2014 NFC South Predictions with Odds and NFL Betting Picks
by Robert Ferringo - 8/13/2014
In one of the stranger streaks in all of football, the NFC South still has never had a back-to-back division champion. That is 11 straight years of complete and utter chaos, worst-to-first shenanigans, and general Southern unpredictability. Given that Carolina, last year's where-the-hell-did-they-come-from winner, has undergone a sizeable roster turnover this offseason I think it is reasonable to expect the South's streak to be extended.
The NFC South does have some new blood this year, with Lovie Smith trying to rebuild Tampa Bay after a decade of failure. But for the most part this division is set to continue the three-way wrestling match between Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton.
New Orleans Saints Predictions
2013 Record: 12-4 (8-0 home, 3-5 road)
2013 Against the Spread: 8-8 ATS, 6-10 vs. Total
2013 Rankings: 4th offense (2nd pass, 25th rush); 4th overall (2nd pass, 19th rush)
2014 Odds: 15/1 to win SB, 7/1 to win NFC, 1/1.4 to win NFC South, 9.0 wins O/U
Offense: If you have Drew Brees and you have Sean Payton you are going to have a Top 10 offense. Period. The Saints have finished in the Top 6 in the NFL in total yards for eight straight years and the Top 10 in scoring in six of the last eight seasons. I don't expect anything less this fall.
New Orleans dodged a serious bullet this offseason when Jimmy Graham got his contract situation squared away. He leads a versatile and deep receiving corps on the end of Brees' balls. New Orleans' offensive line is still stacked and the Saints' multifaceted attack is still impossible to slow down.
I did find it curious that the Saints let Darren Sproles get away this offseason. Sproles is one of the most unique talents in all of football. He was coming off a down season with just 824 total yards and four touchdowns. But he had averaged around 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns the previous two years. I think he will be missed.
Defense: The Saints defense underwent one of the most dramatic defensive turnarounds I've ever seen between the 2012 and 2013 seasons. The 2012 group was one of the worst in league history. After a full scheme overhaul and with some key player additions they vaulted up into the Top 5 last year. That transformation was one of the driving forces behind the Saints' 12-win campaign.
One of the key additions last year was inside linebacker Curtis Lofton, formerly of rival Atlanta. The Saints are hoping that new safety Jarius Byrd can have a similar impact on the secondary.
New Orleans operates Rex Ryan's ultra-aggressive 3-4 defense. Ryan has had a lot of trouble sustaining success in his previous stops as a defensive coordinator , though, and I would not expect the Saints to remain in the Top 10 again this year. In fact, I will be stunned if they field another Top 10 unit. Also, depth is an issue as I scan this roster; there is a steep drop-off from the starters to the backups in the front seven.
Skinny: The Saints are clearly the best team in this division. While Atlanta is stacked on offense and Carolina on defense the Saints were the only team in the NFL last year to finish in the top five on both sides of the ball.
New Orleans is nearly unbeatable at home (37-11 over the last six years) and this year three of their toughest nondivisional opponents (Green Bay, San Francisco and Baltimore) have to come to the Superdome. They have a tough November slate, but overall the schedule is pretty kind to a team that doesn't need a lot of extra advantages.
Atlanta Falcons Predictions
2013 Record: 4-12 (3-5 home, 1-7 road)
2013 Against the Spread: 7-9 ATS; 9-7 vs. Total
2013 Rankings: 14th offense (7th pass, 32nd rush); 27th defense (21st pass, 31st rush)
2014 Odds: 65/1 to win SB, 35/1 to win NFC, 4/1 to win NFC South, 10.0 wins O/U
Offense: Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White give the Falcons one of the most potent passing combinations in football. However, the loss of Tony Gonzalez and the inconvenient fact that Steven Jackson is a broken down old running back has sapped Atlanta of two other key components from an offense that was pretty mediocre last year.
Jackson has been banged up all training camp. And Julio Jones is only practicing every other day as he is still recovering from last year's season lost to a broken foot bone. If Jones goes out then this attack is in serious trouble.
