to protect Drew Brees. The Saints have the third-most difficult schedule in the NFL and have to travel to for away games against the Patriots, Bears and Seahawks. A crossover with the AFC East helps, but the Saints could be teetering around .500 if the Bucs and Panthers show they can win shootouts.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
– Odds to win NFC South: 11/2
The Bucs had a roller coaster season in Greg Schiano’s first year as head coach, getting to 6-4 in Week 11 before a five-game losing skid, which included an embarrassing 41-0 loss to the Saints. The defense was a disaster, so the Bucs got aggressive, trading for all-world CB Darrelle Revis and signing former 49ers FS Dashon Goldson. The O-line should get a boost with a healthy set of OGs in Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks. The combination of Doug Martin out of the backfield and Vincent Jackson running down the sideline worked at times, but Josh Freeman needs to be more consistent. The Bucs have the easiest schedule in the division and are definitely an NFC South dark horse. Revis, Goldson, Mark Barron and Lavonte David should lead an improved defense. Tampa does have away games in Foxborough and Seattle, but if Freeman reaches his potential, the Bucs’ offense could roll ultimately propelling the club to a wild-card spot.
– Odds to win NFC South: 11/2
The Panthers got off to an ugly 2-8 start last season, but finished strong with four wins in a row, including a victory over the Falcons. Cam Newton is the third-best QB in the division, but has loads of talent, and Luke Kuechly was the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Carolina drafted Star Lotulelei to help the defensive front and gets LB Jon Beason back from injury. The Panthers have the offensive firepower, but lots of question marks in the secondary, which struggled last season. With an improved rushing attack, the Panthers can certainly win shootouts, and they’ll have to with the league’s No. 1 most difficult schedule. Carolina has away games at the Vikings and 49ers and could struggle vs. the NFC West defenses. Should Newton consistently show the ability to take over games like we’ve seen in the past, the Panthers can score enough to be in every game.