NFL Futures Betting – Odds and Picks for the NFC South

We’d venture to say that the Atlanta Falcons will attract the most attention in the NFC South despite last year’s 7-10 record. And that’s not because they have named Raheem Morris their head coach. It’s because they have brought aboard a quarterback who has the ability to really move this offense after several years of failure. 

Kirk Cousins got quite a bit of guaranteed money from owner Arthur Blank, and needless to say, the expectations are high. If Cousins can demonstrate that he has recovered from his Achilles injury (and at his age, that might be a big “if”), he has enough support to give Atlanta a leg up against its relatively weak rivals. 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the division again last year, and of course, in the absence of the retired Tom Brady, it was a godsend that they got a comeback season out of Baker Mayfield. If they are going to repeat, HE’ll have to have a repeat. 

The New Orleans Saints have some of the basic fundamental requirements to win this division. That includes possibly the best defense of the four teams in the NFC South. The Carolina Panthers failed to take a step forward with rookie quarterback Bryce Young, and with a new mentor in place this year, and it obviously remains to be seen whether he can truly develop into the kind of field leader who can eventually get them over the finish line first.

Let’s take a look at the NFL betting odds posted on the NFC South:

  • Atlanta Falcons -115
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers +240
  • New Orleans Saints +275
  • Carolina Panthers +900

Atlanta Falcons (-115)

  • 2023 record: 7-10 SU, 5-12 ATS
  • Head Coach: Raheem Morris 

Of all the teams in this division, the one that made the biggest headlines was the Falcons, who made a coaching change, hiring Raheem Morris in place of Arthur Smith, and then opened up the wallet and signed Kirk Cousins to a free agent contract. 

There was simply no more patience on the part of the Atlanta hierarchy with the mediocrity at quarterback and, therefore, no more desire to move forward with Desmond Ridder, who was miles away from being able to bring the Falcons to prominence. 

Cousins, of course, comes with a warning label, as he has not played football since October, which is when he injured his Achilles. But he is a proven commodity as far as production is concerned. And what he needs are some people to throw to. 

Drake London (69 catches, 905 yards) goes into the season as the #1 receiver. The Falcons made some moves to beef up things at the wide receiver position, acquiring Rondale Moore, Ray-Ray McCloud, and Darnell Mooney. But those guys are not a bunch of killers. Can anyone unleash what tight end Kyle Pitts has to offer?

One personnel move that was highly controversial involved the Falcons’ first-round draft pick, Michael Penix Jr., who was expected by most people to go in Round 1 but later in the round and to someone else. So the question was why they would commit so much money to a veteran QB and then make another quarterback their first choice. But the Falcons worked out Penix and loved him, and Cousins may not go the whole length of his deal. 

There were questions about last year’s #1 pick, too. That is because the Falcons went after Texas running back Bijon Robinson, even though Tyler Allgeier had just come off a rookie season where he topped 1000 yards. However, as a rookie, Robinson had 976 yards and 4.6 yards a carry, while Allgeier dropped to a 3.7-yard average. 

The Falcons didn’t mind having a two-headed ground attack and they were one of the top rushing teams in the NFL last season. But that was under head coach Arthur Smith, who was a guy who loves the ground-and-pound. Morris has hired Zac Robinson as his offensive coordinator. Robinson comes from the Rams, where he was quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator.

This offense will look different this season. The Falcons will run with a single back alignment, using three wide receivers more than they did under Smith. They will almost certainly pass a lot more; last season, they had the fourth-highest percentage of rushing plays in the NFL (48%). But in Cousins’ last full season in Minnesota (2022), the Vikings were #3 in the league in passing play percentage.

