2021 Betting Review: NFC South

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2021 Betting Review: NFC South

I wanted to do quick-hitting postmortem reports on every team since I spent so much time this summer breaking down all 32 franchises from a betting perspective for the 2021 season. It’s a good way for me to put a bow on the season that just finished while also getting a leg up on my early research for the 2022 season.

NFC South

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Record (ATS): 14-5 (10-9)

  • Season Win Total: 12 (over)

  • One-score Record: 5-0 (0-1 postseason)

  • Division Odds: -200

  • Playoff Odds: -650

  • Over/Under record: 10-9

  • PPG: 30.1 (2nd)

  • PPG Allowed: 20.8 (t5th)

  • Point Differential: +158 (4th)

Season Review

Tampa Bay’s 2021 season will forever be remembered as the last for the NFL’s greatest winner Tom Brady — some might also remember it for being Antonio Brown’s last season too. TB12 picked up his seventh and final Super Bowl victory in his first season with the Buccaneers in 2020, and he ended his career at the top by leading the NFL with 43 passing TDs (+500) and 5316 passing yards (+1000). He became the first player to reach 700+ passing touchdowns and he joined Drew Brees as the only players to reach 5000 passing yards twice in a career. Brady also finished his career with a 186-124-6 ATS record (58.9%), which is second to only Joe Montana (101-63, 61.6%) among quarterbacks with 100+ starts. Brady’s 43 touchdown passes set a Bucs’ record, and 14 of those scores went to Mike Evans, which was also a franchise record. Evans extended his all-time NFL-best run of eight seasons with 1000 yards to begin his career.

Tampa Bay became the first Super Bowl-winning team in the salary cap era to retain all 22 starters the next season, but injuries started to take a toll on their roster late in the season after a long and mostly healthy 2020 campaign. Chris Godwin tore his ACL in a Week 15 loss to the Saints, which proved to be a costly injury for this offense with AB losing his mind two games later. The Buccaneers still won seven of their final eight games to win a franchise-record 13 games. They also locked up the second seed and the NFC South title for the first time since 2007. Brady’s Buccaneers dominated the NFC with a 20-9 record over his two seasons, but the Saints (1-4) and Rams (0-3) were thorns in the side for this offense. The Buccaneers scored 24 unanswered points in an 18-minute span to tie the Rams in the final minute of the Divisional Round, but DC Todd Bowles blitzed Matthew Stafford one too many times to squander their late-game efforts. It ended up being the only time in 50 games that Brady lost when his defense forced four or more turnovers.

What to look for this off-season

The Buccaneers are back to square one just two off-seasons after they were in a similar spot with Jameis Winston entering free agency for the first time in 2020. It worked out pretty well that year with Brady coming to Tampa Bay and the rest, as they say, is history. They’re now looking for Brady’s replacement after he announced his retirement after their Divisional Round loss, and the talented core of players who surrounded Brady is now two years older and many of them could cash in during free agency. The long list includes Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Leonard Fournette, Ndamukong Suh, Carlton Davis, Jordan Whitehead, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Ryan Jensen among others.

The Buccaneers could have a ton of needs depending on the level of carnage in free agency, but their clear top concern is figuring out who will play quarterback and who that player will be throwing to next season. Second-round pick Kyle Trask is the top in-house candidate and he was a regular gameday inactive last season, and the Buccaneers have some real concerns behind Mike Evans if Godwin takes his talents elsewhere. Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Cameron Brate could be the top remaining players at their respective depth charts depending on how free agency shakes. Any way you slice it, GM Jason Licht is going to have his hands full trying to keep this roster in playoff contention with no quarterback in place and a mass exodus potentially looming.

2. New Orleans Saints

  • Record (ATS): 9-8 (9-8)
  • Season Win Total: 9 (push)
  • One-score Record: 2-3
  • Missed Playoff Odds: -130
  • Over/Under record: 7-10
  • PPG: 21.4 (19th)
  • PPG Allowed: 19.7 (4th)
  • Point Differential: +29 (14th)

