The NFC South promises to be one of the most balanced in the NFL. Whether you think any of Atlanta, New Orleans, Carolina or Tampa Bay is a viable Super Bowl team, all of these teams are reasonably well-respected, and the betting odds on this division suggest perhaps the most closely matched four teams in the NFL.
I suppose one could say this state of affairs means that Atlanta is disrespected, rather than respected. The Falcons, after all, won 13 games last year, made the NFC Championship Game and have been a consistent playoff presence under the leadership of head coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan. But Atlanta is not without its flaws, its big-game record is subject to question and all three of its rivals have valid reasons to believe they’ll be better.
The Falcons are still the narrow favorite, at 3-2 to win the division. New Orleans, with head coach Sean Payton back in the NFL’s good graces, is at 11-5. Carolina is not far behind at 7-2, with Tampa Bay at 5-1. I can easily see a scenario where the Panthers end up winning the division, but I’m surprised Cam Newton is getting enough respect from the smart money that their odds are still fairly small.
Final preseason predictions won’t come until a few days prior to the September 5 regular season opener. In the meantime, TheSportsNotebook’s NFL analysis has measured all four NFC South teams against their Over/Under win number in Las Vegas. That’s all that the links below.
As to picking the winner…for today, the only thing I’m sure of is that I’d rule out Tampa Bay, and I don’t even do that with a ton of conviction. After Atlanta’s runaway in 2012, this is going to be a fun division in 2013.