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2018 NFC South Preview: Can the Saints Repeat as Division Champs?

SBD Staff Writer

by SBD Staff Writer in NFL Football

Updated Apr 22, 2020 · 10:43 AM PDT

Drew Brees handing the ball off to Mark Ingram
Drew Brees and the Saints will have to play their first four games without Mark Ingram, as he serves a four-game suspension. Photo by Keith Allison (Flickr).
  • The NFC South was the only division to send three teams to the NFL Playoffs last year
  • It’s also the only division with multiple NFL MVP-winners
  • Who will come out on top of the South in 2018?

The NFC South was the class of the NFL last year.

It was the only division in football to have more than one team with double-digit regular season wins – they had three – and was the only division to send three teams to the playoffs.

Although the division has not boasted a Super Bowl champion since 2010, it’s extremely hard to look beyond them when considering Super Bowl 53 contenders. Here’s a look at each team’s odds to prevail as NFC South champion in 2018:

Odds to Win the NFC South in 2018

Team Sportsbook 1 Odds Sportsbook 2 Odds 2017 SU Record 2017 ATS Record 2017 Division Rank
New Orleans Saints +150 +155 11-5 8-8 1
Atlanta Falcons +175 +185 10-6 7-9 3
Carolina Panthers +275 +275 11-5 9-7 2
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +1200 +950 5-11 6-9-1 4

New Orleans Saints

From 2007-2016, Drew Brees threw less than 620 pass attempts only once – 2009. That 2009 season, the Saints started 13-0, running the clock for many fourth quarters and resting Brees in the final week of the season (spoiler: Saints won the Super Bowl that year).

In 2017, the New Orleans Saints had a turnaround that would make Robert Downey Jr proud.

Saints GM Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton decided to go back to the formula that worked and changed gears from a pass-happy offense and laughable defense, to a far more disciplined, ground-and-pound, slug-it-out team that went 11-5.

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Unfortunately, the Saints will be without one half of the backfield duo they rode in 2017 for the first four games of the season, as Mark Ingram has been suspended for PED use.

I doubt anyone is that concerned if Drew Brees has to put the ball in the air a few extra times through that stretch, though.

Saints Key Additions 2018 Saints Key Departures 2018
WR Michael Floyd WR Brandon Coleman
WR Cameron Meredith TE Coby Fleaner
DE Marcus Davenport (Rookie) OT Zach Strief
TE Benjamin Watson WR Willie Snead
LB Demario Davis S Kenny Vaccaro

Atlanta Falcons

The 2017 Falcons took a step back from their historically high-scoring offense when Kyle Shanahan departed for San Francisco in 2017. His replacement, Steve Sarkisian, had some bumps in the early going of the season, but the Falcons were still a top ten offense in term of yards.

The Falcons offense was slowed by the PCL and MCL strains star running back Devonta Freeman played through for the latter portion of the season. Freeman’s 232 touches were his lowest total since his rookie season.

All reports coming out of camp say that Freeman is a full go and should return to his explosive self.

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This is an organization that has drafted extremely well over the last three seasons. Their defense is young, fast, and beginning to fulfill Dan Quinn’s vision when he was brought over from Seattle in 2015.

If Sarkisian can get this offense humming again – he certainly has all the parts to do so – the Falcons could make some serious noise in the NFC South.

Falcons 2018 Key Additions Falcons 2018 Key Departures
DT Terrel McClain WR Taylor Gabriel
G Brandon Fusco DE Adrian Clayborn
WR Calvin Ridley DT Dontari Poe
CB Isaiah Oliver

Carolina Panthers

Last year the Carolina Panthers had a nice bounce back year after a disastrous 2016 campaign. The Panthers improved by five wins in 2017, including a signature Week 4 win in Foxborough last season, finishing 11-5.

However, they weren’t as dominant as their record would suggest, as eight of the Panthers’ wins last season came by seven points or less.

Schematically, the 2018 Panthers are going through a transformation with new coordinators on both sides of the ball.

Norv Turner will serve as the new offensive coordinator, bringing his power running and vertical passing principals that should mesh well with the Panthers personnel.

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Eric Washington is now calling the shots on the other side of ball. But there may not be as drastic of changes here, as the Panthers chose continuity by promoting their former defensive line coach after Steve Wilks was named the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

They will, however, miss Thomas Davis through the first four games, as the LB has also tested positive for PED use.

The key for the Panthers this year will whether Turner can spark a passing game after they finished 28th last year. Drafting DJ Moore in the first-round of the 2018 NFL Draft will help, but Turner needs to get Cam Newton right, as well.

Panthers 2018 Key Additions Panthers 2018 Key Departures
DT Dontari Poe S Kurt Coleman
RB CJ Anderson DE Charles Johnson
WR DJ Moore RB Jonathan Stewart
WR Torrey Smith CB Daryl Worley

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One year ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the “it” team. The Bucs were predicted to make a major leap in 2017, on the back of Jameis Winston and his new weapons in the passing game.

Instead, the Bucs finished 5-11, dead last in the division, and watched all three division rivals play January football.

Winston at least took that leap, as he finished with a career-best in passer rating (92.2) and the Bucs finished fourth in the league in passing.

Unfortunately, their defense really let them down. Tampa Bay finished last in total defense and 22nd in points allowed.

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GM Jason Licht aims to change that this season, though, as he invested heavily on defensive talent in the offseason. Gerald McCoy will be aided by Jason Pierre Paul, Vinny Curry, and first-round rookie Vita Vea at his side in the trenches.

The issue for the Bucs in 2018 will be getting through the first three games without Winston under center.

Bucs Key Additions 2018 Bucs Key Departures 2018
DT Vinny Curry RB Doug Martin
DE Jason Pierre-Paul DE Robert Ayers Jr.
DT Vita Vea (Rookie) S T. J. Ward
CB Carlton Davis (Rookie) G Kevin Pamphile
CB M.J. Stewart (Rookie) Coach Jay Hayes

NFC South Betting Advice

While much of the talk is around New Orleans in the South, I struggle to put much faith in their defense.

The Atlanta Falcons are the most complete team in the division.

Keep in mind, they were one first down from winning Super Bowl 51, and they came up two yards shy of knocking off last year’s champs in the NFC Divisional Round in some pretty tough conditions.

Give me the +185 on the Falcons playing a home game in January.

Read previews for the AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, AFC West, NFC East, and NFC North.

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