If the offense really clicks under Cousins and the new coordinator, this story might have a happy ending because, defensively speaking, the Falcons finished in the league’s top ten in several categories in 2023, including yards allowed, passing yards allowed, and yards per rush allowed. But they were next to last in turnover margin, so they better straighten that out.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+240) 

  • 2023 record: 9-8 SU, 11-6 ATS
  • Head Coach: Todd Bowles

Did the Bucs win this division by default last season? If you’re a skeptic by nature, you would say that. But truth be told, Tampa Bay took advantage of a late-season slump by the Atlanta Falcons by going on a surge, winning five of their last six and earning a home game in the wild-card round. Then they outgained the Philadelphia Eagles by 150 yards in cruising to a 32-9 victory before losing at Detroit, in a game where they were deadlocked with the Lions entering the fourth quarter.

So they have something to build on. But they will be working with their third different offensive coordinator in three seasons. Last year, it was Dave Canales, but he was scooped up by NFC South rival Carolina. This year, it’s Liam Coen, who we’ll speak about in a moment. 

When Mayfield was signed, it was projected that he would battle Kyle Trask for the starting quarterback job in Tampa Bay. He had fallen out of favor in Cleveland (where he was Rookie of the Year in 2018) and was literally put on the scrap heap by the Panthers. So many credited Canales with rehabilitating him, as he had done with Geno Smith in Seattle. 

Mayfield threw for 4044 yards and 28 touchdowns. And he signed a massive contract in the off-season – with $50 million guaranteed out of a possible $100 million. That’s quite a comeback.

So now Coen enters the picture. He has spent quite a bit of time with the Rams in recent seasons. That’s where he met up with Mayfield, who came in on two days’ notice after being cut by Carolina and led the team to a come-from-behind win over the Las Vegas Raiders.

Coen also spent time as the offensive coordinator at Kentucky, where he worked with Will Levis, who is the starting quarterback with the Tennessee Titans. 

It took Mayfield just two days to learn the Rams’ playbook before his emergency insertion of the lineup there. So we don’t have too many doubts about his ability to fully digest Coen’s scheme. And most people are familiar with the fact that he has a dynamite pair of wide receivers in Mike Evans (1255 yards last year) and Chris Godwin (1024). The objective is for Mayfield to be better protected. Of the 54 sacks the team gave up last year, 32 of them came up the middle. So a first-round pick was spent on Duke’s Graham Barton, who will be moved inside to center.  

But Coen has a more significant challenge than helping Mayfield’s quest to duplicate last year’s numbers.

This team had very little success running the football last season. Let’s face it – the Buccaneers did not have a rushing “culture” under Brady’s leadership, and they ranked 31st out of the 32 NFL teams in rushing yards in 2023. So somebody has to provide some balance. Who’s that going to be? Well, Coen and head coach Todd Bowles hope that can be fourth-round draft pick Bucky Irving, who, among other things, demonstrated his ability to catch passes out of the backfield while at Oregon (led FBS in receptions by a running back). 

Tampa Bay ranked 20th in total defense last season, and so Bowles, who lost two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Shaq Barrett to the Miami Dolphins, has to build things back. They drafted Chris Braswell of Alabama in the second round, and this is a linebacker of incredible athleticism. Randy Gregory also comes aboard as a pass rusher. They hope Georgia CB Tykee Smith helps in the secondary. All told they are a contender in a division where no one looks like they have gotten too far ahead. 

New Orleans Saints (+275)

  • 2023 record: 9-8 SU, 6-10-1 ATS
  • Head Coach:  Dennis Allen

The Saints still have Dennis Allen around as the head coach. Maybe that was a surprise to some people. He brought the team home with four wins in its last five games, although ultimately they lost a tie-breaker to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

 And Allen is somewhat redeemed by the fact that he produced a relatively effective stop unit as the play-caller on defense. New Orleans intercepted 18 passes but allowed just 22 touchdowns through the air. And they yielded only 34.5% on third down conversions, which was fourth best in the NFL. It might improve if Chase Young, a free agent signee from whom superstardom was once forecast in Washington, can rebound from neck surgery. He had 8.5 sacks last season, the same as New Orleans’ leader, Carl Granderson.

