Potent Offenses Make 2017 NFC South a Tight Battle

It’s just one month until preseason and two months until it really matters! Need to get caught up on where every NFL team stands as the season approaches? Here’s the latest in our divisional preview series, complete with odds to let you know what to expect from each team heading into the 2017 season.

As we noted in our NFC West preview, the odds below are produced by the MTS team. Some of the propositions (e.g. division winners) are available for wagering at our best online sportsbooks. Some (like the future of Miko Grimes’ Twitter account) are not. We’re confident our insightful readers will be able to tell the difference. But, if you can’t, just ask in the comments and we’ll be happy to answer all of your queries, maybe even without making you feel stupid. (No promises there.)

ATLANTA FALCONS

“Up 25? Okay, let’s run the ball this time.” (Keith Allison, via Flickr)

Sometimes before watching a new season of a show, it’s nice to re-watch the previous season’s finale to get refreshed. Can’t imagine any Falcons fans will be adopting that approach. If you somehow missed how Super Bowl LI went for Atlanta, this is probably the best way to describe it. Yet despite the negativity that typically surrounds a Super Bowl loser’s chances the following season, there’s reason for excitement in Atlanta. Not only will they get to open a new stadium, 19 starters are returning. The team even boosted its defensive line with the additions of Dontari Poe and Takkarist McKinley.

The biggest roadblocks for this team will be mental. Along with overcoming the events of Feb. 5, 2017, they will need to overcome the loss of coordinator Kyle Shanahan, whose offense helped Matt Ryan to his first league MVP. Under Steve Sarkisian, the Falcons will need to continue producing tons of points; the South is loaded with potentially great offenses, and their non-conference slate is a gauntlet which features Green Bay, Dallas, and a Super Bowl rematch against New England.

The Dirty Birds have all the talent needed to easily return to the playoffs, at the very least as a Wild Card. Anything short of that would be seen as the biggest disappointment since, well…

2017 Falcons Odds & Props

Odds to win NFC South: 7/4

Odds to win NFC Championship: 5/1

Odds Matt Ryan repeats as MVP: 14/1

Odds on how many times commentators will reference the collapse during games this season: 23.5

If that seems too high, just think about it as one reference for every game in which the Falcons jump out to a lead, plus a few extra for every time they lead big at halftime, and about ten during their Week 7 game against the Pats.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Up five, down five, up eight, down nine. Whereas most teams gradually build towards contending: the Panthers win totals have jumped around like Bitcoin prices over the past four seasons. Carolina’s big drop from Super Bowl 50 to the South basement was largely tied to Cam Newton falling from league MVP to the 28th-rated passer (above Brock Osweiler but below Case Keenum). When Newton had struggled previously in his career, the Panthers’ top-ten defense could usually pick him up: that was not the case in 2016. With a completely overhauled secondary (thanks to Dave Gettleman’s tight purse strings), Carolina got lit up through the air, allowing 268 passing yards per game, including a 503-yard “effort” versus Matt Ryan and the Falcons in Week 4.

With rookie corners James Bradberry and Daryl Worley improving as last year went on, Carolina didn’t do much to alter the secondary this offseason, outside of adding former Colt Mike Adams. Offensively, they drafted Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel to give Newton quick, easy completions and help him avoid taking so many hits. They also brought back Julius Peppers for one last ride, but overall, it wasn’t a big offseason overhaul. Still, given their recent up and down history, and the fact that they play a last-place schedule, it’s reasonable to expect a bounce-back season in which Carolina challenges for a playoff spot.

The lax rules on TD celebrations make Cam Newton happy again. (Keith Allison, via Flickr)

2017 Panthers Odds & Props

Odds to win NFC South: 3/1

Odds to make playoffs: 11/10

Over/under passing yards allowed per game: 240.5

Over/under longest touchdown celebration for Panthers (from score to handing ball to official/fan): 19.5 seconds

Perhaps the most intriguing reason to watch Carolina this season is to see where they go now that fines for celebrating have been dialed back.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

If you read the NFC West preview, you’d know I’m all about recycling storylines, so let’s use the same one that has dogged the Saints for three seasons. Can this team finally build a defense to help Drew Brees? The 38-year-old continues to be the most productive passer in the NFL, leading the league in passing yards each of the last three years. But New Orleans keeps crawling to a 7-9 finish because the defense abides by Gandhi’s strategy of passive resistance. The Saints tried to become the hegemonic colonizer by working a swap of Brandin Cooks for Pats corner Malcolm Butler. But it didn’t take and, instead, Cooks became a first-round pick that was used to fortify the offensive line. New Orleans did add linebackers AJ Klein and Manti Te’o, as well as first-round corner Marshon Lattimore; will it be enough?

With an offense that scores 30 points a game, the defense doesn’t have to play like the ’85 Bears; playing like the ’16 Bears would be enough to make the Saints a playoff contender. As mentioned before, this division is loaded with offensive talent, so Brees and company won’t be winning many shootouts if the defense can’t make a few plays to help them out. Outside of their own division, the Saints don’t face too many daunting opponents; the only standouts are a road trip to Green Bay and a home-opener against Cooks’ new team, New England. New Orleans enters the season as a playoff hopeful, but they’re the longest shots in what appears to be a loaded NFC South.

2017 Saints Odds & Props

Odds to win NFC South: 9/2

Odds Brees leads the league in passing yards: 3/1

Over/under points allowed per game: 24.9

Odds we hear yet another rumor that Sean Payton is leaving the team: 1/6

A truly underrated tradition in the NFL calendar is the “will Sean Payton leave the Saints?” rumors that swirl, typically once the team is eliminated. Recently, he’s been linked to the Dolphins, Cowboys, and Rams, and yet he always remains in the Big Easy. I’m betting he gets linked to the Bears next offseason, a struggling team that he once quarterbacked for three games as a scab.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

The Bucs are ready to make the leap. And by make the leap, I mean lose in the Wild Card round. (Keith Allison, via Flickr)

Sitting at 3-5 and the mid-season favorite for “most dysfunctional team of the year,” the Buccaneers underwent an amazing transformation in the second half. Tampa finished the year 6-2, a tiebreaker short of ending their nine-year playoff drought, and now they’re on the brink of breaking through. With DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard joining the offense, Jameis Winston finally has targets outside of Mike Evans. The Buccaneers already have a perfectly capable defense, so the biggest question on this team might be the kicking game. Second-round pick Roberto Aguayo had a nightmare rookie season, and is competing against veteran Nick Folk to win the job.

No matter who wins that competition, Tampa needs better than a 71-percent kicker if they’re going to challenge for a playoff spot. Coming off a second-place finish in the South, Tampa draws tough crossover games against the Giants and Cardinals, to go along with a challenging division slate. In total, Tampa plays seven 2016 playoff teams and has few “easy wins” outside of games against the Bears and Jets. If the Bucs want to end their near decade long postseason drought, they can’t afford to get off to another slow start.

2017 Buccaneers Odds & Props

Odds to win NFC South: 15/4

Odds to make playoffs: 7/5

Odds Roberto Aguayo is the Tampa kicker on Jan 1, 2018: 1/1

Odds Miko Grimes launches another Twitter rant that gets her husband cut: 15/1

A very weird story came out this week suggesting that Miko’s rants against the Dolphins were all part of a plan to get husband Brent cut. There likely won’t be a need to bash the Bucs though, since he’ll be a UFA after this season. Perhaps the better move is to start bashing other potential UFAs on the corner?

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