NFC South Odds: Panthers Favored
No surprise, the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers are favored to repeat as NFC South Division winners in 2016.
According to oddsmakers from online sports book Bovada.lv, the Panthers are -200 to win the NFC South this upcoming season, while the Atlanta Falcons have the next-best odds at +525. The Saints are listed right behind the Falcons at +600, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the longest odds to win the division, but are right behind New Orleans at +650.
The Panthers will return the same core that led them to a Super Bowl appearance a year ago. On offense, Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart and Greg Olsen are all back, plus 2014 first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin will return after missing the 2015 season due to an injury suffered in August. On defense, stalwarts Luke Kuechkly, Thomas Davis, Star Lotueleli, Kawann Short, Charles Johnson and Kurt Coleman are all back, but No. 1 corner Josh Norman signed with the Redskins. Replacing him will be no small task.
Besides the Broncos, the only team to beat the Panthers in 2015 was the Falcons, who started off 5-0 before suffering a mid-season collapse that cost them an opportunity to earn a wild card berth. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and 2015 standout Devonta Freeman all return, plus the team brought in pricey free agent Mohammad Sanu to play opposite Jones. The defense is the biggest question mark, specifically the pass rush, but the unit is not without talent. Desmond Trufant is one of the best young corners in the game and Vic Beasley should only get better in his second year. The additions of free agents Derrick Shelby and Courtney Upshaw, plus first-rounder Keanu Neal should provide Dan Quinn's defense with an upgrade.
Defense will also be a question mark in New Orleans after the Saints were shredded weekly by opposing offenses a year ago. The team did draft Sheldon Rankins to play alongside Cameron Jordan on the defensive line, plus James Laurinaitis (Rams) is a smart, competitive player that should help Stephone Anthony at the second level. But do the Saints have enough on defense? Offensively, Drew Brees returns and has new weapons in tight end Coby Fleener and second-round receiver Michael Thomas. Mark Ingram and Brandin Cooks also return.
Last but not least, the Bucs have a new head coach in Dirk Koetter, who was the team's offensive coordinator a year ago when rookie QB Jameis Winston threw for 4,042 yards with 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. If Winston can cut down on the turnovers, he has plenty of weapons around him in Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin. As for the defense, the secondary got a makeover thanks to free agent addition Brent Grimes and first-rounder Vernon Hargreaves, who was a stud at Florida. Gerald McCoy remains a beats in the middle of the defensive line and the Bucs are solid at linebacker thanks to Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander. Like the Falcons, however, the biggest question is if Tampa Bay has enough pass-rush to be competitive week in and week out.
2016-17 NFC South Division Odds
Carolina Panthers -200
Atlanta Falcons +525
New Orleans Saints +600
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +650