There is some extra star power in the NFC South with Adrian Peterson coming over to New Orleans. The Saints are gearing up to help make the back end of Drew Brees' career better. Carolina figures to have a healthier Cam Newton to challenge Atlanta, who could be subject to a Super Bowl hangover.
And then there’s Tampa Bay, a team that is getting so much hype this offseason (thanks Hard Knocks) that the Buccaneers won’t sneak up on anyone. You can get decent value on each team to win this division depending on how you feel. Let's look at the South Point Casino's numbers.
Over 9.5 wins -105...Under 9.5 -115
8/5 to win the division
Offense: The offensive weapons are pretty much intact with Matt Ryan leading the way. Ryan threw 38 touchdown passes compared to just seven interceptions in winning MVP honors last season. Julio Jones may not play in the preseason despite being healthy after dealing with another toe injury. Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel got more open looks with Jones constantly being double-teamed. Devonta Freeman got paid this offseason, but will share carries in some fashion to Tevin Coleman, the thunder to Freeman’s lightning. Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo are the primary tight ends as Jacob Tamme was not re-signed.
Defense: Dontari Poe is going to be a big-time addition to the defensive line. Combine him and Vic Beasley and you've got a stout group that will get to the quarterback with ease. Beasley led the NFL with 15.5 sacks last season. The 10-game suspension of Jalen Collins means that Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford must play well and stay healthy with questionable depth behind them. Takkarist McKinley and Duke Riley were the team’s first draft picks each have a good shot at starting right away. The defense should have plenty of speed and athleticism on each level and has a shot at being one of the stronger units.
Selection: As mentioned above, I'm very concerned about a Super Bowl hangover for Atlanta. Not only that, this division is a lot better so it's imperative to win games against the other teams on the slate. The Falcons have three straight home games (Weeks 12-14) and three straight road games (Weeks 7-9), an interesting quirk. They also play Tampa Bay and New Orleans twice over a five-week span that starts Thanksgiving weekend. I think the under is the play here as I see a nine-win team. The number opened at 10 and was bet down so others agree as well.
Over 9 wins -140...Under 9 +120
11/5 to win the division
Offense: As always, this side of the ball goes as Cam Newton does. The quarterback was clearly not 100 percent healthy last year and it showed on the field. He had offseason shoulder surgery and the team has taken its time with his recovery. Newton will enjoy the additions of rookies Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel to the offense. McCaffrey figures to be utilized as both a runner and receiver. Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess give Newton a pair of tall receivers. Benjamin has looked good early in the preseason, so maybe this is the year he finally breaks out. Tight end Greg Olsen is the veteran in the group and he’s Newton’s most trusted target.
Defense: The usual suspects are back although the team still didn't address the secondary much. Captain Munnerlyn’s return as a free agent and the drafting of Corn Elder may not be enough to bolster this group, which had its share of issues last season. Mike Adams does add a veteran presence at safety and he and Kurt Coleman should give the Panthers a solid duo there. This is arguably the best linebacking corps in the league with Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson. Kuechly is a bit of injury concern after missing the last six games because of a concussion. I like this side of the ball to continue its solid play because it’s a good mix of youth and established veterans and there’s quite a bit of continuity.
Selection: It was just two years ago when the Panthers went 15-1 in the regular season and played in the Super Bowl. The team has swung back and forth between winning the division (2012, ’15) and wining just six or seven games over the past five seasons. Carolina plays four road games over a five-week span, but gets three in a row at home in December against potential playoff teams in Minnesota, Green Bay and Tampa Bay. Unfortunately I agree with the public move once again and agree on the over. This all assumes Newton is healthy and playing well.
New Orleans Saints
Over 8 wins +105...Under 8 -125
9/2 to win the division
Offense: The Saints will continue to rely on the run with the addition of Adrian Peterson, who looks good so far in the preseason. Between him and Mark Ingram, New Orleans has plenty of reasons to try and play ball control offense. Drew Brees is getting up there in age, but he’s thrown for at least 4,800 yards in each of the past six seasons. Ted Ginn Jr. signed as a free agent and will take Brandin Cooks place as the speedster. Michael Thomas takes over as the No. 1 receiver after a big rookie season.
Defense: Yikes, the secondary could still be very rough. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore was the team’s first-round pick, while Delvin Breaux was reportedly being offered in a trade because of his ongoing injury issues. The front seven is going to have to get some sort of pressure to help out a seemingly undermanned secondary. Linebackers A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o and defensive end Alex Okafor were all added through free agency and are expected to start. This defense will need another big season from Cameron Jordan (7.5 sacks in 2016).
Selection: The Superdome used to be a lot tougher place to play in, but the Saints are just 11-13 there over the last three seasons. Offense has never been a problem for this team and that won't change with Peterson added to the fold. It’s a rough start to the season with Minnesota (road), New England, Carolina (road) and Miami (in London) before an early Week 5 bye. Three of the team's final five games are at home while the two road dates in that stretch are either indoors (Atlanta) or in Florida (Tampa Bay) so this could help New Orleans put together a strong finish. I came up with eight wins so no play for me here.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Over 8 wins -140...Under 8 +120
3/1 to win the division
Offense: There are no excuses for Jameis Winston not to succeed in 2017. Tampa Bay added DeSean Jackson (free agency) and O.J. Howard (draft) to an offense that already had Mike Evans. The running game is going to be done by committee at least to start with Doug Martin suspended the first four games. That gives Jacquizz Rodgers another chance to carry the load after playing well with a limited number of games last season. The offensive line is just alright so it's good that Winston is a mobile quarterback.
Defense: Chris Baker also signed in free agency after playing the past five seasons in Washington. He pairs nicely with Gerald McCoy in the middle of the defensive line. Third-round pick Kendell Beckwith joins Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander as the starting linebackers. The Bucs were among the league leaders with 17 interceptions last year and the secondary is led by veteran Brent Grimes and second-year corner Vernon Hargreaves. Overall, this unit should be able to take a step or two forward, especially if the secondary comes together.
Selection: It's the Raiders and Bucs who are getting the most love as teams ready to take the next step. We'll see if Tampa can handle the spotlight when New England comes to town for a Thursday night contest in October. The additions are nice, but the schedule got an upgrade overall. I think eight wins is a good number so once again no play. I will say that 3/1 isn't terrible odds on winning the division so while I don't love the win total number, I could take a small shot on that.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.