While the skill positions are still in relatively good hands, the offense line has been awful for Atlanta. They made a wise decision to draft tackle Jake Matthews. But he's still a rookie finding his way. This unit has a low ceiling and no depth. And if they can't vastly improve, especially in the running game and on short-yardage situations, then the offense will likely be stuck in neutral this fall as well.
Defense: The Falcons have some issues on offense. But they have massive, massive issues on their defense right now. Injuries and poor personnel decisions have evaporated all the talent on this side of the ball and Atlanta is desperate to get the stop unit fixed.
The Falcons bulked up the front line of the defense this offseason to improve on last year's second-to-last rush defense. However, Atlanta has one of the worst linebacking corps in football. Their LBs are so bad that coordinator Mike Nolan may ply a 4-2-5 base defense with an extra safety on the field.
Atlanta's secondary has a lot of potential. They have three or four very young (first- or second-year) corners and safety. But at the end of the day this position group is really inexperienced and unreliable. William Moore and Dwight Lowery will try to lend veteran stability to the back seven. But this one could cut either way.
Skinny: All of the statistical indicators point to a big bounce back season for the Falcons. Last year's injury-riddled campaign was a completely anomaly considering the Falcons had posted five straight winning seasons and a remarkable 56-24 regular season mark during that stretch.
However, the schedule is absolutely brutal . Because they play a "home" game against Detroit in London, the Falcons play in Atlanta just two times between Sept. 14 and Nov. 20. That's too much for good teams to overcome, much less a group that went just 4-12 a year ago.
I'm a huge fan of Ryan and coach Mike Smith. I think they will get unfairly blamed for another flop. But the reality is that this team has a load of issues on both sides of the ball and their overall depth and talent isn't up to snuff compared to the rest of the NFC. Mix in that ugly dance card and I think it would be something if the Falcons can claw their way to .500.
Carolina Panthers Predictions
2013 Record: 12-4 (7-1 home, 5-3 road)
2013 Against the Spread: 9-6-1 ATS, 5-11 vs. Total
2013 Rankings: 25th offense (29th pass, 11th rush); 2nd defense (6th pass, 2nd rush)
2014 Odds: 70/1 to win SB, 35/1 to win NFC, 4.5/1 to win NFC South, 7.0 wins O/U
Offense: The Panthers lost their two best players and team leaders as left tackle Jordan Gross and receiver Steve Smith departed this offseason. In fact, Carolina bid adieu to its top four receivers and is completely rebuilding the offense around franchise quarterback Cam Newton. The offensive line is shuffling around and this side of the ball may look a lot different from the one that, frankly, wasn't very good last year.
Carolina dedicated itself to running the ball and playing great defense last year. They were focused on playing efficient, old school football and it worked to great effect. However, when the Panthers had to make a play in the passing game they at least had some guys that could get it done. This year they have no one and they are over reliant on rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
The Panthers still have a bizarre amount of money tied up in aging and barely productive running backs. Newton had offseason ankle surgery and the team got a lot younger and less productive on the offensive line. I know they'll be counting on Newton to compensate for the offensive deficiencies. But, honestly, I don't think he is nearly good enough at this point to gloss over what is wrong with the Panthers on this side of the ball.
Defense: While there are a lot of questions on offense, there are zero questions about the Carolina front seven. Luke Kuechly is a hero. The end combination of Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy has been the best in football, in terms of sacks, the past two years. They are stout across the line and steady against the run and the pass, working Ron Rivera's Cover-2 base to perfection.
The issue is the secondary. Carolina, after years of weak performance from its corners and safeties, finally got things to click last year. How did they respond? By dumping all four starters and rebuilding on the fly. Safeties Roman Harper and Thomas Decoud are retreads. The corners are not playmakers. And even though they benefit from a great pass rush and sound scheme there is no chance Carolina's defense won't regress this year.
Skinny: I am happy that Ron Rivera had such a great year in 2013. But there is no way that he is going to be able to sustain his good fortune in close games and on fourth down. "Riverboat Ron" caught a lot of breaks last season and it will be nearly impossible to duplicate that level of sustained success in high-pressure situations that, statistically, are usually no better than a coin-flip proposition.
