A division dominated by Tom Brady in the regular season happened to be one of the most talked about divisions in the offseason. Brady retired for 40 days and 40 nights before announcing his intent to un-retire, and Rob Gronkowski hung up his cleats for the second time. The Falcons traded away their longtime QB Matt Ryan and signed former Titans signal-caller Marcus Mariota. The Saints bid farewell to the greatest coach in New Orleans history (Sean Payton), and the Panthers made a late trade for disgruntled Browns QB Baker Mayfield.
If this offseason indicates how the regular season will play out, we are headed for a tremendously amusing year full of dysfunction, surprises, and success.
Why waste time with a preview when we can get right to the predictions? Let’s go.
Win Total Over/Under: 5 (+130/-150)
Everyone seems to be doubting the Falcons – and with good reason. Atlanta parted ways with their franchise QB, Matt Ryan, replacing him with Marcus Mariota, and lost their No. 1 receiver Calvin Ridley to a year-long suspension for gambling. That leaves Mariota with second-year TE Kyle Pitts as his top target, along with their 1st round draft pick Drake London out of USC.
Still, the Falcons saw some upgrades on the defensive front with LBs Lorenzo Carter, Rashaan Evans, and CB Casey Hayward. They also improved on the run game, signing former Chiefs RB Damien Williams to back up Cordarelle Patterson.
However, for the Falcons to keep pace with the remainder of the division, they will have to overperform and defy expectations. Unfortunately, they don’t have enough on offense to do so. Mariota will be auditioning to make his case that he deserves to be a full-time starter in the league, but without proven WRs, it will be an uphill battle. This will be a long year for the Falcons. Under
Win Total Over/Under: 6.5 (-110/-110)
The second it was announced that the Panthers traded for Baker Mayfield, I immediately pounced on the Over, which was a game less than it is now. Before the deal, the Panthers were looking at a QB competition between Sam Darnold, rookie Matt Corral, and former XFL QB PJ Walker. Even though head coach Matt Rhule has indicated that Baker will need to earn the starter spot, all signs point to him doing so.
After starting the 2021 campaign 3-0, the Panthers took a deep nose dive and never recovered. Christian McCaffrey was injured early on, leaving the run game in shambles, and Darnold was benched before Week 10. Between Darnold, Cam Newton, and Walker, the Panthers stumbled to a 5-12 record. Now, they have Mayfield, who turned the dismal Browns from last-place finishes to playoff-bound in his first few seasons in the league.
Mayfield is an immediate upgrade and should benefit from having McCaffrey in the backfield along with WRs DJ Moore and Robbie Anderson. Not only that, no player in the league performs his best when he has a chip on his shoulder than Baker. Expect Mayfield to embrace his perennial underdog label and transform the Panthers into contenders. Over on this one.
New Orleans Saints
Win Total Over/Under: 8
The Saints are many experts’ scary sleeper pick to make noise this season. However, I rarely agree with the majority, so I’m taking the unpopular opinion here. Not only will the Saints miss the postseason, but they will have a worse record than last year.
Let’s start with the obvious: Sean Payton is no longer head coach, and Drew Brees is not coming out of retirement. That means we will see Year 2 of the Jameis Winston experiment. And while the Saints have done a noteworthy job of getting Winston some help on offense (Jarvis Landry, rookie Chris Olave), there is no telling how this team will respond to new and unproven head coach Dennis Allen. Make no mistake, Allen has disappointing credentials to his name as an NFL head coach. He went only 8-28 in his 3+ seasons with the Raiders and now must take over for one of the most successful coaches in history.
There is also uncertainty surrounding Winston as he returns from a torn ACL and damaged MCL he suffered in Week 8. Fortunately, Winston will have new targets to throw to in Olave and Landry, along with the return of Michael Thomas, who was forced to miss all of 2021 with an injury.
Still, I’m not convinced Allen is the right man for the job, nor do I believe Winston is ready to lead this team to the postseason. The Saints also may be without RB Alvin Kamara for several games as he awaits a possible suspension for assault charges he sustained over the summer. New Orleans will lose a dangerous two-way player without Kamara, and their run game will suffer immensely.
With the number of questions piling up on this squad, I will go with the Under. I believe Carolina will give the Saints a run for second place in the division, and the Saints will have trouble acclimating to life after Sean Payton. I don’t see New Orleans amounting to more than 7 wins this year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Win Total Over/Under: 11.5 (+100/-120)
Not only are the Bucs without Rob Gronkowski, who opted for retirement, but Tampa Bay watched Antonio Brown orchestrate an ostentatious exit on the field last season. Head Coach Bruce Arians also turned in his playbook, accepting a position in the front office while the Bucs named DC Todd Bowles his replacement. Tampa Bay also temporarily dealt with Tom Brady’s short-lived retirement and will likely be without wideout Chris Godwin to begin the season.
It was quite the offseason, to say the least, that continued up to last week when the Bucs signed WR Julio Jones to a one-year deal, looking for him to recapture the dominance he once displayed consistently for years in Atlanta. Still, it was more than just the receiving corps that underwent an extreme makeover. Guard Alex Cappa signed with the Bengals, S Jordan Whitehead inked a deal with the NY Jets, and DT Ndamukong Suh and LB Jason Pierre-Paul remained unsigned.
With so much to dissect from this team, it would be an understatement to say that this is not the same squad that nearly reached the NFC Championship game for the second consecutive season. Sure, they did bring in some other reinforcements (WR Russell Gage, S Logan Ryan, G Shaq Mason), but whether or not they can fill in their predecessors’ cleats is another question.
Perhaps, however, the most overlooked change on this team is in the head coach position. Bowles inherits a Super Bowl-caliber team in his second stint as head coach. His first run with the Jets was less than memorable as he finished with a 26-41 overall record in 4 seasons. He’s made a name for himself on his defensive acumen, but it will be a test whether he can engineer the offense behind Brady to be one of the best in the league again.
I know it’s Brady, but I’m going Under. Eleven wins seem like the Bucs’ peak when you also factor in that the Saints and Panthers have improved from last season, and Atlanta could be a sneaky sleeper behind Mariota. It is Brady, so I won’t be surprised if this team wins 12 or 13 games this season, but I’m more comfortable taking the Under.