Derek Carr presents something of a quandary. Carr produces the numbers; there is no doubt about it.  He had a nifty TD-INT ratio of 25-to-8 last year.  In five of the last six seasons, he has completed at least 67% of his passes; he has over 39,000 yards for his career. He’s made it to four Pro Bowls. He doesn’t get sacked very much. Yet he has played in only one postseason game. In his career. So the question must be raised: if your aspiration is to win a division, then a Super Bowl – how far can you actually get with the guy?

Oh, we’re sure he’ll put up some numbers again. Carr has a very capable receiver in Chris Olave (87 catches for 1123 yards), and a guy who could step up and make an impact in Rashid Shaheed, who averaged 15.6 yards per reception in 2023, and was named an All-Pro as a kick returner. 

How much mileage does Alvin Kamara have left in him?  For his 2023 season, Kamara did have 1160 all-purpose yards from scrimmage. But he had just seven official broken tackles all season and an average of 1.6 yards after contact, which barely got him into the league’s top 40.

A transition on the offensive line is imminent. Ryan Ramczyk has been a mainstay up front, but who knows how much he can do and when he’s going to be able to do it as he navigates through knee issues.  Within their first-round draft pick, the Saints took Taliese Fuaga, an offensive tackle from Oregon State, who they will put somewhere, but we’re not certain where just yet.

If the Saints can step up on a couple of fronts, the division could be theirs to take.

Carolina Panthers (+900) 

  • 2023 record: 2-15 SU, 4-11-2 ATS
  • Head Coach: Dave Canales

Much of the blame for the ongoing failure of the Carolina Panthers has been placed at the feet of owner David Tepper. The media culture is always contemptuous of owners who “meddle” too much, and Tepper has become their whipping boy. It’s not without foundation; since Tepper acquired the franchise, there have been six head coaches in six seasons. Last year, Frank Reich lost ten of eleven games, after which assistant coach Chris Tabor took over and lost five of six. 

And now we have another guy on the scene. Dave Canales has gained a reputation as someone who can work with quarterback “projects.” He helped bring Geno Smith back to life in Seattle, and last season he help guide Baker Mayfield to over 4000 yards, a Pro Bowl berth and a Comeback of the Year award in Tampa Bay.

In Charlotte, his project is Bryce Young, about whom there whispers last season. The rumor was that Tepper insisted on drafting Young with the #1 overall pick, while some of his executives, not to mention Reich, wanted to go another way. Of course, the situation became aggravated with the smashing success of CJ Stroud (the #2 pick), coupled with Young’s lack of same.

There may be multiple factors involved. But there is no way to spin out of the fact that Young’s numbers were terrible. He threw just eleven TD passes with ten interceptions. He averaged only 5.5 yards per attempt. He had the worst Bad Throw Percentage in the NFL. The Panthers averaged 11.3 points over their last eleven games and tallied just 20 touchdowns from scrimmage. 

Let’s see what Canales can do for him. The team tried to get him some help. They signed wide receiver Diontae Johnson, drafted Xavier Legette out of South Carolina, and got two new replacements for what was a horrible offensive line. 

This may be a work in progress for quite a while. But what helps it along is that Carolina has the makings of a defense that is more than presentable. They finished third-best in the NFL in passing yards allowed and yielded more than 322 total yards in only one of their last eleven games.

Why the Saints Offer the Best Value Bet in the Unpredictable NFC South

I’m not sure Atlanta rates this kind of price even with a smoother passing attack with Cousins expected. This could wind up being the kind of division where everybody wants it, yet nobody wants it. As such, it could get crazy.

Like Cousins, Derek Carr has been the kind of quarterback who gets his numbers but isn’t seen in the playoffs all that much. But we sense that he’ll produce, and, offensive line stability willing, the Saints, at +275, may offer the best value in a division that could see just one entry get to the postseason.

For more insights on NFL betting, including over-under bets, visit our articles on NFL Betting – AFC Over-Under Regular Season Win Bets and NFL Football Betting – NFC Over-Under Regular Season Win Bets.