The Panthers are No. 3 in the NFL in dead money against the salary cap. That is why they weren't able to replace all of the talent that they lost in the receiving corps and the secondary. Mix in the loss of their two locker room leaders, Smith and Gross, and there is just no way that this team is better this time around.
Carolina has to suffer a grueling schedule and all statistical indicators point downward . I think Rivera and that defense will keep the Panthers afloat. But I would be stunned if they managed to top .500 this year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Predictions
2013 Record: 4-12 (3-5 home, 1-7 road)
2013 Against the Spread: 6-10 ATS, 8-8 vs. Total
2013 Rankings: 32nd offense (32nd pass, 22nd rush); 17th defense (17th pass, 15th rush)
2014 Odds: 95/1 to win SB, 50/1 to win NFC, 7/1 to win NFC South, 7.5 wins O/U
Offense: In nearly 40 years of franchise existence the Bucs have finished in the Top 10 in scoring just one time (2000) and in the Top 10 in total yardage just one time (2012). If this team wants to catch up to the Saints and Falcons they will need to make a massive improvement on this side of the ball.
Tampa Bay brought in Josh McCown, fresh off his breakout second half with Chicago last year. He will mentor young quarterback Mike Glennon, who picked up some valuable experience as a rookie last year. The Bucs have some top tier skill players in Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin. I am also a big fan of young wideout Mike Evans and massive rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who give Tampa Bay some mammoth receiving targets.
The biggest question mark will be an offensive line that lacks talent or experience. Former Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks had his career cut short by a nasty MRSA infection last year. That was a massive blow to a line that wasn't that good to begin with. This unit could be one of the worst in football. And if McCown is running for his life then this offense could be nearly as bad as last year's.
Defense: Lovie Smith is bringing the Tampa-2 defense back home. The Bucs were already set with 4-3 personnel and Smith's scheme will be a welcome addition to a franchise that hasn't finished in the top half of the league in total defense in any of the last five years after placing No. 11 or higher in 12 of 13 seasons.
The main focus on this defense will be along the defensive line. Tackle Gerald McCoy is a Pro Bowler and free agent Michael Johnson is a prototype 4-3 end. The key will be whether or not underachieving high draft picks Adrian Clayborn or DaQuan Bowers can emerge opposite Johnson.
Tampa Bay has the potential for an excellent secondary. I thought the move from Darrell Revis to Alterraun Verner was a lateral one. I am a fan of hard-hitting Dashon Goldson and I think Mark Barron still has excellent potential. Smith quietly brought in some former Bears (D.J. Moore, Major Wright) who are well acquainted with his system.
Skinny: It is simply not possible for the Bucs to be more dysfunctional this year than they were last year. Greg Schiano was an epic disaster and last year's team came apart at the seams during training camp. Smith brings a calm, professional demeanor and a proven track record of success to Florida. The improvement should be noticeable and immediate.
Tampa Bay was not as bad as its record suggested last year. They played a very difficult schedule and gave away four games in the final minutes. There are several statistical indicators, including their Pythagorean win differential, that suggest the Bucs will win at least six games this year. And I think this team will be competitive from start to finish in 2014.
This organization has been a mess for the past decade. Smith is a welcome addition. But it is going to take time. Expect the Bucs to be better this year. But they still have a lot of ground to make up. Worst-to-first turnarounds have been a normal occurrence in the NFC South since its inception - including with Carolina last year. But that might be asking too much for the Bucs in 2014.
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Robert Ferringo was the top football handicapper in the country last year, earning nearly $8,000 in total football profit in 2014-14 and posting one of the best seasons in America. He hit 62.1 percent for the entire NFL season (95-58) and was amazing down the stretch, closing with 11 of 14 winning NFL weeks and 12 of 15 overall winning football weeks. Robert has posted 3 of 4 winning football seasons, 6 of 7 winning NFL seasons, 30 of 44 winning football months, and 6 of 7 winning NFL preseasons. Also, Robert's proprietary KING College Football Betting System posted another winning season (now 2-for-2) and is 83-58 over the last two years (58.9 percent).
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