Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers are fetching plenty of attention with sportsbooks as top picks to win the NFC South
The days of the NFC South division’s annual flip-flop of champions have been on hold the past three seasons, with Carolina taking top spot on records of 12-4, 7-8-1 and 15-1 SU (27-20-1 ATS). The Panthers are heavy favorites to extend their streak to a presidential term but the race behind them for second is the tightest among all eight divisions. Only 100 points separates the Falcons from the Bucs in terms of who could give Carolina their greatest challenge in 2016.
ODDS TO WIN NFC SOUTH (Now & Then)
Here is each team’s current odds to win the division along with their previously posted odds from early June, in parentheses.
As defending NFC champs, Panthers HC Ron Rivera’s odds for the annual NFL Coach of the Year award can be described as upper class. Rivera is paying back at 10 to 1, grouping him with such greats as Mike McCarthy, Bill Belichick and Mike Tomlin. Only Bruce Arians (+900) is paying back less.
Rivera’s first challenge of the regular season begins at Denver and the Panthers have circled this as thier most important non-divisional matchup of the year. Kelvin Benjamin is back after missing all of 2015 with an ACL. Benjamin and Devin Funchess give a potent downfield threat to a passing game that finished 24th at 224 yards per game.
Running back depth behind Jonathan Stewart is solid, with Fozzy Whittaker, Mike Tolbert and second-year back Cameron Artis-Payne. And of course Cam Newton, who currently ranks next to Aaron Rodgers (+425), Big Ben (+750) and Russell Wilson (+800) as top candidates for league MVP.
Newton (+800) won the award in 2015 and Rodgers claimed his second league MVP trophy in 2014. The MVP award has been handed to a QB eight of the past nine years and clearly, Cam is a hot commodity.
The Falcons’ projected win total opened at 7 Over (-110) so the fact bettors are getting even money on 7.5 wins shows they’ve been a popular team. O-Co Kyle Shanahan is surrounded by some decent talent but they need to get more point production from all thier efforts. The Falcons were fifth in total yards (374) but only 18th in red zone and 21st in scoring (21.2 PPG).
Atlanta signed former Browns C Alex Mack to a five-year deal in the off-season and his veteran presence gives this offense a definite boost. The defense will stand in the way of any real success, however, and their schedule is horrendous.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
As usual, the Saints front seven is shaping up like a major weakness but the secondary may be a little better this season and that could bail them out of some trouble. QB Drew Brees is fronted by a massive O-Line that was 7th in pass protection and there’s no reason to think age is suddenly going to slow this gunslinger down.
The Saints road schedule has tough stops in Kansas City, Carolina and Arizona. They also host a ton of teams with offenses that can exploit their soft D. Better get your popcorn ready!
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
It’s not often that you see a division’s biggest long shot posting a higher projected win total than its other rivals but that’s the case in Tampa. The schedule maker didn’t do the Bucs any favors but the hype around Jameis Winston is real.
Dirk Koetter and his new coordinators Todd Monken and Mike Smith have an immediate chemistry and the fact is, Tampa gained 376 total yards in offense last year. That’s 84 more than their previous season and in today’s league, teams that make such significant trends in that direction often find ways to win more games. Seven or eight wins are a possibility.