One of the most underrated divisional rivalries in the NFL might be the best rivalry in the league this season. The banter between the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons has reached a fever pitch. New Orleans finished last season with the best regular season record in the league, but a dubious no pass interference call against the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game helped keep them from making the Super Bowl. After hearing 28-3 from Saints fans the last few seasons, the Falcons were quick to show that turnaround is fair play and trolled New Orleans mercilessly this offseason. Those two teams are favored to win the NFC South in 2019, and their two meetings are going to be intense.
2019 NFC South Odds
New Orleans Saints -191
Atlanta Falcons +327
Carolina Panthers +640
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +1636
New Orleans boasts one of the scariest offenses in the league. Drew Brees has been one of the top quarterbacks in the league for the last decade, and he makes the most of the talent around him. The Saints have a Pro Bowl receiver in Michael Thomas, and Ted Ginn and Tre’Quan Smith are solid complementary receivers.
This is the first year that the Saints will be without Mark Ingram since they drafted him in the first round in 2011. They signed Latavius Murray to replace him as a short yardage back, but Ingram’s departure means that we are ready to see Alvin Kamara touch the ball a lot. Kamara is one of the league’s most dangerous players when he has the ball in his hands, and he should get 20 touches or more a games this season.
The question with the Saints is always their defense, but they have a surprisingly good unit after striking paydirt in the draft the last two seasons. Marshon Lattimore was named Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2017, and he is developing into one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks, while Marcus Davenport showed a lot of promise as an edge rusher as a rookie last season.
Atlanta’s hopes of getting back to the Super Bowl last season were dashed by injuries. The Falcons defense couldn’t stay healthy as key players like Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, and Ricardo Allen missed nearly all of the season, and that led to this being one of the bottom eight defenses in the NFL.
The Falcons have some intriguing talent to pair with those three, but they need those three players in particular to stay healthy. Defensive ends Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley can get to the passer, and they should have the extra time they need with the safeties and middle linebacker healthy.
The offense is likely to be one of the ten best units in the league once more, especially because the Falcons focused on protecting Matt Ryan in the NFL Draft. Atlanta selected Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary in the first round of this year’s draft, and they will immediately be plugged into the right side of the line. Julio Jones is one of the best receivers in the league, and if Calvin Ridley can make the jump in his second season, this offense could score a lot of points.
Speaking of staying healthy, the key for the Carolina Panthers this season is for Cam Newton to stay as close to 100 percent as possible. Newton has a do-it-all mentality, but he might need to cut down on running outside the pocket this season since he is so integral to the Panthers success. Newton ran the ball 101 times in 2018, and a lot of that was because he felt he needed to make a play.
Christian McCaffrey is the X-Factor for the Panthers. He caught 107 passes out of the backfield in 2018, and he can be deployed in a lot of ways. McCaffrey is likely to get an abundance of touches as this was not a good receiving corps last year, and they didn’t get much better in the offseason.
The defense has some beefy bodies up front in Kawann Short and Dontari Poe, and Luke Kuechly is one of the top linebackers in the league. There are a lot of question marks on this defense though, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Carolina finish as one of the worst teams in the league because of them.
This is the last chance for Jameis Winston. The No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft has been given every possible opportunity to succeed, but he hasn’t been able to lead the Buccaneers back to the playoffs. He has been far too carless with the ball over the course of his career, and he has thrown double-digit interceptions in each of his four seasons with Tampa Bay.
Bruce Arians was brought in to try to help the can’t miss prospect realize his potential this offseason. Winston still has two big weapons in Mike Evans and OJ Howard, but the running game figures to be a mess once again.
The Buccaneers have concentrated heavily on their defense in recent drafts, but this unit still has a lot of questions. Vernon Hargreaves III looks like a bust, and the secondary is a mess at the moment. The front seven could be a lot letter, particularly with Ndamakong Suh joining Vita Vea along the defensive line, but Jason Pierre-Paul’s career is in jeopardy after suffering a fractured neck in a car accident.
I think the Buccaneers will finish with a losing record again, but if you want a real dark horse with infinitesimal odds to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, look at seventh round pick Terry Beckner Jr. out of Missouri. Beckner’s collegiate career was mostly derailed by injury, but he has a ton of talent and could be a real steal.
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