The second-best Division in football (3rd isn’t very close).
WINNER: NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (13-3)
Last year we gave out the Saints at 25/1 to win the Super Bowl, which makes picking them again to win this season (10/1) somewhat of a tough selection (especially the way it ended). Any professional bettor will tell you, you want to stay away from betting “on-tilt”, or with emotion. However, the Saints roster and coaching staff top-to-bottom deserve a Futures bet once again.
The X-Factor for New Orleans still has to be the arm of Drew Brees. It’s possible the future hall of famer’s window to win another Super Bowl has passed. But being that he and the Saints came so close last year, they should continue to command respect in the Futures market. With basically the same star-filled offensive roster (minus Mark Ingram, plus Latavius Murray), they should once again put up big numbers on their way to another NFC South Title.
Having solidified their O-Line by drafting OL Erik McCoy (Texas A&M) in the second round, and on the other side of the ball, signing DT Malcom Brown away from the Patriots (even though DL Alex Okafor left for the Chiefs), they should still be elite upfront. The coaching staff and kicking game are the ‘cherries on top’ of what looks to be another great year for the Saints. Will their fans turn Super Bowl week into Mardi Gras in Miami? You can bet on it.
ATLANTA FALCONS (8-8)
Unfortunately for fans in the ATL, the Falcons have one of the toughest schedules in the NFL; Including @IND, @MINN, LAR, PHI, @HOU, SEA, @ARI, @CAR, and of course they will play the Saints twice. In fact, the schedule is so tough early on that I project the Falcons will be 4-7 after week 12. Being that Atlanta ranks as my 11th best NFL team, it’s unusual to be projected to finish 8-8. The Schedule Maker did them no favors this year.
Matt Ryan, his O-Line, and WR/RB/TE units are still among the league’s best. They even added the promising WR Marcus Green (LA-Monroe), and RB Qadree Ollison (PITT), both nice Draft picks. Long-time star RB Devonta Freeman has also been reported to be back in top shape. Where the Falcons regress in the ratings is their well below-average Secondary. While they added a couple CB’s in the Draft, they aren’t the type of prospects to fix their problems. It’s looking like there will be a lot of OVER’s cashing in what should be a ton of high-scoring games for Atlanta, being that their Secondary is expected to be picked apart.
CAROLINA PANTHERS (6-10)
I’ve got Cam Newton ranked as the 12th best QB in the NFL. That may be a little low if you consider the amount of things he has to motivate him this season. There is of course all the doubt surrounding his throwing shoulder, which he would love to prove people wrong about. But there is also his Madden rating of 81, and let’s not forget the viral video this Summer of him being rejected for a seat-upgrade on an airplane. For most players these examples of public disrespect wouldn’t matter or necessarily motivate, but for Cam they can. It’s not a positive thing to be consumed with distractions like this, but for whatever reason, he’s usually able to make it fuel himself towards greater success. As if losing a Super Bowl isn’t enough motivation, this season he adds more.
Unfortunately for Cam and the Panthers, they also suffer from a below-average Secondary. After a poor season in 2018-19 Carolina surprisingly did nothing in the Draft to improve their Secondary. Also other than All-Pro LB Luke Kuechly, the Linebacker corps failed to impress. It will be up to their top-notch D-Line to stop opponents from lighting-up the scoreboard on Carolina this year. One bright spot, is their 5th round Draft pick out of Florida, RB Jordan Scarlett. Combining him with RB Christian McCaffrey, and undrafted rookie RB Elijah Holyfield (Georgia) who looked good in his first preseason game, the Panthers back-field is stacked. Newly acquired C Matt Paradis will also give the running game more of a downhill dynamic.
Much like Atlanta, they are also victims of a tough schedule. They should start 2-3, and are projected to miss the Playoffs.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (6-10)
Let’s start with the positives. The hiring of Head Coach Bruce Arians is an excellent addition, building toward a bright future with a serviceable QB, Jameis Winston. Coach Arians seems rejuvenated in interviews, and Jameis keeps proving he’s the team’s hardest worker. Even though they lost WR Desean Jackson, they signed veteran WR Breshad Perriman, and expect big things in WR Chris Godwin’s third year. Of course, their star WR Mike Evans is sure to also keep Tampa Bay in games all season. At TE the one-two punch of Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard form the league’s best TE room.
It’s a shame though, for the all the amazing weapons they have on Offense, the O-Line is not built to help much. Ranking as one of the worst offensive lines in the league, this is the Buc’s major hurdle in 2019. Without the ability to protect Jameis for long, the down-field threat of Mike Evans is greatly lessened. The worst part? Tampa did nothing to address this need in the Draft.
A sub-par Secondary and Linebacking unit will also give them issues this year. If they do manage to start putting up points, this Defense will contribute to a lot of OVERS cashing in Buc’s games as well. The kicking game is another sore spot for Tampa Bay, and I hate to say it South Florida, but this isn’t the year the Lombardi Trophy returns.