NFC South Predictions and Futures Odds with Betting Picks
by Robert Ferringo - 8/5/2013
The NFC South may be the most competitive division in football this year. Besides the NFC North, the South is the only group in the NFL where I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the four participants rose up and won the division.
Keep in mind; the NFC South has a history of worst-to-first turnarounds. And in the 11 years that this group has been together there has never been a repeat champion. New Orleans and Atlanta have alternated South titles the last four years. But every one of these four franchises has been top dog at least once since 2007.
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Here are my 2013 NFC South predictions with futures odds and betting advice:
New Orleans Saints Predictions
2012 Record: 7-9 (4-4 home, 3-5 road)
2012 Against the Spread: 8-8 ATS, 10-6 vs. Total
2012 Rankings: 2nd offense (1st pass, 25th rush); 32nd overall (31st pass, 32nd rush)
2013 Odds: 15/1 to win Super Bowl, 7/1 to win NFC, 1.5/1 to win NFC South, 9.0 wins “Over/Under”
Offense: What’s not to like? The Saints have had one of the top two offenses in football in each of the last two years, including record-setting performances out of Drew Brees and the passing game. They should be even better now that Sean Payton is back and game planning.
Brees is elite. And if the defense helps out Brees won’t press as much. He can get a little shaky with ball security when he tries to do too much. New Orleans has once again said it will be more focused on running the football after falling from No. 6 in rushing in 2011 to No. 25 last year. But all that will go out the window once Brees gets going.
Keep an eye on the New Orleans receiving situation. Marques Colston is starting the year on the PUP list, and the Saints don’t have as much depth as I’d like at wideout. Also, their left tackle situation is an accident waiting to happen. Like I mentioned, there is an inverse relationship to Brees’ performance and the pressure he faces.
Defense: Breathtakingly awful. That is really the only way to characterize the gutless performance of the New Orleans defense last year. The Saints gave up the most yards in NFL history, and they were simply pathetic last season. They were not even capable of stopping the most basic of running plays and were a joke the entire campaign.
I fear that things will get worse before they get better.
New Orleans made the move to Rex Ryan in the offseason. That means a complete overhaul as the Saints go from a base 4-3 to a 3-4. One of New Orleans’ biggest problems has been their shoddy linebacker play. Now they are putting even more of them on the field? Brilliant.
Ryan has been a terrible defensive coordinator at every turn. And his blitz-heavy, constant pressure approach is going to put even more pressure on the Saints weak secondary. New Orleans doesn’t have any natural 3-4 pass rushers, and they aren’t thick enough at the point of attack to slow down opposing running games. All of this looks like a recipe for disaster.
But when you are the worst defense in NFL history, I suppose you have nowhere to go but up.
Skinny: I think that New Orleans is going to be a dangerous team for bettors this year. On the positive side, these guys went 8-8 last year despite A) having about 12 different head coaches and an entire offseason of distractions and B) carrying one of the worst defenses in league history. All that working against them and they didn’t even bottom out with a four-win season. That says something.
But even though I know they will be better behind a very motivated Payton, there are still a lot of holes on this team. The most gaping is that defense. I’m obviously not a big fan of Ryan’s, and I don’t see his experiment working.
The other issue for the Saints is that their division is loaded, and their schedule offers no quarter. They play only three games against teams that I have as noncompetitive within their respective division races. And they have rough interdivisional road trips at Chicago, New England and Seattle.
The Saints dominate at home. And I’m not in a hurry to bet against this team. They could be one of the five or six teams that make the playoffs each season without having made it the year before. But I’m also not jumping right back on the bandwagon because I don’t believe this team is as good as what we saw from 2009-2011.
Atlanta Falcons Predictions
2012 Record: 13-3 (7-1 home, 6-2 road)
2012 Against the Spread: 9-6-1 ATS; 5-11 vs. Total
2012 Rankings: 8th offense (6th pass, 29th rush); 24th defense (23rd pass, 21st rush)
2013 Odds: 15/1 to win SB, 8/1 to win NFC, 1.2/1 to win NFC South, 10.0 wins O/U
Offense: For my money this is the best offense in football. Julio Jones is an animal. Roddy White is now probably the best No. 2 receiver in football. Tony Gonzalez is a legend. And no matter what Steven Jackson has left, he is still a major upgrade from Fat Michael Turner. Add in triggerman Matt Ryan and these guys should be able to score at will.
