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Covers Expert Steve Merril breaks down the best ways to bet the NFC South this upcoming NFL season:
Atlanta Falcons (2014: 6-10 SU, 7-9 ATS)
Odds to win division: +220
Season win total: 8
Why bet the Falcons: Atlanta parted ways with head coach Mike Smith after back-to-back losing seasons. Atlanta made a shrewd hire in Dan Quinn, who was Seattle’s defensive coordinator the past two seasons. Quinn will turn Atlanta’s defense around quickly, especially since there’s speed and talent to run his scheme. The Falcons also have offensive weapons all over the field, but 2014 was a lost season due to injuries. Atlanta has a fresh start in 2015, and if it can stay healthy, it will have a much-improved record.
Why not bet the Falcons: The Falcons clearly have question marks coming into the 2015 season. Quinn has no head coaching experience, so that will be challenging. Atlanta’s offensive line is also an unknown commodity as it tries to fix a major area of weakness over the last couple of seasons. Atlanta also had a bad defense over the last couple of years as noted above, and if Quinn fails to improve the stop unit, 2015 may be another losing season.
Season win total pick: Over 8
Carolina Panthers (2014: 7-8-1 SU, 8-8 ATS)
Odds to win division: +230
Season win total: 8.5
Why bet the Panthers: Head coach Ron Rivera is an exceptional defensive mind and Carolina is a tough out in just about every game because of their stop unit. The Panthers’ defense will be formidable once again, especially since they have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. If the offense helps out just a little bit, the Panthers should have a winning record in 2015.
Why not bet the Panthers: Carolina became just the second team in NFL history to win their division with a losing record. The Panthers were just 7-8-1 SU with a minus-35 point differential. The team had little stability throughout the season as they were dealing with off-field issues while also suffering through significant injuries to key personnel, especially on the offensive side of the ball. That hasn’t changed so far in 2015, with WR Kelvin Benjamin out for the year after injuring his knee.
Season win total pick: Over 8.5
New Orleans Saints (2014: 7-9 SU, 6-10 ATS)
Odds to win division: +205
Season win total: 9
Why bet the Saints: The new-look Saints will have a breakout season in 2015. The team failed to make the playoffs after going 7-9 SU last season, but make no mistake about it, the Saints will be significantly better this season. New Orleans made smart draft moves and solidified its offensive line, making that unit one of the best in the league on paper. Sean Payton and Drew Brees are an excellent combination and the Saints are a formidable team because of them. New Orleans should cruise into the playoffs and is a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2015.
Why not bet the Saints: The Saints’ issues are on the defensive side of the ball, and this is certainly a make or break year for coordinator Rob Ryan. New Orleans gave up 26 points per game in 2014 and they allowed 30 points or more in seven contests. The Saints also turned the ball over way too much, coughing it up 30 times which was fifth worst in the entire league. If New Orleans fails to fix those weaknesses, 2015 will be another season in which it hovers right around the .500 mark.
Season win total pick: Over 9
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2014: 2-14 SU, 7-9 ATS)
Odds to win division: +775
Season win total: 6
Why bet the Buccaneers: Head coach Lovie Smith will be in his second season with the Buccaneers after going just 2-14 SU last season. There’s really nowhere to go but up for Tampa Bay in 2015. The Bucs have already been written off by most and because of that, Tampa Bay will be an undervalued commodity throughout the upcoming season.
Why not bet the Buccaneers: Tampa Bay has had serious quarterbacking issues over the last few years, and they took QB Jameis Winston with the overall No. 1 pick. He’s young and it remains uncertain if Winston will ever become a true franchise quarterback. The Bucs have a horrendous offensive line and a defense that has gaping holes all over the field. There is not much to like about the Buccaneers right now, and 2015 figures to be another long and losing season in Tampa Bay.
Season win total pick: Under 6