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NFC South Division Winners: With Brady Gone, Who Is the Top Dog?

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Nick Makowitz

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Now more than ever, the fantasy and betting landscapes are providing a year-round experience for fans, especially when it comes to the NFL. With the advent of best ball and growth of dynasty leagues – plus the explosion of legal sports betting options – casual fantasy players and bettors are no longer waiting until the late summer to catch up and get involved.

 

Still, summer brings with it an enhanced focus on NFL content. Talk shows, podcasts and Twitter timelines are zeroing in on the upcoming season, fantasy drafts and competitions are ubiquitous, and sportsbooks are taking bets on futures like division, conference and Super Bowl champions.

Over the summer, I’ll attempt to satisfy your craving 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: AFC East | NFC East | AFC NorthNFC North | AFC South)

NFC South Preview

Last season, the NFC South was the epitome of mediocrity, but it was nevertheless entertaining. Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the division at just 8-9 while every other team – the Panthers, Saints and Falcons – all finished a game back at 7-10. This season, it’s not looking much better at the top, but it could be just as much of a logjam.

Entering 2023, the Saints (+135) are favored to recapture the division crown after a two-year drought, and they’re followed by the trendy Falcons (+230), the Panthers (+340) and the Buccaneers (+600), who find themselves in an unfamiliar spot after Tom Brady’s retirement. With Brady gone, are the Saints poised to take back the NFC South? Or can one of the division’s young quarterbacks overtake them to win the division title?

New Orleans Saints

(FanDuel Sportsbook division title odds: +135)

Rather than continue to suffer from subpar quarterback play since Drew Brees’ retirement, the Saints went out and acquired Derek Carr with the hopes that he can get them over the hump in a weak NFC South. Last season, New Orleans scrapped their way to a 7-10 record despite ranking 22nd in scoring. They did, however, get a good look at then-rookie receiver Chris Olave, who showed that he can be a true No. 1 receiver. With Carr under center, Olave in year two, a healthy Michael Thomas (maybe) and a solid backfield duo, the Saints’ offense should take a major step forward in 2023. 

The best-case scenario for New Orleans is that Carr stays healthy, Alvin Kamara avoids a lengthy suspension, Chris Olave takes a leap and Michael Thomas actually plays football. If all that happens, they should easily control the division and could be looking at a playoff victory or two. Still, that’s a ton of variables, so to have all of them break perfectly would be shocking. The worst-case scenario still probably leaves them fighting for a division title in this version of the NFC South. 

Atlanta Falcons

(FanDuel odds: +230)

Drake London Kyle Pitts Atlanta Falcons Fantasy Football NFC South Division Winner Odds

After a surprising 7-10 finish in 2022, the Falcons have become a popular playoff pick in 2023. They grounded and pounded their way to overachievement last season and continue to add talent around their young core. With offensive skill positions built like someone’s Madden franchise, the Falcons’ quarterback play will go a long way in dictating their success. If it’s Desmond Ridder, he’ll have to improve on the 86.4 passer rating and 49.8 QBR that he garnered in four starts as a rookie. If he can’t, Atlanta will have to turn to veteran gunslinger Taylor Heinicke.

Atlanta’s strength should again be their running game though. They drafted Texas standout Bijan Robinson in the top 10 and have one of the best offensive line units in the NFL. If the starting quarterback can limit turnovers and control the game similarly to last year, the Falcons should be able to stay in games, especially with an improved defense. It’s possible, however, that the quarterback play holds back the skill players yet again and ultimately derails the Falcons’ season.

Carolina Panthers

(FanDuel odds: +340)

Amazingly, the Panthers had a legitimate chance to win the NFC South last season despite allowing three different quarterbacks to start at least five games. Timely defense and a running game that got better as the season went along carried Carolina to a near playoff berth. Now, the Panthers will hand the keys to No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young, and they’ve made a nice effort to give him the weapons he needs to be successful in year one.

No, there’s no more Christian McCaffrey, and yes, the Panthers traded DJ Moore to the Bears, but they’ve added veteran pass-catchers like Adam Thielen, DJ Chark and Hayden Hurst while signing former Eagles running back Miles Sanders. Behind a solid offensive line, Young has a better situation than most first overall picks do. If he’s the real deal, the Panthers could challenge New Orleans and Atlanta. If not, that’s okay because Carolina is at the start of a rebuild. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

(FanDuel odds: +600)

Mike Evans Chris Godwin Tampa Bay Buccaneers Fantasy Football NFC South Division Winner Odds

After winning the Super Bowl and then two consecutive NFC South titles, the Buccaneers find themselves as the consensus worst team in a division that isn’t all that strong. Tom Brady’s retirement — among changes on defense and to the offensive line — has left a massive void in Tampa Bay. Filling it will either be Kyle Trask or Baker Mayfield, neither of whom has experienced any sustained success in the NFL, granted Trask hasn’t had the opportunity. 

Whoever wins the starting quarterback job will still be aided by a very impressive group of skill players though. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin make up one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL while Cade Otton and Rachaad White each showed promise as rookies. In a division filled with quarterback mystery, the Bucs fit right in. If Trask or Mayfield can play better than expectation, Tampa Bay may not be that far off of the teams at the top. However, there are holes on the O-line front and in the secondary that will probably prevent them from making any noise in 2023. 

 

The Pick: New Orleans Saints

With all of the uncertainty in the NFC South, the Saints have the most stable quarterback option with Derek Carr. I’m confident that, even with a looming suspension for Kamara, the New Orleans offense will be more consistent than any other in the division, and the defense will be solid enough to push them into the playoffs.

Wild Card: Atlanta Falcons

On paper, the Falcons have a fun team. Bijan Robinson, Kyle Pitts and Drake London make up a fantastic young trio, but will Ridder or Heinicke be good enough to fully unlock them? Swap one of those guys for Derek Carr and Atlanta is probably the odds-on NFC South favorite easily. 

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