2020 Betting Review: NFC South


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2020 Betting Review: NFC South

I wanted to do quick-hitting postmortem reports on every team since I spent so much time — and about 2000 words — breaking down all 32 franchises from a betting perspective this summer. These articles also gave me a chance to do a full accounting of all my off-season/preseason Best Bets. Here were the overall results for my NFL Futures with individual results for each NFC South team below.

NFL Futures

For a full rundown of my NFL Futures from the off-season/preseason click here.

  • OVERALL BEST BETS — 27-27 (+15.51 units)

  • Season Wins — 8-0 (+11.98 units)

  • Season Player Props — 7-8 (-2.47 units)

  • Season Futures — 4-11 (+1.91 units)

  • Draft Props — 8-7 (+4.09 units)

  • Every Team Season Wins — 20-12 (62.5%)

NFC South Reviews

*Playoff team*

1. *New Orleans Saints (12-4, 9-7 ATS)*

  • Division Odds: -160

  • Playoff Odds: -330

  • Best Bets: Over 10.5 wins (win, +1 unit, 12-4); NFC champions +650 (loss, -.5 units, Division Round); SB LV champions (loss, -.5 units, Division Round); Michael Thomas most receiving yards +600 (loss, -.5 units, 438 yards)

  • Leans: None

What went right

The Saints had yet another successful regular season by reaching double-digit victories and by winning the NFC South for the fourth consecutive year. They also became the first team to sweep the division with a 6-0 record since the NFC South was formed in 2002. New Orleans ripped off a nine-game winning streak in Weeks 4-13, which is the fourth straight season they’ve had at least a six-game winning streak.

Alvin Kamara played a huge role in their success last season. He finished as the RB1 for fantasy with 25.2 FPG by posting 187/932/16 rushing and 83/756/5 receiving. Kamara’s Christmas Day performance in the fantasy finals will live on in fantasy lore. He tied an NFL record with six rushing TDs against the Vikings, and he had the sixth-best fantasy performance for a running back since 1950. The Saints also fielded one of the league’s best defenses to go along with their top-five scoring offense. New Orleans allowed the third-fewest points per game (20.9) and the second-fewest yards per game (307.2) to power its 12-4 record.

What went wrong

Drew Brees’ 15th and likely final season with the Saints came to an end in a painful fashion in the Divisional Round against the Buccaneers (see “the game that got away” below). He also suffered a painful punctured lung and rib fractures in November, which forced him to miss four games in Weeks 11-14. The Saints were clearly one of the best teams in the regular season in each of the last four seasons, but they flamed out of the playoffs earlier than expected with home playoff losses in each of those seasons. If Brees does decide to hang it up at 42 years old, he leaves behind a decorated legacy as one of the league’s best passers but Brees and Sean Payton somewhat disappointingly made just one Super Bowl trip (a victory) together. Brees’ top target, Michael Thomas, had a difficult time staying on the field this season after suffering a high-ankle sprain in the season opener. Thomas set a new single-season record with 149 receptions in 2019, but he played in just half of their games this season (playoffs included) and he had two different stints on the injured reserve.

The game they stole

The Chargers and the Saints played in a wild game in Week 5, which featured two different quarters with 21 points scored and overtime in New Orleans’ 30-27 victory. Justin Herbert staked the Chargers to a 20-3 lead 25 minutes into the game, but Brees and company slowly chipped away at the lead until Jared Cook tied the game at 20-20 with a 41-yard touchdown with 11 minutes left in the game. Mike Williams gave the lead back to the Chargers with a 64-yard bomb with under four minutes remaining, but the Saints responded with a touchdown drive before Will Lutz won the game with a 36-yard kick in overtime.

The game that got away

The Saints owned the Buccaneers in the regular season as they outscored them 72-26 in two matchups in Weeks 1 and 9. Tampa Bay turned the tables on their divisional rival when it mattered most in the postseason on its way to a Super Bowl title. The Saints held a seven-point lead late in the third quarter but they allowed 17 straight points to the Buccaneers thanks to two Brees interceptions and a Jared Cook fumble on three of their final four drives. Brees threw three interceptions overall and he averaged a dreadful 3.9 YPA in what could’ve been his final game in the NFL.

