NFL Betting: Predicting Who Will Win the NFC South
Published on December 06, 2017
When it comes to the National Football Conference, the East and North seem to get the lion’s share of media attention and respect. I’m not sure whether it has to do with east coast bias or the fact that teams in those divisions have some of the longest and richest histories in football, but we sure seem to hear a lot every year about the Cowboys, Eagles, Giants and Packers.
But I can easily argue that the South has actually been the best division in the NFC since realignment in 2002. Over the past 15 years, the Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons have combined to win 6 conference titles and 2 Super Bowl championships, and it should have been 3 Super Bowl titles if the Falcons had just run the damn ball in the fourth quarter this past February against New England.
And while it’s true that the South has produced just 6 wild card teams during that span, I think that’s more of a byproduct of the parity in the division. With the Saints, Falcons, Panthers and Bucs beating themselves up every season (you might not remember, but the Buccaneers actually used to be pretty good), it’s tough to come out of the NFC South with a really good record. In 12 of the 15 seasons the NFC South has existed, the third-place team in the division has been at least 7-9, including a 10-6 Bucs team in 2010 that didn’t even make the playoffs.
This season is only adding to the case of the South being an NFC power. The 9-3 Saints are just a game back of the Vikings and Eagles for the best record in the conference, the Panthers are on their heels at 8-4, and the defending NFC champion Falcons currently hold the second wild card spot in the conference with a 7-5 mark.
Not only does the South look on its way to sending 3 teams to the playoffs this year, it’s also making for quite a race for the division title. As we enter the final quarter of the regular season, here are the latest odds at BetOnline for who will win the NFC South.
Obviously, the Buccaneers aren’t a candidate to win this race, already mathematically out of the running with a 4-8 record through 12 games. But Tampa Bay still has the potential to factor pretty heavily into which team does claim the South, scheduled to face each of its divisional rivals in the final 3 weeks of the season – including 2 games at home.
Let’s take a closer look at the other 3 teams to see if the Saints deserve that -400 price tag to win the division, or whether the Panthers or Falcons present value at these big underdog prices.
Two things that we don’t associate with Saints football – running the ball and strong defense – have made New Orleans not only the favorite to win the South, but also a legitimate Super Bowl contender. As of Wednesday, the Saints were ranked fifth on Bovada’s Super Bowl futures odds (+1000), trailing only the Patriots (+240), Steelers (+450), Eagles (+625) and Vikings (+825).
What I really like about New Orleans is their ability to beat you 2 different ways on offense. They can either run it down your throat with the third-best ground game in the NFL (just ask the Bills about that, after the Saints ran the ball 24 consecutive times in a 47-10 rout of Buffalo last month), or they can turn things over to Hall of Fame-bound quarterback Drew Brees and the third-best passing attack.
The fact that the Saints are also playing some pretty solid defense (11th against the pass, 12th in total yards and points allowed) also bodes well, although that defense has shown some cracks lately by allowing 78 points in its last 3 games.
New Orleans could all but lock up the NFC South on Thursday Night Football when it visits the Falcons. Atlanta is a 2-point home underdog in that game (the Falcons opened as 2-point favorites, but the line has flipped) and desperately needs a victory not only for its division title aspirations but also for its playoff hopes. However, if the Saints can pull out a road victory, they’d be 4-0 in the division, 3 games up on Atlanta, still have at least a 1-game lead on the Panthers (who they own the tiebreaker against) and host the Jets next week.
Why are the Panthers just slightly smaller underdogs to win the NFC South than the Falcons, despite having 1 more win than Atlanta?
Well, let’s just say that tiebreakers aren’t Carolina’s friend right now. The Panthers lost both of their meetings with the Saints right now and are just 2-2 against teams from the South. The best-case scenario for Carolina’s division record this year is 4-2 and they’ll need to win in Atlanta on the final weekend of the season to do it.
Before they close the year with a home game against Tampa Bay and that visit to Atlanta, the Panthers have plenty of heavy lifting to do first. It begins Sunday, when they host Case Keenum and the red-hot Vikings, a game in which Carolina is a 3-point home underdog. That’ll be followed up by a visit from Green Bay the following week, when Aaron Rodgers might just be back under center for a Packers squad that is still very much in the playoff hunt.
On the bright side for Carolina, 3 of its final 4 games are at home and the Panthers have already beaten Atlanta. But the Cats will still need a bit of cooperation from the Saints to make up 2 games on New Orleans in the final 4 games of the year, and I’m not sure they’ll get it.
The Falcons have been maddeningly inconsistent this year, especially for a team that boasted one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history last season. I know losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan hurt, but I’m not sure it completely explains how Atlanta’s offense is just 14th in the league in points per game
Atlanta looked like it might be making a late-season push when it destroyed the Cowboys 27-7 and earned a road victory in Seattle in consecutive weeks last month, but the Falcons saw a 3-game winning streak come to an end last week when they could manage only 9 points in a loss at home to the Vikings. That defeat dropped Atlanta to just 3-3 at home this year, with the other 2 losses coming in bewildering fashion to the Bills and Dolphins (the latter when Atlanta was coming off a bye and was favored by 14 points.)
Still, Atlanta’s got the potential to run the table the rest of the way, especially with its defense playing as well as it is (holding 6 of its last 8 opponents to 20 points or less). The Falcons essentially need to do just that, beginning with Thursday’s home game against New Orleans. If Atlanta can deliver as 2-point favorites, the Dirty Birds have 3 more division games to finish the year (at Tampa Bay, at New Orleans and home to Carolina.) That means Atlanta controls its own destiny here, having the potential to end up 5-1 against the division, make up 2 games against the Saints and own the tiebreaker over New Orleans.
It’s really hard to go against the Saints here. We’re talking about a team that has lost just once since opening the year with an 0-2 record, and New Orleans’ 3 losses have come at Minnesota, at home to a Patriots team that had 10 days to prepare after losing its season opener, and at the Rams.
I really don’t see New Orleans letting this NFC South lead slip away, but it’s also hard to see some value in betting the Saints at -400 to win the division either.
To me, the best way to bet this prop is this: If you think the Saints will win the division, lay the 2 points with New Orleans this week at Atlanta. You can get close to even odds instead of laying 4 to win 1, and if the Saints lose on Thursday, you can get better odds on New Orleans winning the South next week.
A big win over New Orleans on Thursday might just be enough to send Atlanta on a late-season run, and all the Falcons need to do is win out (3-1 could even do the job, as long as they beat New Orleans again in Week 16) to cash a fat ticket.