It looks like there is a new beast in the NFC South. Since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last won the division in 2007, the New Orleans Saints have triumphed six times (including four in a row), the Carolina Panthers have raised a banner on four occasions, and the Atlanta Falcons have won it thrice.
That’s right; the Bucs did not even win the division last season even though they went on to win the Super Bowl. With Tampa Bay having brought everyone back, New Orleans seemingly on the way down, and neither Atlanta nor Carolina looking like a contender, the NFC South is likely to change hands in 2021.
If you’re looking for more in-depth analysis and futures picks ahead of the 2021 NFL season, be sure to check out our predictions for who wins Super Bowl 56, as well as our assessment of which three teams will improve dramatically this year, and which teams will regress. As for individuals, we have also taken a look at the main player markets—including MVP and Offensive Rookie of the Year.
You can also find other division previews:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-192)
Super Bowl odds: +700
2020 record: 11-5
2020 ATS record (inc. playoffs): 12-8
Coaching hires: None
Top draft picks: Joe Tryon (DE), Kyle Trask (QB), Robert Hainsey (OL)
Free agency adds: Giovani Bernard (RB)
Free agency losses: Joe Haeg (OT)
As you can see from the above lists, the Bucs are living by the mantra “don’t mess with success.” If it isn’t broken, there is no need to fix it. And it certainly isn’t broken in Tampa. It took a few weeks (that’s it!) for the Bucs to gel with new quarterback Tom Brady at them help, but once things started clicking they were off to the races. Literally every starter has returned, so Tampa Bay figures to be even better than it was during the 2020 regular season.
“Just embrace that everybody’s trying to get us, but we have to be the hunter.”
🗣️: Assistant head coach/run game coordinator Harold Goodwin pic.twitter.com/UkE4BVy8rl
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) August 26, 2021
New Orleans Saints (+440)
Super Bowl odds: +4000
2020 record: 12-4
2020 ATS record (inc. playoffs): 10-8
Coaching hires: Ronald Curry (QB coach), Dan Roushar (TE coach), Brendan Nugent (OL coach), Ryan Nielsen (DL coach), Kris Richard (DB coach)
Top draft picks: Payton Turner (DE), Pete Werner (LB), Paulson Adebo (CB)
Free agency adds: Nick Vannett (TE), Tanoh Kpassagnon (DE), P.J. Williams (CB)
Free agency/retirement losses: Drew Brees (QB), Trey Hendrickson (DE), Janoris Jenkins (CB), Sheldon Rankings (DT), Emmanuel Sanders (WR), Jared Cook (TE)
It’s the end of an era in New Orleans. As expected, Drew Brees retired following the 2020 season (his last game was a divisional-round loss at home to Tampa Bay). Now it is former Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston who will be running the Saints’ offense. Winston infamously threw 30 interceptions during his final year in Tampa Bay (2019) and if he struggles head coach Sean Payton could turn to Taysom Hill under center. New Orleans lost a whole lot more than just Brees, too. It’s not time to say that the franchise is in rebuilding mode, but things look a lot different in the Big Easy.
Atlanta Falcons (+900)
Super Bowl odds: +8000
2020 record: 4-12
2020 ATS record: 7-9
Coaching hires: Arthur Smith (head coach), Dave Ragone (offensive coordinator), Dean Pees (defensive coordinator), Charles London (QB coach), Dave Brock (WR coach), Justin Peelle (TE coach), Dwayne Ledford (OL coach), Gary Emanuel (DL coach), Frank Bush (LB coach), Jon Hoke (DB coach), Marquice Williams (special teams coordinator)
Top draft picks: Kyle Pitts (TE), Richie Grant (S), Jaylen Mayfield (OT)
Free agency adds: Mike Davis (RB), Cordarrelle Patterson (RB), Erik Harris (S)
Free agency/trade losses: Julio Jones (WR), Alex Mack (OL), Keanu Neal (S)
Like the Saints, the Falcons are not in complete rebuilding mode. Unlike the Saints, the Falcons still have their old reliable at quarterback. Atlanta was thought to be in the QB market at the NFL Draft, but tight end Kyle Pitts ended up being the choice so Ryan is back for at least one more season. He doesn’t have a ton to work with now that Julio Jones is in Tennessee and the Todd Gurley experiment at running back ended after one year. This roster is not particularly good on either side of the ball, so it’s unlikely the Falcons will contend for a playoff spot in year one under Arthur Smith.
Carolina Panthers (+1200)
Super Bowl odds: +9000
2020 record: 5-11
2020 ATS record: 9-7
Coaching hires: Sean Ryan (QB coach), Frank Okam (DL coach)
Top draft picks: Jaycee Horn (CB), Terrace Marshall Jr. (WR), Brady Christensen (OT)
Free agency/trade adds: Sam Darnold (QB), Pat Elflien (OG), Cameron Erving (OT), Morgan Fox (DE), Haason Reddick (LB), A.J. Bouye (CB)
Free agency/trade losses: Teddy Bridgewater (QB), Curtis Samuel (WR), Mike Davis (RB)
One of the keys in Carolina will be fore Christian McCaffrey to stay healthy. Fellow running Mike Davis bolted for Atlanta, so there is no longer an insurance policy in the backfield. Sam Darnold needs all the help he can get as he tries to resurrect his career in a new location, so he needs to have McCaffrey at his disposal week in and week out. Whatever the case, the Panthers do not look much improved on paper so year two under head coach Matt Rhule will likely produce something similar to what we saw in 2020.
Listen to @gregolsen88‘s passionate team speech from practice
Full video on YouTube 🎥
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) August 25, 2021
NFC South best bet: Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win the division (-192)
It’s not a sexy pick, but -192 odds really aren’t that bad on a team that is exponentially more talented than all three of its rivals. You can never bet against Brady in the playoffs—and now you shouldn’t bet against him in the regular season, either. Tampa Bay is without question the best team in the NFC and arguably the best team in football. Combine that with an unspectacular competition level in the NFC South and this play makes all the sense in the world.
I also like the under on the win totals for Atlanta (7.5 at +110) and New Orleans (9 at -120) in addition to the over for Tampa Bay (12 at -110). The Bucs could very well sweep their way through the division at 6-0, and they are obviously good enough to go 7-4 against everyone else (keep in mind there are 17 games for each team now) and 6-5 would result in a push. Even if they go 5-1 or even 4-2 against the NFC South, getting to 13 or at least 12 isn’t out of reach.