NFC South

*To get us ready for the NFL season, I will be going division by division talking about what to look for from an overall view, a fantasy view, and a gambling view. I can hear the pads cracking already…enjoy!*

Editor’s note: DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) is a statistical measurement used by footballoutsiders.com that measures efficiency by comparing success on every play to a league average based on the situation and the opponent

Last season finished standings:

New Orleans Saints 13-3

Atlanta Falcons 7-9

Carolina Panthers 7-9

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-11

The story of the South last year was injuries: Saints receivers, Cam Newton, the entire Falcons defense, and the Buccaneers were literally the #1 injury affected team in 2018 according to football outsiders. With the falcons and Buccaneers limping to the finish line, the saints went 5-2 in one-possession games, while the Panthers went 3-7 in those games. Water finds its’ level, and I think this division may be the ficklest of them all in 2019.

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New Orleans Saints – Over/Under 10 wins; -168 to win the NFC East; 10.5/1 to win the Super Bowl

Fantasy Players to watch: Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, Jared Cook, Latavius Murray

Outlook: The 3rd and 10 still must haunt Saint fans, and the PI call that wasn’t has been fueling Saints players all off-season. They feel they were robbed of their title shot, and consequently, are out for blood. The dynamic duo of Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas are a real fine place to start. Kamara ranked 2nd in success rate last among all running backs according to football outsiders, and the 100-million-dollar receiver was first in catch rate, while also drawing the most PI calls in the league. Simply put: you cannot guard Mike. They lost Mark Ingram, which feels more like a moral loss if anything, but they bring in Latavius Murray, who I love as a fantasy play, and is really impressing the Saints staff in camp. Don’t be surprised if they make a move for a wide receiver, but Jared Cook should help relieve some pressure as a #3 option. They do lose center Max Unger but went to free agency and the draft to replace him. Oh, and I haven’t mentioned Drew Brees yet. Declining? His career high in completion percentage last season would beg to differ. “But he just checks down!” His career high in Net Yard Per Attempt also begs to differ. The offense should be lethal again.

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Defensively, Cameron Jordan leads a front 7 that ranked 3rd against the run last year. They add Malcom Brown to the mix, and we should see some of the same results as last year. Now the secondary is a different story. They ranked 22nd in pass defense. However, after bringing over Eli Apple from the Giants – the 3rd Buckeye to start for the defensive backfield – they ranked 6th league wide against the pass. Now, I do expect Eli Apple to take a step back down to earth, but Marshon Lattimore should look more like his rookie year. One thing to keep an eye on is injuries. In 2017, the Saints had an Adjusted Games Lost score of 95.9, good for 24th worst in the league, while in 2018, they were 6th best in the league at 50.7. They had virtually no defensive injuries and need that trend to continue to stay atop of this very difficult division. Luckily for the Saints, they have the 22nd ranked SOS in 2019. Who Dat? Who Dat!

Atlanta Falcons – Over/Under 8.5 wins; 3/1 to win the NFC East; 36/1 to win the Super Bowl

Fantasy Players to watch: Julio Jones (#1 PPR Receiver), Devonta Freeman

Outlook: Probably one of the toughest teams to predict in 2019. On one hand, they come off of a 7-9 year where they were bombarded with injuries on the defensive side of the ball, drafted O-line to bolster what was a mediocre unit, had EVERY SINGLE FIELD GOAL made against them – the first time in the NFL since 2010 –  and now play 13 of their 16 games in a dome to just aid what should already be a top 10 offense. On the other hand, they will have to go up against the 6th toughest schedule based on projected win totals. So, what gives? For one, Matt Ryan may be one of the most overlooked QB’s in football. Ranking 4th in DVOA behind only Mahomes, Brees, and Rivers, Ryan should benefit from another year with Calvin Ridley, who will look to have a breakout year. They also drafted Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary, 2 rookies who will make up the right side of the O-line and bring a physicality that may have been lacking in Atlanta. A big key will be the health of Devonta Freeman, as backup Ito Smith was one of the least efficient runners in all of football last year. With a better defensive effort, the Falcons shouldn’t be forced in to throwing all the time, and we could see a huge bump in numbers from Devonta. Julio Jones brings the star power, as the sure fire top 5 receiver should see touchdowns increase with the hiring of Dirk Koetter who is back as the Falcons OC for the first time since 2014, where he produced 3 straight top 10 passing offenses. To help, the Falcons will face the 6th easiest passing defensive schedule according to the DVOA recorded in 2018.

