Can the Carolina Panthers make it three division titles in a row?
The NFC South was absolutely awful last year with every team posting a record below .500. Almost every team in the division shuttled players in and out to prevent that from happening again in 2015. The biggest question is who is going to take the crown and by how much.
Much like I did with the college football win totals, I will break down the schedules in terms of home and road opponents outside the division. In most situations, I'll give a split to each team in divisional play with them winning at home and losing on the road. Vegas is much more on the ball in the NFL compared to college football so the numbers are a lot sharper.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of 5Dimes Sportsbook
(Over 8.5 wins -105, Under 8.5 wins -115)
Record Last Year: 6-10
Offense: The big three is the same with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White returning for another season. It'll be interesting to see new coordinator Kyle Shanahan's spin on the group, as he was able to fix the running game in Cleveland last year as well as Washington before that. Tevin Coleman, Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith are all in the mix in the backfield. The offensive line needs to improve to help keep Ryan upright. Harry Douglas, Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers all found new homes.
Defense: The addition of Dan Quinn as head coach should help this side of the ball, which has been awful. He brought in Phillip Adams and O'Brien Schofield from Seattle as well as Brooks Reed and Justin Durant at linebacker. The team also addressed defensive holes with the draft picks of Vic Beasley and Jalen Collins. It's going to be a struggle for this side of the ball.
Schedule: A tour of the NFC East begins the season for Atlanta with a home game against the Eagles followed by back-to-back road trips to play the Giants and Cowboys. The Falcons also play three straight on the road Weeks 14-16 at Tampa, Carolina and Jacksonville. That stretch doesn't sound daunting but the road has been unkind at times to the Falcons.
Prediction: No real strong feel for the Falcons. A lot of questions and a lot of shootouts are in Atlanta's future. In this division though, you could probably say the same thing for every team.
(Over 8.5 wins +115, Under 8.5 wins -135)
Record Last Year: 7-8-1
Offense: Cam Newton didn't really get much in the way of offensive help this offseason. One could argue the most impactful addition was either Michael Oher for the offensive line or Devin Funchess for the outside. Oher replaces Byron Bell, who was not very good in 2014. The clogged backfield lost DeAngelo Williams, who went to Pittsburgh. Now it's Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert's show. Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen will be the main cogs to the passing game.
Defense: Carolina challenges Philly for the best group of linebackers in the NFL with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. This group could get better with the addition of first-round pick Shaq Thompson. Cornerback Charles Tillman comes over from Chicago, but who knows how much he has left in the tank. This is the best defense in the division.
Schedule: There are some easy and hard stretches to this schedule. Carolina plays at Seattle then hosts Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Green Bay after a Week 5 bye. The Panthers also have four road games out of five from Weeks 12-16.
Prediction: The under is the play, but not because of a lack of talent. Carolina's schedule will be its undoing. The Panthers are lucky to be in this division because it's going to give them several victories. They are the most talented team in the NFC South.
(Over 8.5 wins -125, Under 8.5 wins +105)
Record Last Year: 7-9
Offense: We'll see what Drew Brees can do this year without security blanket Jimmy Graham, who went to Seattle. Brees also lost Kenny Stills and Pierre Thomas, but the Saints did add in C.J. Spiller to help add some explosiveness. Brandin Cooks becomes the No. 1 receiver with Marques Colston and Nick Toon among those trying to help. The Graham trade did bring over Max Unger, who should be a nice addition to a beleaguered offensive line.
Defense: Rob Ryan's group was absolutely horrific last year, finishing 31st in total defense. The Saints lost Curtis Lofton and Patrick Robinson in free agency, but replaced them with Anthony Spencer and Brandon Browner. The unexpected release of Junior Galette will hurt since he had 10 sacks last year.
Schedule: The Saints alternate road and home games for the first eight weeks of the season. They don't have a single stretch with more than one road game in a row unless you count Weeks 10-12 when they play at Washington and Houston with a bye sandwiched in between.
Prediction: No strong lean for this one. The defense will be a project this year once again, but the schedule isn't too tough. New Orleans should compete with Carolina for first place in the division.
(Over 6 wins +110, Under 6 wins -130)
Record Last Year: 2-14
Offense: Jameis Winston actually enters a pretty good situation for a rookie quarterback. He's got a basketball team for weapons with Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The running back position is being held down by Doug Martin and Charles Sims. The problem with this unit is the offensive line, although they drafted help in Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet
Defense: This side of the ball needs some work too. Tampa can build around Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy as well as Alterraun Verner. Last year the Bucs tried to fix the defense by spending on almost every impact free agent. It didn't work so this year they let some of those players go while bringing in a few new pieces. The new faces include Chris Conte, Bruce Carter, Henry Melton and George Johnson. They are replacing disappointing Dashon Goldson and Mason Foster among others.
Schedule: Week 1 should be Winston vs. Marcus Mariota as the Bucs host the Titans. Tampa Bay has some winnable games before a Week 6 bye. The toughest stretch could be from Weeks 9-12 when the Bucs host the Giants and Cowboys followed by road games at the Eagles and Colts.
Prediction: I came up with six wins almost every time that I ran through the schedule. The defense should be able to keep this team in games with an offense that needs time to click with Winston under center. Once again another flawed team with some talent in this division.
— 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.