Of all the eight divisions in the NFL, the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad NFC South will be the most difficult to pin down for this year's football picks.
Somebody has to win the NFC South. This division failed to produce a single winning team last year; the Carolina Panthers (7-8-1 SU, 8-8 ATS) snatched the title by running the table in December, beating each of their three division rivals along the way. So who will it be this year?
Good question. The NFL odds at press time have the Panthers, the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints all bunched tightly together on the futures market, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers not all that far behind. All four of these teams have reason to believe they'll perform better in 2015. Which one belongs in our football picks? Another good question.
Let's Take a Winston Break
There really is no favorite to win the NFC South this year. Depending on where you shop, the Falcons (+172 at Bookmaker and JustBet) could be No. 1, or it could be the Saints (+185 at Heritage and WagerWeb). The Panthers are +200 co-favorites with Atlanta over at Bovada and SportsInteraction. Or how about this: GTBets has all three teams tied at +200.
We're not even all that comfortable writing off the Buccaneers. Their football odds range between +650 at Bovada and +800 at Bookmaker and JustBet. Compare and contrast to the Oakland Raiders, who are priced as high as +3050 to win the AFC West. Sure, we've had plenty to say about new Bucs QB Jameis Winston, most of it not very complimentary. But there's a non-zero chance he could be an instant success. At the very least, Football Outsiders gives Winston a 12.8-percent chance of becoming a quality starter within the next three years.
Offense: New Orleans (No. 5), Atlanta (No. 6), Carolina (No. 11), Tampa Bay (No. 16)
Defense: Carolina (No. 7), Atlanta (No. 13), Tampa Bay (No. 14), New Orleans (No. 15)
If we've read the tea leaves correctly, the Panthers would be the solid “conservative” NFL pick. There's little doubt they've got the best defense in the NFC South, even with the departure of DE Greg Hardy, and their offense isn't completely awful. The Saints, and to a lesser extent the Falcons, have more upside. They've got the offensive jam, and maybe their defenses won't be nearly as bad as advertised. Besides, defensive performance is difficult to quantify and doesn't correlate to winning as closely as offense does.
With that last point in mind, we're inclined to give the Saints our official “Super Genius” stamp of approval. They haven't won the NFC South since 2011, but all that Bountygate nonsense didn't help, and we're even getting a decent price at +230. Laissez le sphéroïde allongé rester avec vous.
Free NFL Pick: Take the Saints +230 at JustBet