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Defensively, this is a team that lost both starting safeties at the beginning of the year. To make matters worse, they then lost their middle linebackers Deion Jones: 3 key communicators on an already young team gone in the beginning of the year. And it showed, as they ranked 2nd to last in defense last year, only in front of Tampa Bay. It’s something to keep an eye on, but usually injuries tend to balance themselves out, and you shouldn’t expect the same type of dismantling for this group. The talent is there, and they don’t have to be elite on this side of the ball with the offense they have. I think this Falcons team has loads of potential, but the schedule may drive some people away. Even though they may not make the playoffs, they still may be worth some sort of investment.

Carolina Panthers – Over/Under 8 wins; 5/1 to win the NFC East; 55/1 to win the Super Bowl

Fantasy Players to watch: Christian McCaffrey (#2 PPR player)

Outlook: The panthers are being very disrespected in the betting market. Currently 25/1 to win the NFC, this is a team that could shock a lot of people. Even with the shoulder injury that Cam recently said he shouldn’t have been playing with, Carolina was the 11th ranked offense in the year, with their 2nd ranked running attack to thank. They did this while opponents knew that Cam wasn’t right, loaded the box, and STILL couldn’t stop McCaffrey and Co. Your crazy stat for this team? In the last 6 games of the year, Cam only threw 7 passes over 25 yards, and none of those were completed. Obviously, protecting that shoulder is going to be the key to the Panther’s success, and they know that, by bringing in Matt Paradis to take over the duties at center, and drafting Greg Little in the second round to add depth to the O line. McCaffrey will be the focal point again, as he was top 7 for both rushing and receiving for all running backs last year. With the loss of Devin Funchess and the aging Greg Olsen, the growth of 2nd year receiver DJ Moore will be huge. Chris Hogan and Torrey Smith should add two more targets for Newton, and the all-elusive Curtis Samuel could do a little bit of everything for Riverboat Ron Rivera. Again, you can crunch all the numbers, but it all goes back to the health of Cam Newtons shoulder.

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Defensively, this team got better this off-season. Led by all-world linebacker Luke Kuechly, they added Gerald Mccoy and Bruce Irvin to a defensive line that was suspect at best last season. Rookie Brian Burns out of Florida State should also make an immediate impact, and they will need to to help a pass defense that ranked 24th last year. Outside of Eric Reid, they are young in the back end, and you hope that another year of experience plus an improved pass rush will see those numbers improve. Another injury riddled team last year, as they were 26th worst in Adjusted Games Lost, but they have the 9th toughest schedule this year, and I just don’t know about the youth combined with Newtons shoulder in such a tough division. Flip your coin.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Over/Under 6.5 wins; 11/1 to win the NFC East; 100/1 to win the Super Bowl

Fantasy Players to watch: Jameis Winston (late round QB), Chris Godwin

Outlook: If you like shootouts, subscribe to Buccaneer TV. Before I start their preview, it is important to remember that Tampa was the team most effected by injuries in 2018, and most of it came on the defensive side of the ball. They had the following: most injuries at linebacker, second most injuries in the secondary, and top 10 in the d-line. THAT’S TOUGH TO DO PEOPLE! But I digress. Let’s look at some positives! They were the 9th best passing offense in football last year, and did so with 2 different quarterbacks, who combined for 5,125 passing yards, which was 1st in the NFL. New HC Bruce Arians has talked about limiting turnovers, of which Quarterback Jameis Winston threw for 14 and fumbled 7 times (only lost 2 of them, however). Mike Evans continues to be one of the most overlooked receivers in the league, and Chris Godwin has Arians approval, as he was quoted saying he won’t be coming off the field in 2019. The running game is another story. They don’t have a true starter, and there is plenty of speculation just as to whom will head the 24th ranked rushing attack. If I had to guess, it will be Ronald Jones II who they drafted last year, as they hope he looks more like his 2nd round self and not the undrafted FA he appeared to be.

Bruce Arians, Jameis Winston

Defensively, you would hope its entirely new. Todd Bowles comes in as the new DC, and they used 5 draft picks on this side of the ball, with Devin White being the most notable standout. They also bring in Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul, as their combined 17.5 fingers should create some sort of pass rush to help the young secondary, most importantly Vernon Hargreaves, as this seems to be a prove it year for him specifically. After last year, ranking dead last in defense – remember, they were severely hampered by injuries – the only place to go is up. I am interest to see how Winston plays under Arians. Wrong division to be in to attempt a rebuild.

Overall 2019 Prediction: Saints, Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers

Top Bets Summary:

Panthers OVER 8 wins

*If you like the Panthers, you like Cam to stay healthy. The only reason he is 30/1 to win MVP is because of his shoulder. It’s a good value play if they can win 10/11 games*

Devonta Freeman OVER 849 rushing yards

Falcons SB 36/1 (pure value play – very well may miss playoffs completely)

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