As a sports juggernaut, the NFL makes headlines 365 days a year. For the first time since 1978, when the slate went from 14 to 16 games, the NFL lengthened the regular season again this year. The 2021 NFL schedule was released on May 12 and all 32 teams will play 17 games over an 18-week season. That means NFL fans get an added week of NFL betting and fantasy football action. It will also affect win total wagering.
Week 1 opens with Dallas’s visiting defending NFL champion Tampa Bay on Sept. 9. The week ends with Las Vegas’s hosting Baltimore in the Monday Night Football fight. Regular-season action concludes with Seattle’s visiting Arizona on Jan. 9, 2022. Wild-card weekend, divisional round playoffs and Conference Championship Sunday follow. The season ends with Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13, 2022, at SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, Calif.
NFC South Division Futures Odds
New Orleans (12–4) won the NFC South regular-season title for a fourth straight time last year. The Saints went on to beat the Bears in the wild-card round and then lost to the Buccaneers in divisional playoffs. Tampa Bay (11–5) began the season with a 7–5 record before winning four straight to finish in second place. Following a 12-year drought, the Buccaneers earned their first playoff berth since 2007. Carolina (5–11) and Atlanta (4–12) both opened the season with a dismal 3–7 record and finished third and fourth, respectively, in the division. Both teams face an uphill climb this season.
Popular U.S.-based sportsbooks are offering a variety of unique preseason betting options. NFC South division title odds, plus win totals for each team, are posted on the NFL futures board at FanDuel. While the odds and prices are subject to change, unless a stud player changes teams, or there is a serious injury, the moves will be subtle. Will the Saints make it five straight championships? Will the Bucs claim their first division title since 2007? In the twilight of his career, will QB Matt Ryan lead the Falcons back into contention? Will QB Sam Darnold jump-start his career in Carolina? Let’s break it down.
Struggling on defense early, New Orleans opened the season with a 1–2 record. Running hot on offense, and shoring up the defense, the Saints won nine straight games before closing the season on a 2–2 run. A seismic offseason shift occurred when Tom Brady left New England and signed with Tampa Bay. Following a sluggish start, the Buccaneers rolled to eight straight wins. The winning run was capped off with a 31–9 victory in Super Bowl LV against the Chiefs. Everyone keeps waiting for the GOAT to play like a 21-year veteran should. Will it happen this season?
Not quite in full rebuild mode yet, Atlanta may be headed there after posting a combined 18–30 record during three straight losing seasons. The Falcons tried to keep up on offense, but faded down the stretch and ended up being outscored by a 414–396 margin over 16 games. Carolina opened the season with a 3–2 record, but the wheels fell off and they closed the year on a 2–9 slide. Following a seven-year run, with QB Cam Newton’s guiding the offense, the Panthers have cycled through five different starters. Is it possible that QB Sam Darnold is the answer for the Cats?
NFC South Champion Prediction: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-190)
We track our preseason picks and publish hedge betting advice during the regular season when warranted. SI premium subscribers receive betting plays, updates and articles as soon as they are published.
Want even more NFL betting picks and analysis? Become an SI PRO member today and gain access to our exclusive Discord chat for premium plays in real time!
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – NFC South Win Total Futures
Deciding the QB Jameis Winston experiment would not equate to playoff success, Tampa Bay let the former FSU star walk during the 2020 NFL offseason as he signed with New Orleans. The decision was fairly simple after the Bucs lured Tom Brady out of New England. Loaded with weapons, Brady tossed 40 TD passes last year. That was his second-highest regular-season total since he racked up 50 TD passes during the ’07 season.
While Brady was a huge boost for the Bucs, his supporting was rock solid. Including four playoff games, 11 players caught at least one TD pass. The Buccaneers’ “bend, don’t break” defense held teams to 19.1 ppg during the season-ending eight-game winning streak. The band is basically back together in Tampa Bay. They are aiming to be the first repeat Super Bowl champs since Brady and the 2004–05 Patriots. I like OVER here.
