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    The predictive outlook for the NFC South in 2023 sees less than a game overall in it between the Falcons, Panthers and Saints, with the Buccaneers outside looking-in. Does that make sense given all the change at the QB pivot in this division in 2023?

    A classic Carr is driving in N’awlins, QB1 is starting in Carolina, and Atlanta – Atlanta – has the QB with the most tenure in the division. Last but not least, Baker the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly Mayfield is center stage in T-Bay. There is so much about this starting QB quartet that is at once exciting and terrifying as to make me believe the NFC South has something very different on offer this year.

    Does the data support my enthusiasm? Let’s get into it! We’ll reference each team’s 2023 Strength of Schedule (SoS), Projected Wins (PW), and Playoff Probability (POP) as look-ahead metrics that will help us determine how the NFC South may play out in 2023. 

    Atlanta Falcons

    SoS: 2nd easiest, PW: 8.4, POP: 47.0% 

    Entering free agency, the Falcons ranked second to only the Bears in available cap space and they spent it well. S Jessie Bates III is a beast against the run and the veteran DL combo of Calais Campbell, David Onyemata and Eddie Goldman adds a lot of beef up front. The Falcons blew at high dough (#8 overall) on RB Bijan Robinson who looks like the real deal. OT Matthew Bergeron, EDGE Zach Harrison and CB Clark Phillips III were all good draft picks for the Falcons.

    Based on preseason predictions, the Falcons are basically a .500 team, which is 1.5 games better than they were in 2022 when the team finished last in the NFC South, largely because they were a horrible away team (1-7) and not much better in the division (2-4). The Falcons will be well-matched to open the season at home to Carolina in Week 1, and again to Green Bay in Week 2. If you can hold on to Week 7 to use them in survivor formats, consider ATL @ TBY for a ‘road curse’ breaker. As for ATS plays, look for Atlanta at home, in conference, and as an underdog, as they probably will be in Week 9 versus Minnesota.

    Carolina Panthers

    SoS: 4th easiest, PW: 8.0, POP: 40.5% 

    With the #1 overall pick, the Carolina Panthers selected the guy everyone knew they would. Now, QB Bryce Young will be expected to play to the lofty heights imagined for his game and the future of this franchise; no pressure. Young will do that with fellow draftees WR Jonathan Mingo, as well as FA additions RB Miles Sanders, WR D.J. Chark, WR Adam Thielen, and TE Hayden Hurst. All that talent may not help though because the Oline is still woeful. The Panthers pass defense is also poor and will ask FA add S Vonn Bell to do much to help them improve in ‘23.

    I expect that the Panthers will fall short of their projected eight wins for 2023. As for the playoffs, well that can’t happen when you win less than eight games. In survivor formats, I love the Panthers for a road win against TBY in Week 13, but that’s about it. In ATS scenarios, it’s tough to rely on old trends with a new QB1 in town but the smart money says take the Panthers as a home ‘dog in 2023, and not as an away favorite.

    New Orleans Saints

    SoS: Easiest in NFL, PW: 8.9, POP: 53.0% 

    Even with the easiest SoS in the NFL and a pretty good offseason, the data models give the Saints no better than a 53% chance at the playoffs in 2023, which tells you what oddsmakers think of this team. QB Derek Carr has parachuted in and Dennis Allen is now HC. They’re joined on O by fellow newcomers RB Jamaal Williams and WR Jarvis Landry. Big, quick DL Bryan Bresee, and EDGE threat Isaiah Foskey will need to contribute to this defensive front 7, which has lost a lot since the 2022 season.

    Former NFL head coach Jon Gruden talks with New Orleans Saints quarterback Derek Carr (4) at the NFL team’s football training camp in Metairie, La., Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

    To get over the hump and win this division, New Orleans must first beat teams in this division, where they were 2-4 last season. The 8.9 projected win total is predicated on the Saints ability to go at least 4-2 in the NFC South this season. We should have a good take on their ability to do that by the end of Week 4, by which the Saints will have played on the road to Carolina and hosted Tampa Bay, presumably as ATS favorites in both cases. In survivor formats, I’d wait on using the Saints until late in the season when we know who they are and what they’re playing for — maybe Week 16 @ the Rams. 

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    SoS: 16th most difficult, PW: 6.2, POP: 19.4%  

    What a difference a year can make. The GOAT is gone and the offensive pivot is Baker Mayfield’s job to lose. The Bucs defense re-signed stud CB Jamel Dean and standout LB Lavonte David, so that’s an offseason win, and both sides of the ball will feature intriguing new linemen acquired via the draft. DL Calijah Kancey is undersized but disruptive and quick. OL Cody Mauch will immediately add punch and grit to the Bucs run game. 

    Tampa Bay’s season boils down to the team’s ability to find a leader at quarterback. If Baker Mayfield is going to be more than ‘the hype’ and become ‘the guy,’ this is his best and final chance to do so. If not, Kyle Trask will get the nod soon enough and we will be in slow-building mode with yet another young QB in the NFC South. All that said, I’m not sure TBY even gets to six wins this season, and I give them a none-percent playoff probability. That said, as long as the Baker Mayfield hype train chugs there is hope, both in survivor formats and by always picking against the Bucs ATS. 

    Wrap-Up

    I hate calling this division because the landscape is just wacky enough that something unusual, like a rookie phenom taking their team to the playoffs, could absolutely happen. That said, I’m gonna sit in the bushes a bit, and call for a dog fight versus a runaway winner. 

    I think the NFC South will probably boil down to the last week of the regular season when the Saints are scheduled to host the Falcons. IMO, the winner of that game probably takes the division and secures a playoff spot. That said, I don’t like any other NFC South teams to make it as wildcards or proceed past the first round of the playoffs, though I will have fun watching this division in 2023!

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