Picks to win the NFC South

Picks to win the NFC South: Saints falling off?

The New Orleans Saints have won the NFC South Division four straight seasons, but those teams had future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees under center. The 2021 Saints do not and thus are not favored on the NFL odds to win a fifth division title in a row.

Picks to win the NFC South 2021

  • Bucs to win South: -200
  • Saints to win South: +300
  • Falcons to win South: +600
  • Panthers to win South: +1000

Of course, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are defending Super Bowl champions, but they haven’t won the NFC South since way back in 2007 – that’s easily the longest drought in the division. With Drew Brees no longer with New Orleans, and both the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers somewhat rebuilding, Tampa Bay is clearly the team to beat.

Every single starter is back for Tampa and frankly the only question is whether Tom Brady can stay healthy and continue to play at a high level at age 43 (44 next month). It just came out that Brady played through an MCL tear last season. He initially suffered a partial MCL tear in his final season with the Patriots but played through the injury in 2020 before getting surgery this past February. Brady is fully healthy now and has one of the best trios of receivers in the NFL in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown.

Brady threw 40 regular-season touchdown passes in 2020, his first season as a Buccaneer. If he throws 40 more in 2021that would give him 80 as a Buccaneer, which would already tie Josh Freeman for the second most in franchise history.

Defensive tackle Vita Vea was one of only two players on the Buccaneers’ opening-day roster to spend more than half of the 2020 season on injured reserve. The other was tight end OJ Howard, who went down a week before Vea’s injury with a torn Achilles tendon. Both are 100 percent now. At the time of Howard’s injury he led all Buccaneer tight ends in receptions, yards and touchdowns.

The Saints will have a QB battle in camp between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill. There have been reports that Coach Sean Payton favors Hill and he started last year when Brees was hurt. Winston attempted only 11 passes in 2020, completing seven for 75 yards.

In 2019 with the Buccaneers prior to his release, Winston had career highs in attempts, yards, touchdowns but also interceptions. He finished the year with 5,109 yards, 33 touchdowns, 30 interceptions and a 60.7 completion percentage off 626 attempts.

The Falcons traded away star receiver Julio Jones this offseason and have a new head coach in Arthur Smith. Former MVP Matt Ryan remains under center, but this could be his last season in Atlanta. He enters this season at the age of 36 and the team must begin to consider life after Ryan. Currently, Ryan is in the ninth all-time passing yards with 55,767.

Carolina is still rebuilding under second-year coach Matt Rhule, with Sam Darnold as the team’s new QB. The Panthers are hoping that by insulating Darnold with top-end skill position players and adding to the offensive line in front of him, they can get back to the version of Darnold we saw at Southern Cal.

Keep in mind that the Panthers barely had star running back Christian McCaffrey last season due to injury and he’s good to go. McCaffrey proved in his last healthy season that he’s the kind of player you can build an offense around. In 2019, he had 1,387 rushing yards and another 1,005 receiving, as he led the league with 2,392 yards from scrimmage.

Expert picks
  • Bucs, Saints, Falcons, Panthers order of finish

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