What to look for this off-season

Most signs are pointing toward Brees retiring this off-season, which leaves the Saints facing their biggest decision at the position since they initially signed Brees 15 years ago with $10 million in guaranteed money. The Saints turned to Taysom Hill when Brees went down in the regular season, and he led them to a 4-0 record as a dual-threat option. They could also give the job to Jameis Winston, who attempted just 12 passes all season long after signing a one-year deal in the off-season. The third option — and seemingly the most likely option as of early February — is that Winston takes over as the starter with Hill remaining in his Swiss Army Knife role. Winston is in control of the situation since he can test free agency in early March to see what other jobs are available to him, and there would certainly be more interest in him this off-season with so many quarterback situations unsettled. The Saints also won’t break the bank to keep him in the fold since they have the worst cap situation in the league. New Orleans will be doing some major cap maneuvering with S Marcus Williams, DE Trey Hendrickson, and DT Sheldon Rankins among others heading to free agency.

2. *Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5, 9-7 ATS)*

  • Super Bowl Odds: +1000
  • NFC Odds: +500
  • Playoff Odds: -200
  • Best Bets: None.
  • Leans: Over 9.5 wins (win, 11-5)

What went right

The Buccaneers started the 2020 season by landing the G.O.A.T. Tom Brady during free agency, and they ended the season by becoming the first team to win the Super Bowl in their home stadium. It wasn’t all roses in between those events for the Buccaneers, but all’s well that ends well with the franchise winning their second Super Bowl. They became just the 11th team to win the Super Bowl as a wild card team as they won three road playoff games before winning the super bowl at home. They also defeated three Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks in a row to win the title by knocking off Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Patrick Mahomes. Tampa Bay dismantled the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV for Brady’s seventh Super Bowl victory, and all of their hired guns (Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, and Leonard Fournette) played a hand in all four of their touchdowns. Bruce Arians also became the oldest Super Bowl winning coach at 68 years old.

The Buccaneers last finished with a winning record back in 2015, and they ended the league’s second-longest playoff drought (12 seasons) in 2020. They broke team records in points scored (492) and touchdowns (59), but DE Jason Pierre-Paul was their only player selected to the Pro Bowl — Devin White and Lavonte David earned second-team All-Pro honors, as well. Brady set a franchise record with 40 TD passes and Mike Evans also set a team record with 13 TD receptions. Evans also became the first receiver in NFL history to post 1000+ receiving yards in each of his first seven seasons.

The game they stole

The Buccaneers didn’t really steal any games this season with 10 of their 15 wins coming by two scores or more. The Buccaneers finished behind only the Ravens (+8.8) with a +8.4 average scoring margin in the regular season. The most famous lopsided victory of the entire 2020 season came in their 31-9 Super Bowl LV victory over the Chiefs as three-point underdogs. The Buccaneers’ defense kept the high-flying Chiefs offense out of the end zone and it was the first time a Patrick Mahomes-led squad failed to reach double-digit points in 54 career starts (playoffs included). Brady threw for three TDs and his pal Gronk was on the receiving end on two of the scores. Fournette also totaled 135/1 scrimmage in the dominant victory. The Buccaneers covered the spread by 25 points, which was the largest cover margin since the Seahawks beat the Broncos 43-8 as two-point underdogs (37-point cover) in Super Bowl LVIII.

The game that got away

The Buccaneers went 1-3 in primetime games in the regular season with Brady throwing as many touchdowns as he did interceptions with five each. The Buccaneers went 10-2 in non-primetime games with Brady throwing 35 TDs to seven INTs in those contests. One of those befuddling primetime performances came in Week 5 in a 20-19 loss to the Bears as 3.5-point road favorites on Thursday Night Football. Cairo Santos kicked the game-winning 38-yard field goal with 1:13 remaining in the game before the Bears forced a turnover on downs on Tampa’s final series to get the win. Brady provided the famous scene from the end of the game when he held up four fingers after their final play of the game as he clearly thought his team had one more play to get the first down to potentially continue their drive.

What to look for this off-season

Brady and Arians are already on the record that they’ll both return next season to make a run at back-to-back Super Bowl victories. The rest of the team is very much up in the air heading into the off-season with a slew of key players entering free agency, including WR Chris Godwin, DE Shaq Barrett, DT Ndamukong Suh, LB Lavonte David, TE Rob Gronkowski, RB Leonard Fournette, and WR Antonio Brown. The Buccaneers at least have the seventh-most cap space as of early February, but it’s going to be difficult for them to keep their fantasy squad together next season. Godwin and Barrett are going to command two of the biggest contracts in free agency outside of the quarterback position, and Tampa could be forced to franchise tag Godwin to keep him in the fold unless he’d give Tampa a hometown discount.

