NFC South Division Winners: Can Anyone Challenge Tom Brady and the Bucs?


Thanks to one of the most eventful NFL offseasons of all time, the bridge between last year’s Super Bowl and next year’s opening kickoff has felt a little shorter than usual.

Still, to fans, summer’s arrival means our desire to consume all things football grows to nearly uncontainable levels. Talk shows, podcasts and Twitter timelines are zeroing in on the upcoming NFL season. Fantasy drafts and competitions are popping up left and right. Sportsbooks are taking bets on futures like division, conference and Super Bowl champions.


Throughout June and July, I’m going to attempt to feed your hunger for NFL content by previewing every division. I’ll cover key division storylines, provide a breakdown for each team and give out my pick to win each division.

(Check out the division previews so far: NFC East | NFC NorthNFC WestAFC East | AFC NorthAFC South | AFC West)

NFC South Preview

For a minute, the NFC South looked like it would be one of the tightest two-horse races in the NFL. Then, Tom Brady unsurprisingly reversed his retirement and made the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the league’s heaviest division favorite at -300 (75% implied probability). 

The Saints have a chance to push the Bucs, or at least vie for a playoff spot in the NFC, but the bottom half of the division may be the weakest in all of football. The Panthers and Falcons, respectively, have the worst division winner odds for third- and fourth-place teams. So, will Brady and the Bucs plow through the NFC South once again? Or can someone give them a run for their money?

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

(FanDuel Sportsbook division title odds: -300)

In a division with Jameis Winston, Sam Darnold (maybe?) and Marcus Mariota, it’s no surprise Tom Brady and the Bucs are massive favorites. Tampa Bay is 24-9 in two regular seasons with Brady at the helm, and despite the team’s struggles against New Orleans, they are far and away the most talented squad in the division. 

In 2021, the Bucs brought back every single starter. At the beginning of the 2022 season, things will look a little different. First, Bruce Arians stepped down as head coach and was replaced by the defensive-minded Todd Bowles. Next, tight end Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement, and although almost nobody believes it will be permanent, he won’t be there to start the season. The Bucs will also be without wide receiver Chris Godwin early on as he recovers from a late-season torn ACL, so they went out and signed former Falcons wideout Russell Gage to soften the blow.

Gronk and Godwin are big losses, but the offense will continue to hum with Mike Evans on the outside and Leonard Fournette in the backfield. A Brady-led offense hasn’t finished outside the top-eight in total touchdowns since 2003. In fact, in two seasons with Tampa Bay, Brady and the Bucs have finished fourth and second in total touchdowns. They’re going to be fine. 

It’s hard to envision a scenario in which the Bucs let the NFC South crown slip away, but if they don’t win the division, it’ll likely be because this next team got a few nice breaks, outperformed expectations and continued their dominance over Tampa Bay.


2. New Orleans Saints

(FanDuel odds: +400) 

Jameis Winston 2022 NFC South Division Preview

Jameis Winston looked like a new man last season as he led the Saints to a 5-2 start and played a much different style of football than the chuck-and-duck style we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from him. In seven starts, Winston threw 14 touchdown passes and just three interceptions while generating the highest passer rating of his career. Unfortunately, he went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 8, and the Saints’ season unraveled.

New head coach Dennis Allen hopes the team will be whole again to start 2022. Winston should return in time for Week 1, and star wideout Michael Thomas is progressing in his rehab for a lingering ankle injury. Throw in the additions of Jarvis Landry, Tyrann Mathieu and first-round pick Chris Olave, and the Saints have a shot to push Tampa Bay for the NFC South title. 

A big part of the Saints’ fate, however, relies on Alvin Kamara’s availability. The NFL hasn’t yet dealt the star running back a suspension for his altercation during Pro Bowl weekend, but many expect Kamara to a solid chunk of time. That looming decision mightily clouds the Saints’ outlook. If Kamara plays season, e majority of the season, New Orleans could challenge Tampa Bay for the division, but the more time he misses, the worse their chances get.

3. Carolina Panthers

(FanDuel odds: +1300)

The Panthers will enter 2022 in a precarious spot. Are they rebuilding or trying to compete? The easy answer is that they’re rebuilding based on their 2021 record and outlook for the upcoming season, but Carolina hasn’t fully committed to that. With Christian McCaffrey healthy, DJ Moore freshly extended and a crop of supporting pass-catchers, the Panthers have skill players that plenty of quarterbacks could thrive with. Just not their own.

Sam Darnold finished 41st out of 44 quarterbacks in passing grade last season (min. 100 attempts), hence Carolina has been linked to rumors involving other quarterbacks. On the bright side, McCaffrey made Darnold and the Panthers offense a lot better. The duo only played four games together, but in those four games, Darnold averaged more completions per game, threw for 80 more passing yards per game and improved his TD-INT ratio.

On the other side of the ball, Carolina let a few veterans walk and will rely on young talent to develop. Edge rusher Haason Reddick bet on himself last season and cashed in by signing a three-year, $45 million deal with the Eagles. He was a big reason why the Panthers boasted a top-10 defense through the first eight weeks last season. Down the stretch though, Carolina’s defense fell off even after adding All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who signed with the Indianapolis Colts this offseason.

For the Panthers to push the NFC South’s top teams, they’ll need the defense to mirror the first half of last year. On offense, McCaffrey’s health is the biggest key. With CMC healthy, Carolina’s offense should at least be able to tread water, regardless of the QB situation.


4. Atlanta Falcons

(FanDuel odds: +2500)

The Atlanta Falcons had a unique offseason. Face of the franchise Matt Ryan was traded to the Colts to help them contend, and star receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended for the entire season because of a few bets he placed on NFL games (he’s one of us!).

As a result, Atlanta drafted USC wide receiver Drake London in the first round and will pair him with a second-year Kyle Pitts, who is primed for a breakout. Marcus Mariota will have the pleasure of throwing to those two mammoth targets after signing a two-year deal this offseason.

Over the last two seasons with Las Vegas, Mariota showed in sporadic work that he still has the speed and savvy as a runner to be an effective dual-threat quarterback. In one start in 2020, he toted the rock nine times for 88 yards and a TD. Last season, Mariota churned out almost seven yards per carry on limited carries scattered throughout the year.

Cordarrelle Patterson 2022 NFC South Division Preview

In 2021, hybrid weapon Cordarrelle Patterson was a breath of fresh air and elevated the Falcons’ otherwise stagnant offense. He was a big reason why the offense wasn’t the problem for Atlanta in 2021. That honor belongs to the defense. According to PFF, the Falcons ranked bottom-seven in the NFL in coverage grade and run defense while ranking dead last in pass rush productivity. In fact, the Atlanta pass rush accumulated just 18 sacks in 2021, the third fewest by any team since 2010.

Realistically, anything better than last place in the NFC South this year would be a win for the Falcons. The offense will likely show some flashes of upside with its exciting young weapons, but it won’t be enough to overcome an abysmal defense, a subpar offensive line and average quarterback play. Sorry, Atlanta. 

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