There are divisions that are super competitive for the right reasons, strong teams, exceptional players, and then there’s the NFC South. Last season the Tampa Bay Buccaneers found themselves not only in the playoffs but in top spot with a losing 8-9 record. It’s a division that could go any which way, but with the Falcons and Panthers having the stronger of the 2023 drafts, I believe they’ll be the 2 to fight it out for top spot this time around.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers under 6.5 total wins (-130)
Tompa Bay is no more. Tom Brady decided this time was for real and he left Tampa Bay in a worse place then when he joined. Following their Super Bowl win in 2020, the Bucs began to decline and as their roster started to age out, the cracks were showing. Amongst others, Brady, Gronk, Ndamukong Suh left and in comes Baker Mayfield. The former Brown and first overall pick I believe will be more of a bridge quarterback, as the Bucs begin a rebuild that may take a few years to take shape. Last season after finishing top of their division with a losing record, the Bucs not only made the playoffs, but also made their upcoming season even more difficult as they now have a first place schedule ahead of them. Having looked through their matchups, I’m struggling to see any teams they can out perform outside of their division, other than the Titans, and I believe they’ll only win 2 or 3 of their divisional matchups. Being generous, I could see them finishing 6-11, but with some of the talent coming into the NFL next season, they’d be better off finishing as poorly as possible. I feel very comfortable taking the under for the Bucs this season and I feel for their fans and what they’ll be watching with Mayfield under center. His poor showing with the Rams in 2022 was compounded as he finished the year in the bottom 5 for stats including completion percentage (60%), yards per attempt (6.0) and touchdown rate (3.0).
Adam Thielen over 525.5 yards receiving (-115)
After 9 strong years in Minnesota, veteran wide receiver Adam Thielen was picked up by the Carolina Panthers on a 3 year, $25 million contract. The length and size of the contract tells me that they believe he has a fair amount left in the tank, and after drafting Alabama QB Bryce Young in the first round, he could be the perfect security blanket for the young man under center as he navigates his first year in the NFL. In his 3 years at Alabama, Young’s passing yards per attempt averaged around 8.8, and Thielen’s yards per catch has slowly declined since his 2016 season, down from 14.01 to 10.23. The good news is that it puts him right in range to be a consistent option for Young when he thinks he’s in trouble. Although they drafted Jonathan Mingo in the 2nd round as well, I believe the Panthers will stick with the experienced heads to start the year, and Thielen along with Hayden Hurst and DJ Chark should see the majority of the action early in the season. Thielen himself hasn’t had a season under 700 yards (with 13+ games played) since 2015, and as mentioned in the slot he should provide a great outlet for Young, something that has been a trend for rookie QBs in recent years. In 2020 Justin Herbert often looked for Keenan Allen out the slot in his rookie campaign (100 rec for 992 yards), Tyler Boyd was the outlet for Joe Burrow (79 rec for 841 yards) and Marvin Jones Jr for Trevor Lawrence in 2021 (73 rec for 832 yards). I don’t expect him to break 700 again, but 60 receptions for just over 600 yards is very much achievable for the veteran.
Desmond Ridder over 2525.5 yards passing (-112)
The Atlanta Falcons head into 2023 looking for their first positive season since 2017, and although it may still be a challenge, the additions they made in the off-season should give them a strong chance to do so. One of last year’s additions was 3rd-round quarterback Desmond Ridder. The Cincinnati product shone as the Bearcats made the college playoffs for the first time ever, before being defeated by Alabama. In the 4 games he played toward the end of the season, Ridder finished with 115 attempts, 73 completions with 708 yards, and 2 touchdowns. The highlight was the fact he didn’t throw a single interception, something his predecessor Marcus Mariota struggled with earlier in the season. For Ridder to hit his over, he’d need to average 148 yards per game, 29 yards less than his average per game in that small time period. Not only did he strike up a connection with first-round pick Drake London (London scored 333 yards in those 4 games, 38.5% of his season yardage), he also has Kyle Pitts returning from injury and newly drafted Bijan Robinson, who is a duel threat running back who will look to add to his 314 receiving yards for Texas last season. The Falcons also signed former Raiders receiver Mack Hollins on a 1 year contract, although not a major signing, he did quietly have a career year with 57 receptions for 690 yards, so he is definitely another option for Ridder. As long as he doesn’t lose his place to newly acquired back up Taylor Heinicke, Ridder shouldn’t have any issues surpassing the 2700+ range for Atlanta.
Bijan Robinson over 8.5 rushing touchdowns (-115)
There hasn’t been a higher touted running back come into the NFL since Saquon Barkley back in 2018, than Bijan Robinson. Robinson was drafted with the 8th pick in this year’s draft out of Texas and will join Tyler Allgeier and Cordarelle Patterson in a Falcons backfield that was already 2nd in rush attempts per game (32.9) in 2022, and saw Allgeier become the first Falcons running back to eclipse 1000 yards since 2016. Last season Robinson ended the year with 1580 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns, his combination of power, speed, and elusiveness makes him a menace in the red zone and the Falcons should quickly look to involve him in the scoring, especially with the inexperienced QB in Ridder. Bijan also benefits from the poor strength of schedule the Falcons have after their less-than-inspiring 2022 season. They will face 7 of the worst 10 teams from 2022 in rushing touchdowns against per game, including 4 of the bottom 5 (Bears, Texans, Lions & Cardinals). It would not surprise me to see Robinson surpass Saquon Barkley’s rookie total in 2018 (11) with the combination of game difficulty and his outstanding talent.
…more to come
I’m David, 28, originally from England but now married and living in Texas. Originally studied English Literature at Liverpool Hope University, alongside Sport & Education. Having been an avid sports fan my entire life, I had a season ticket at Everton FC in the EPL for 17 years. Since moving here I’ve become a Kansas City Chiefs fan after Kelce won me my Fantasy League on my first-ever try. Love watching the games whether it be college on Saturdays or the NFL throughout the week. You’ll always find me with a bet or two on as well. 1 leg losses are my Kryptonite.