3. Carolina Panthers (5-11, 9-7 ATS)

  • Best Bets: None
  • Leans: Under 5.5 wins (win, 5-11)

What went right

The Panthers matched or exceeded expectations despite falling slightly below their season win total of 5.5 wins. Carolina faced a difficult transition season in 2020 as they moved on from Ron Rivera, Marty Hurney, Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, and Greg Olsen. New HC Matt Rhule and OC Joe Brady held their own in their first seasons in the NFL, and the franchise appears to be heading in a great direction heading into 2021. The Panthers were more competitive than their 5-11 record would indicate. They finished with a winning ATS record with eight of their 11 losses coming in one-score games. Carolina even briefly popped above .500 early in the season with a three-game winning streak in Weeks 3-5 over the Chargers, Cardinals, and Falcons. The Panthers featured one of the best WR corps in the league between D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and Curtis Samuel, with each of them posting 1000+ scrimmage yards last season. They also found a small-school gem in the second round last spring in S Jeremy Chinn, who finished behind only Chase Young for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

What went wrong

The Panthers missed the playoffs and they finished with a losing record for their straight season in 2020. They endured a five-game losing streak in Weeks 6-10 after sneaking above .500 with a three-game winning streak. Teddy Bridgewater proved to be an above-average game manager over the course of 15 starts last season. He kept the offense on schedule and he played mostly turnover-free ball, but he mostly failed to elevate this offense despite a strong cast of wide receivers. Bridgewater had eight different chances to win or tie a game on the final possession of the game this past season, and he failed to deliver a single win in those situations.

It certainly didn’t help that Bridgewater and the Panthers played all but three games without the 2019 fantasy RB1 last season. Christian McCaffrey suffered a high-ankle sprain just two games into the season before suffering a shoulder injury in his first game back in Week 9. CMC wouldn’t appear in another game after he picked up a mysterious quad injury early in December when he was expected to return for the final four games of the season. The Panthers were seemingly protecting their asset late in the year by keeping him on the sidelines when they were out of playoff contention, but he’s the favorite to be the first player selected in fantasy drafts once again this summer.

The game they stole

The Panthers didn’t really steal any victories this season as they held comfortable leads in all five of their victories. Rhule earned his first NFL victory and Bridgewater picked up his first win as a Panther in a weird 21-16 victory over the Chargers in Week 3. The Panthers created four turnovers and Joey Slye kicked five field goals, but Carolina’s defense still needed to come up with a stop on the final play of the game to pull out the victory. Austin Ekeler had the chance to score the game-winning touchdown on the final play of the game but Keenan Allen couldn’t deliver a perfect pitch on a well-executed hook-and-lateral play. The Panther would run off three straight victories to get above .500 for the only time before losing nine of their final 11 games.

The game that got away

The Panthers nearly stole a victory from the Vikings in Week 12 to climb back into the NFC playoff race, but they squandered their chance at an unlikely victory in the final minutes. Carolina trailed 10-7 at halftime before Minnesota spotted them two quick touchdowns in the first minute of the second half. Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn returned two separate fumbles for touchdowns just 10 seconds apart to turn a three-point deficit into an 11-point lead in the blink of an eye. The Panthers still led by 11 points late into the fourth quarter before Kirk Cousins threw two touchdown passes and he converted a two-point pass to pull out a 28-27 victory in the final minute. Chinn became just the third player to score multiple fumble return TDs in the same game on his way to winning the NFL’ Defensive Rookie of the Month for November after also winning in October.

What to look for this off-season

The Panthers gave Teddy a three-year, $63 million contract with $33 million guaranteed last off-season. It made him one of the more expensive “bridge” quarterbacks until the Panthers try to land their franchise quarterback this off-season or next. They already made a play for Matthew Stafford by offering Teddy, the #8 overall pick, and a fifth-round pick to the Lions, but they were outbid for his services by the Rams. The Panthers will continue to be active in the quarterback market this spring and they could use the eighth pick on a QB prospect, but Bridgewater’s presence at least gives them a fall-back plan. Carolina also needs to address their offensive line, specifically at left tackle, and they need to infuse more talent on defense, especially at cornerback. They also look to lock up Samuel to a new contract after he finally broke out in his fourth season.

4. Atlanta Falcons (4-12, 7-9 ATS)

  • Best Bets: Under 7.5 wins (win, +2 units, 4-12); Todd Gurley under 924.5 rushing yards (win, +.91 units, 678 yards)
  • Leans: None.