Season Review

The Saints completed their first season without Drew Brees in the fold since 2006 and it was a truly bizarre campaign. It opened with their shocking 35-point beatdown of the Packers in Jacksonville — the Saints moved operations for a month because of Hurricane Ida — and it ended with HC Sean Payton stepping down after 16 seasons. They opened the season with a 5-2 record, which was highlighted with their victory over the Buccaneers in Week 8, but they lost Jameis Winston for the season with a torn ACL in that contest. New Orleans would lose their next five games with Trevor Siemian mostly guiding the offense, but they somehow stayed in playoff contention until the bitter end with a 4-1 stretch in their final five games. The Saints experienced a three-win dropoff from 2020 and they missed out on the playoffs because the Eagles owned the head-to-head advantage over the Saints with their Week 11 victory. New Orleans failed to reach 11+ wins and to capture the NFC South title for the first time since their three-year run with 7-9 records in 2014-16. The Saints averaged a league-low 187.4 passing yards per game going from Brees to their hodgepodge of quarterbacks, and it didn’t help that lead WR Michael Thomas sat out the entire season after delaying his ankle surgery until right before training camp. New Orleans’ elite defense kept them in the mix most weeks. They allowed the fourth-fewest points per game (19.7) and the seventh-most yards per game (318.2), and the highlight of the season came when they shut out Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in Week 15.

What to look for this off-season

The Saints are entering yet another off-season of transition with Brees and Payton leaving the franchise in consecutive years. GM Mickey Loomis has been working his magic with the salary cap for years, but he has work cut out for him this off-season with the Saints $76 million over the cap as of this writing. Brees will count $11.5 million against the cap in his second year of retirement, and the Saints still need to figure out their quarterback situation with Winston hitting free agency off of a torn ACL. They have several priority free agents that they may not be able to re-sign in Terron Armstead, Marcus Williams, P.J. Williams, and Kwon Alexander, and they’ll have to trade or restructure current players under contract to get back under the cap.

Thomas’ situation will be the most interesting to follow after he sat out the entire 2021 season with an ankle injury. Thomas and the Saints have had some tension over the last two years but the two sides are on better terms this off-season, so there’s optimism they’ll be able to work with him if they need to restructure his contract. New Orleans also needs to see how Alvin Kamara’s legal situation will play out after he was arrested on suspicion of felony battery resulting in substantial bodily harm. Loomis needs to decide if the franchise should stick in win-now mode by continuing to push their salary-cap woes down the road, or is 2022 the season to start cleaning up the books with a multi-year hard reset. There’s a good reason why Payton called it quits after last season and Dennis Allen could be set up for failure in his second chance as a head coach no matter what path Loomis takes this off-season.

3. Atlanta Falcons

  • Record (ATS): 7-10 (6-10-1)
  • Season Win Total: 7.5 (under)
  • One-score Record: 7-2
  • Missed Playoff Odds: -275
  • Over/Under record: 7-10
  • PPG: 18.4 (26th)
  • PPG Allowed: 27.0 (t29th)
  • Point Differential: -146 (28th)

Season Review

The Falcons finished under their win total by half a game in 2021, but new HC Arthur Smith and GM Terry Fontenot still got the most out of their limited roster, especially when you consider their best non-quarterback player stepped away early in the season. Atlanta consistently took care of the teams they were equal to or better than, which led to a three-win improvement from 2020, but they couldn’t punch above their weight class with their limited offensive weaponry. The Falcons finished in the bottom 7 in both major offensive and defensive categories and they ranked 30th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, and they still somehow scratched out seven wins. The Falcons missed the playoffs and they finished with a losing record for a fourth consecutive season. It was also Atlanta’s first season without Julio Jones since they drafted him sixth overall in 2011 — he led the NFL in receiving yards (12,125) while in Atlanta during the 2010s. The Falcons sold relatively high on one of the faces of their franchise when they shipped him to Tennessee for salary-cap relief, a 2022 second-round pick, and a 2023 fourth-round pick.

The move left the Falcons extremely thin at WR behind Calvin Ridley, which became an issue when their new lead wide receiver decided to walk away from the team after just five games. Ridley’s choice left Matt Ryan with Russell Gage as his top wideout, and it made fourth overall pick Kyle Pitts the de facto #1 receiver as a rookie. Pitts lived up to the hype despite scoring just one touchdown, breaking Tony Gonzalez’s franchise record for the most receiving yards in a season by a tight end with 1026 yards. He also joined Mike Ditka as the only tight ends to reach 1000 yards during their rookie seasons. Longtime special-teams ace Cordarrelle Patterson also stepped up for Ryan by breaking out as an offensive player at 30 years old. He easily posted career highs across the board with 618/6 rushing and 52/548/5 receiving as a dual-threat weapon. The Falcons have struggled to field defenses in the top half of the league for most of the last decade, but they at least have a potential centerpiece for the unit for years to come with A.J. Terrell developing into a shutdown corner in his second season.