Atlanta has let some offensive line talent leave in the past two years. They are a little shaky at right tackle, and depth is an issue. If the injury bug sneaks in – and the Falcons were one of the luckiest teams in football last year when it came to starts lost to injury – then that could be a problem for this unit.
Defense: This is where I have the problem with Atlanta. They couldn’t stop anyone last year. I mean, they were absolutely manhandled by Seattle and San Francisco. And if it weren’t for the occasional turnover these guys wouldn’t have held up against any top-tier attack.
And Atlanta got worse on defense this offseason. They let their only proven pass rusher and best defensive player, John Abraham, leave. They also let three very talented, experienced cornerbacks leave and now they have one of the younger secondaries in the game. That is a problem.
Atlanta took off with Mike Nolan’s aggressive approach last year. But they can only scheme around personnel deficiencies so much. Atlanta has a defensive line made up of Just A Bunch Of Dudes, a thin linebacker corps, and a defensive backfield that will get shredded. Their best defense is their offense.
Skinny: I was all over Atlanta last year. I was one of the only NFL analysts in the country last year that pegged them as a legit Super Bowl contender. This time last year I called them “the best value on the board” and I nailed a 7-Unit NFL Game of the Year with them in Week 1 over Kansas City. They went on to win 13 games and came within about 20 yards of going to The Big Game last year.
I’m not exactly “selling” on Atlanta this season. But I’m not as excited about their value in the betting market because they have a bull’s eye on their back. And their defense has the potential to be one of the worst in football, meaning that this team is just ripe and ready to blow huge leads and let weak opponents sneak in for backdoor covers.
There are a lot of indicators pointing toward a step back for Atlanta. Their injury luck, their turnover differential and their defensive yards per point numbers all point toward regression. They were also serious overachievers against their Las Vegas win total, and they were a fortunate 6-1 in close games.
Most importantly, Atlanta has the single biggest strength of schedule differential in football this year. They have some soft spots in the first five weeks leading into their bye. But after that Atlanta has one of the most difficult schedules in football. If they want to get back to the playoffs they will have to earn it.
Carolina Panthers Predictions
2012 Record: 7-9 (3-5 home, 4-4 road)
2012 Against the Spread: 9-7 ATS, 9-7 vs. Total
2012 Rankings: 12th offense (16th pass, 9th rush); 10th defense (13th pass, 14th rush)
2013 Odds: 40/1 to win SB, 18/1 to win NFC, 4/1 to win NFC South, 7.0 wins O/U
Offense: Former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski moved on and is now the head coach of Cleveland. But I don’t know that there were many tears shed when he left and new OC Mike Shula took over. I am very interested to see what Shula does with a unit that has been more promise than production the last two years.
Cam Newton kind of is who he is at this point. He is a weapon in the running game. And he has a big arm and is capable of putting up some huge numbers. But he will never be Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady or Drew Brees. He isn’t a great decision-maker, he doesn’t handle the overall game pressure very well, and he is nowhere near as accurate as those other top tier quarterbacks.
It doesn’t help that Newton doesn’t have much to work with in the passing game. Steve Smith is still amazing. But beyond that the Panthers wide receiver depth chart has been a wasteland for the better part of the last decade. Carolina’s running backs are all getting paid more than what they are producing. So someone needs to step up in a big way for this offense to improve around the quarterback and underrated offensive line.
Defense: What do you want first, the good news or the bad news?
The good news is that Carolina quietly stacked up a Top 10 defense last year. And now they get back Jon Beason, their best player. Luke Kuechly looks like the real deal and took control of this defense as a rookie. Overall, the front seven is solid against the run, and if they can generate a consistent pass rush these guys can get even better.
The bad news is the secondary. I simply have no idea what Carolina’s front office is doing. Their safeties are terrible. Their corners are just average. And depth is a problem. When you are in a division with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman, you can’t expect to take the title with a feeble secondary. But Carolina’s weakness plays right into their rivals’ strength.
Skinny: This is a very difficult team to get a read on. Last year Carolina was Everyone’s Sleeper Team. Naturally, I predicted that they wouldn’t live up to expectations, and they didn’t. This season they are still getting some national attention, but it is much more tepid.