What went right

The Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff eras came to an end with a thud in 2020 after the Falcons started the season 0-5 with some demoralizing losses along the way. Calvin Ridley was one of the few bright spots in their four-win campaign as he had a breakout third season. He finished as the WR4 in fantasy with 19.4 FPG and he ended the season with 90/1374/9 receiving over 15 games. Julio Jones played in just nine games last and he’ll be entering his age-32 season so there’s a chance Ridley is the 1A and Julio is the 1B in this passing attack next season. Younghoe Koo was the top fantasy kicker in the league with 9.6 FPG after making 37-of-39 field goals last season.

What went wrong

The Falcons have been on a descent to the bottom since they let Super Bowl LI slip away, and they truly bottomed out last season. They failed to make the playoffs for the third straight season and they finished dead last in the NFC South for the first time since 2007, which helped them draft Matt Ryan the following spring. Owner Arthur Blank cleaned house after their 0-5 start to 2020 by axing Dimitroff, who came in with Ryan in 2008, and Quinn, who racked up a 43-42 record with a Super Bowl appearance in five-plus seasons. The franchise has been haunted by blown leads since they squandered a 28-3 second-half lead to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI, and they had eight losses by seven or fewer points last season.

It certainly doesn’t help that Ryan is coming off a pair of subpar seasons for his standards and Julio struggled to stay healthy last season. It could be signs of the beginning of the end for the duo, and I’m especially worried for Julio. His 2011 draft classmate, A.J. Green, looked like a shell of himself after lower-body injuries robbed him of his explosiveness in 2020. The end has already come for Todd Gurley at just 26 years old because of chronic knee issues. He continued to lack agility and explosiveness as he flopped in his one and only season in his adopted home state.

The games that got away

I’m not doing a “game they stole” section for the Falcons since they didn’t really have any games they unexpectedly walked away with a victory in. They sure had their fair share of squandered opportunities to win games last season, though. I don’t have enough time to go into great detail about all of the games that got away from the Falcons, but here’s the Cliff’s Notes version:

  • Week 2, 40-39 loss to the Cowboys — Dallas overcame four fumbles and a 20-point deficit in the first quarter. The Cowboys scored the last 16 points of the game in the final five minutes to erase a 15-point deficit.

  • Week 3, 30-26 loss to the Bears — Atlanta became the first team in NFL history to lose back-to-back games with 15+ point leads in the fourth quarter. From off the bench, Nick Foles led the Bears to the final 20 points in the last seven minutes of the game.

  • Week 7, 23-22 loss to the Lions — This game will forever be remembered for Gurley’s accidental touchdown with 64 seconds left, which allowed the Lions to get one last possession to win the game. Matthew Stafford hit T.J. Hockenson for a touchdown with no time left and Matt Prater added the extra point for the victory.

  • Week 14, 20-17 loss to the Chargers — The Falcons out-Chargered the Chargers with Ryan throwing a sloppy interception in Los Angeles territory with 30 seconds left in a tied game. Justin Herbert moved the Chargers 49 yards in half a minute to set up the game-winning field goal.

  • Week 15, 31-27 loss to the Buccaneers — Tampa Bay overcame two different 17-point deficits and Tom Brady led five straight scoring drives to end the game after the Bucs failed to score in the first half.

  • Week 16, 17-14 loss to the Chiefs — The Falcons had the defending Super Bowl champs on the ropes but Koo missed a 39-yard field goal, which would’ve sent the game to overtime. Koo, who made the Pro Bowl, made 37-of-39 field goals for the season.

What to look for this off-season

The Falcons welcomed in a new regime this off-season by hiring former Titans OC Arthur Smith as head coach and former Saints VP Terry Fontenot as general manager. Smith and Fontenot have some tough decisions to make right out of the gates when it comes to the faces of their franchise. Ryan, 36, and Julio, 32, have started to show their age recently, and the new staff has to decide if they should try to make another run or two with them in the fold or do they strip everything to the studs to do a complete rebuild. As of early February, it looks like the Falcons could look for some middle ground by keeping the duo around while also considering using some draft capital on a rookie quarterback since they own the #4 and the #35 overall picks this spring. The Falcons have the fourth-worst cap situation entering the off-season so they’re going to be hard-pressed to significantly upgrade their pass rush and their secondary. They also need to address their backfield situation after they finished ahead of only the Steelers’ dreadful rushing attack with 3.7 YPC.

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.