What to look for this off-season

Fontenot and Smith have a long way to go to get this roster back up to the top half of the league, and they have a couple of major issues heading into this off-season. Ryan is set to be the NFL’s highest-paid player with a cap of $48.7 million after the team restructured his contract last year to create cap space. The Falcons don’t really have any great options since they can save about only $8 million by releasing or trading him this off-season so it’s looking like Ryan will be their quarterback for at least one more season.

The biggest question looming over their off-season is Ridley’s playing status for 2022 and beyond. Ridley left them in the lurch in the middle of last season after they trusted him to be the #1 WR by trading Julio in the off-season. The first step for the Falcons is to determine if Ridley has any desire to play for them ever again. They need to trade him ideally before the draft if he doesn’t intend to plan to play in Atlanta ever again. Ridley’s status will have a huge trickle-down effect on the rest of their offensive moves this off-season, including on Patterson, who has been campaigning for the team to re-sign him. Gage is set to become a free agent too so beefing up their wide receiver depth is going to be a priority no matter what. The Falcons also still need offensive line help and they have holes all over their defense, especially along their defensive line and in their secondary outside of Terrell.

4. Carolina Panthers

  • Record (ATS): 5-12 (5-12)
  • Season Win Total: 7.5 (under)
  • One-score Record: 2-6
  • Missed Playoff Odds: -300
  • Over/Under record: 8-9
  • PPG: 17.9 (29th)
  • PPG Allowed: 23.8 (21st)
  • Point Differential: -100 (26th)

Season Review

The Matt Rhule era in Carolina is off to a rocky start with five wins in each of his first two seasons, and the Panthers showed little signs of improvement in Year Two. The Panthers sat at .500 through 10 games, but they ended the year with a seven-game losing streak to miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season. The Panthers took on unnecessary risk by trading for Sam Darnold and accepting his fifth-year option on his rookie contract. The move looked savvy through three games with an undefeated start, with Darnold accounting for six overall touchdowns while averaging 8.3 YPA. The experiment started out promising before he petered out with just one win in his final nine games (eight starts). He turned back into the Darnold that we saw plenty of with the Jets, throwing six TDs to 12 INTs and averaging a gross 5.5 YPA in his final nine games. Carolina got so desperate that they brought back franchise icon Cam Newton. He once again looked cooked in 2021 with an 0-5 stint as the team’s starter, and he’ll likely finish his Carolina career with a 13-game losing streak as the team’s starter.

Owner David Tepper already started to warm Rhule’s seat last season, and he responded by throwing OC Joe Brady under the bus for not running the ball enough. It didn’t help that Carolina’s offensive line remained one of the league’s worst and that the injury bug once again stung Christian McCaffrey, who missed another 10 games after missing 13 contests in 2020. The Panthers ended up averaging the third-fewest yards per game (298.9) and the fourth-fewest points per game (17.9), which was the team’s worst output since the Panthers averaged 258.4 YPA and 12.3 PPG with Jimmy Clausen and Matt Moore at the trigger in 2010. The Panthers’ offense constantly put their emerging young defense in terrible spots, evidenced by the group allowing the second-fewest yards per game (305.9) but the 12th-most points per game (23.8).

What to look for this off-season

The Panthers are entering Year Three under Rhule and the team is still no closer to finding its next franchise quarterback. They’ve cycled through Teddy Bridgewater and Darnold the last two seasons and they were even desperate enough to go back to Cam for five starts (and five losses) in 2021. The Panthers rolled the dice by trading for Darnold last April, and it turned into a colossal mistake that could eventually cost Rhule and GM Scott Fitterer their jobs. They gave the Jets their second- and fourth-round picks in the 2022 draft, and they accepted Darnold’s fifth-year option last spring, which has him locked in for $18.9 million guaranteed. Ouch!

The Panthers have just the sixth overall pick inside the top-100 picks after trading a third-round pick for C.J. Henderson. It’s difficult to see this quarterback situation drastically improving for 2022, and if they use their only pick in the first two days on a quarterback then the rest of this roster is going to suffer. Carolina is going to be a prime candidate to trade back to pick up additional pick(s). The Panthers need to significantly upgrade their offensive line around RT Taylor Moton after spending just two of their first 18 picks on offensive linemen through two years. Re-signing C Matt Paradis would be a good start, and they need to try to retain two of their best defensive players in CB Stephon Gilmore and OLB Haason Reddick.

Tom is a Senior Writer at Fantasy Points who specializes in fantasy and betting analysis. He’ll be helping you to navigate the waiver wire and manage your fantasy teams while also keeping our betting content robust all year long, especially during the season. Tom's Best Bets against the spread won at 61.5% clip in 2019 and he was a perfect 8-0 on his Best Bets for season win totals in 2020.

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