A lot of people have Ron Rivera on the hot seat. I don’t understand that. Sure, he’s made some questionable in-game decisions, and Carolina has a frustrating knack for losing close games. But Rivera took over a team that won two games in 2010, and he has improved Carolina’s win total (to six and then to seven) each of the past two years while shrinking their net point differential from -212 to -23 to -6. That’s a solid rebuilding job.
Carolina’s schedule is one of the most difficult in football. But I think the Panthers have the potential to get over .500 this year. Either the Panthers or the Bucs are going to be a surprise team in the NFC this year. I just can’t determine which one it will be. And if the Panthers can simply show some improvement, maintain Rivera and the core of the roster, this is a team that I could see taking a major step forward next year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Predictions
2012 Record: 7-9 (3-5 home, 4-4 road)
2012 Against the Spread: 10-5-1 ATS, 9-7 vs. Total
2012 Rankings: 9th offense (10th pass, 15th rush); 29th defense (32nd pass, 1st rush)
2013 Odds: 65/1 to win SB, 40/1 to win NFC, 6/1 to win NFC South, 7.5 wins O/U
Offense: I’m not sure many people would’ve guessed that the Bucs boasted a Top-10 offense last year. But they have some outstanding skill players, and with better cohesion and execution Tampa Bay could even improve on last year’s numbers.
Doug Martin, aka The Muscle Hamster, had over 1,900 total yards in 2012 and could be even better. Vincent Jackson is a legit No. 1 receiver, and Mike Williams is a capable sidekick. The Bucs offensive line will be improved if they get full, healthy seasons out of Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph and if Bears washout Gabe Carimi can tap some of the potential that made him a first round pick. There are worlds of potential with this group.
That means that it all comes down to Josh Freeman. Freeman regressed in a big way in 2012, completing just 54.8 percent of his passes after connecting on 62 percent in 2010 and 2011. Freeman was extraordinarily efficient in 2010, tossing 25 touchdowns to just six interceptions. But the last two seasons those rations have panned to 43:39. Freeman needs to settle in, be more conservative and efficient, and become a reliable leader. If he does that there is no reason the Bucs can’t sport an offense to match what New Orleans and Atlanta own.
Defense: This is where we have some problems. Tampa Bay has given up more than 30 points in 12 of its last 24 regular season games. They showed flashes of being a good unit last year, holding four of their first seven opponents below 20 points. But then their lack of depth and shaky secondary were exposed in the second half, and by the end of the year this entire group was just gassed.
Depth is still an issue. Their nonexistent pass rush (27 sacks was third-worst in the league) is still a major issue. And if newly acquired Darrelle Revis doesn’t make a full recovery from knee surgery, the pass defense will remain an issue.
Tampa traded for Revis and picked up heavy-hitting Dashon Goldson. They also have capable LBs in Mason Foster and Lavonte David. But they need some guys on the defensive line to bow their backs against the run and generate some pass rush to help out the pretty average back seven.
This unit is young and hungry. But they have some glaring holes at each level of the defense. Unless they can do a better job of scheming around those deficiencies, or unless some of these precocious players can mature, the defense won’t be a strength in 2013.
Skinny: This is a dangerous team in the NFC South. They were extremely competitive in Greg Schiano’s first year at the helm, as indicated by their excellent 10-5-1 record against the spread and five close losses. With the same cast of characters back this year, it’s tough to say that they are going to be much better this time through the gauntlet.
Tampa Bay won 10 games in 2010 and then capsized to just four wins in 2011. They improved to seven last year, but they will face one of the most difficult schedules in football in 2013. If they can steal a Week 1 win on the road against the sad sack New York Jets then the Bucs get three of their next four at home. If they can get off to a strong start, I think that the confidence of this young team will only grow. That’s a lot of ifs. But stranger things have happened for less-talented groups.
Robert Ferringo is a professional handicapper and has posted back-to-back profitable seasons (college and pro). Robert has turned a profit in three of four football seasons and over the last nine months his clients have earned nearly $10,000 in profit with his football selections. He is looking forward to building on his stellar football handicapping resume again this fall and you can check him out here. Also, you can also get $60 worth of free Robert Ferringo member picks (no salesman, no credit card, no obligation!) by clicking here for more info.
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