Key Players Re-Signed: TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Antonio Brown, DT Ndamukong Suh
Key Additions: RB Giovani Bernard, OLB Joe Jones, CB Antonio Hamilton
Key Departures: T Joe Haeg, CB Ryan Smith, S Andrew Adams
Key 2021 Draft Picks: DE Joe Tryon, QB Kyle Trask, OT Robert Hainsey
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Win Total Prediction: OVER 11.5 (-130)
New Orleans Saints – NFC South Win Total Futures
Beginning a new era, the 2021 NFL season will open without QB Drew Brees. For “younger” fans, this is their first experience with a bona fide NFL star’s retiring. Brees struggled with injuries the last two years and leaves the game after 20 seasons. Next stop, a seat in an announcer’s booth, and then a first-ballot HOF induction. Brees ends his career with 45.65 passing MILES, 571 TD passes and a Super Bowl XLIV championship.
No matter who takes the first snap, in Week 1 at home against Green Bay, both Winston and Taysom Hill will see plenty of action throughout the season. WR Michael Thomas’s returning to full health, Tre’Quan Smith’s emerging as a viable WR2, plus Alvin Kamara doing his thing, will help. New Orleans needs to plug some holes left by key departures on defense. A 10–7 record doesn’t seem like a very high bar for the Saints to hurdle.
Key Players Re-Signed: QB Jameis Winston, CB Ken Crawley, DB/ST J.T. Gray
Key Additions: TE Nick Vannett, DE Tanoh Kpassagnon, FB Alex Armah
Key Departures: QB Drew Brees, CB Janoris Jenkins, TE Jared Cook
Key 2021 Draft Picks: DE Payton Turner, LB Pete Werner, CB Paulson Adebo
New Orleans Saints Win Total Prediction: OVER 9 (-115)
Atlanta Falcons – NFC South Win Total Futures
An enigma, during most of the 2020 NFL season, Atlanta (5–11) lost seven games by five or fewer points. That includes blowing leads of 20, 16 and 17 points against Dallas, Chicago and Tampa Bay. During the four wins, against Minnesota, Carolina, Denver and Las Vegas, the Falcons had a 142–73 scoring edge. After filling in admirably, for stud RB Christian McCaffrey in Carolina last year, Mike Davis is the new RB1 in Atlanta.
Davis arrives after a one-season experiment with RB Todd Gurley II, who is currently a free agent. He should help the Falcons improve on the 95.8 rushing yards per game they posted last year. After 10 seasons with QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta traded WR Julio Jones to Tennessee on June 6, 2021. Rising star Calvin Ridley is now the WR1 and Russell Gage elevates to WR2. The rebuild hits full stride and I am betting UNDER 7.5 wins.
Key Players Re-Signed: DE Steven Means, K Younghoe Koo, CB Tyler Hall
Key Additions: RB Mike Davis, KR Cordarrelle Patterson, S Erik Harris
Key Departures: WR Julio Jones, RB Todd Gurley, RB Ito Smith
Key 2021 Draft Picks: TE Kyle Pitts, S Richie Grant, OT Jalen Mayfield
Atlanta Falcons Win Total Prediction: UNDER 7.5 (+110) wins
Carolina Panthers – NFC South Win Total Futures
Looking to snap a run of three straight losing seasons, Carolina is the overall long shot to win the NFC South. The Panthers have posted a combined 17–31 record since the quarterback carousel started turning back in 2018. A one-year experiment with QB Teddy Bridgewater is over as he signed with Denver during the offseason. Cue the Ghostbusters’ theme as Sam Darnold attempts to get his stalled career in motion.
Darnold moved to the NFC, but he hasn’t entirely escaped the ghosts of the AFC East. The Panthers play all four teams from his former division once this season. It would be a huge boost if RB Christian McCaffrey returns at full health. Darnold will be reunited with WR Robby Anderson who had 1,353 receiving yards and 11 TD over 25 games with Darnold in New York. The Panthers’ posting an 8–9 record seems like a bridge too far.
Key Players Re-Signed: G John Miller, OLB Julian Stanford, DE Frank Herron
Key Additions: QB Sam Darnold, WR David Moore, LB Denzel Perryman
Key Departures: QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Mike Davis, WR Curtis Samuel
Key 2021 Draft Picks: CB Jaycee Horn, WR Terrace Marshall Jr., OT Brady Christensen
Carolina Panthers Win Total Prediction: UNDER 7.5 (-130) wins
More NFL Betting from Sports Illustrated: