jameis.jpg
Getty Images

The most dramatic offseason in NFL history is nearing an end, as we are just a couple months away from Week 1. The New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have controlled the NFC South for the last five years, and the same can be expected in 2022 -- even after a wild offseason. Tom Brady retired and unretired, Rob Gronkowski retired and then Sean Payton stepped down. Things will look a bit different in 2022.  

On the other hand, the Atlanta Falcons parted ways with Matt Ryan and are rebuilding under Arthur Smith, and the Carolina Panthers have head-coaching and quarterback issues they are still working through. We are going to learn a lot about these four teams in 2022. Below, we will take a look at the win totals for the NFC South and explain which direction we are leaning.

All NFL odds via Caesars Sportsbook.

Atlanta Falcons

Win total projection: 5 (Over +110, Under -130)

The Falcons are in rebuilding mode, especially with questions at the quarterback position, but I like how Coach Smith is approaching this season. He maintains that every team in the NFL is "rebuilding," and all he knows is that his Falcons are going to come out and "compete like hell.

To me, this bet really comes down to two things: Will the defense be improved, and will Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder look like a legitimate signal-caller. If you were to tell me the answer to both those questions was going to be "yes," then I'm going to take the Over at +110. However, I'm not sold on this quarterback situation. I think Mariota could be a starter if he could remain healthy and play consistently, and then Ridder wasn't one of my favorite quarterback prospects in the draft -- although there's no doubt he has potential. I don't think there's value on this line either way, but if you're forcing me to choose, I'm just going to take a flier on the Over at +110 and hope for a sneaky Week 18 victory. Again, I don't see this as a best bet. 

The pick: Over 5 (+110)

How far will Atlanta go this season?

Carolina Panthers

Win total projection: 6.5 (Over -125, Under -105)

Some view Matt Rhule as a dead man walking. He likely has the shortest odds to be the first head coach fired in 2022, and it's something many fans wanted done this offseason. The Panthers have a decent roster, and Baker Mayfield is probably an upgrade at quarterback. Sam Darnold did try to play through injury last year, but he did not look great, and then Matt Corral is an interesting rookie this franchise is very high on.

Carolina won its first three games in 2021 before winning just two games the rest of the season. Firing out of the gates only to fail down the stretch is something I think we could potentially see again. The Cleveland Browns in Week 1 will likely be without quarterback Deshaun Watson, and then the New York Giants in Week 2 should be a winnable matchup. After that, the Panthers get the Saints, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams and Buccaneers. Woof. A 2-5 start seems likely. 

There are three things that will decide Carolina's 2022 season: If this team can remain healthy, if Christian McCaffrey specifically can remain healthy and how Mayfield performs at quarterback. I don't like this line at all, but I'll lean to the Under. A Week 18 victory could put the Panthers Over, but I have to pick at least one NFC South team to go Under. 

The pick: Under 6.5 (-105)

How far will Carolina go this season?

New Orleans Saints

Win total projection: 8 (Over -150, Under +130)

The Saints going over eight wins is one of my best bets this year. As I explained in a recent piece, New Orleans won nine games last year despite not having Jameis Winston for more than half the season. He looked much better in 2021 compared to his last season as a starter in 2019, as Winston won five of seven starts and threw 14 touchdowns opposed to just three interceptions. I understand if people don't see Winston as a top-tier signal-caller, but you have to keep in mind that he finally has a wide receiving corps to work with thanks to the additions of Jarvis Landry, Chris Olave and the return of Michael Thomas. This defense also has the potential to be very good, especially in the secondary. 

The line is so juicy, but I'm pretty sold the Saints will hit the Over here. 

The pick: Over 8 (-150)

How far will New Orleans go this season?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Win total projection: 11.5 (Over +100, Under -120)

Could this be Tom Brady's last season with the Buccaneers? Maybe he retires again next offseason, or maybe he decides to wrap up his career with another franchise like the Miami Dolphins. If it is his last season, that should have you leaning to the Over. The Buccaneers won 11 games under Brady in 2020, and 13 in 2021. If the 2020 campaign included a 17th game, I bet they would have finished 12-5. That Tampa Bay team got hot at the end of the year, winning each of its last four regular-season games, and then carried that momentum to a Super Bowl victory.

Looking at the schedule, there's no doubt it's one of the tougher slates in the league. But the Buccaneers are one of the best teams in the NFL. You have to remember that the Bucs again got swept by the Saints in 2021. New Orleans made up half of Tampa Bay's regular-season losses last year! I don't think that happens again. The lean is to the Over, and I like the plus money as well. 

The pick: Over 11.5 (+100)

How far will Tampa Bay go this season?