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Battle of three in NFC South; Rams have challengers in West

Aug 14, 2019 3:00 AM

Editor’s note: GT columnist Jim Feist offers a preview of the upcoming NFL season. This week, he looks at the NFC South and NFC West:

Talk about a division where every team can make some noise and you have the NFC South. For sure this is a three-team race for the division between the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers.  

The Saints should have been in the Super Bowl the last two years, with that call potentially keeping them out last year in the Rams’ playoff game. QB Drew Brees is 40 years old and showed some signs of decline last year, but still is a top-quality signal-caller. Can head coach Sean Peyton bring them back for another run after the way the last two years ended for them?

The Vegas oddsmakers believe in them with a 10.5-win total on the club and the over at +136. Because I don’t see them doing better than splitting their six games with the other three big teams in this division, my bet would be on the under. My number is 10 wins for this team with nine a clear possibility.  

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Atlanta has all the talent in the world, but the loss of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to the 49ers two years ago was a huge blow to the unit. QB Matt Ryan, WR Julio Jones and a backfield full of talent make this team one you don’t want to fall asleep on in 2019.

Head coach Dan Quinn must do a better job with all the talent he has been given to work with. This might be a hot seat season for Quinn if he fails to produce for the second straight season.

Vegas has the win total for the Falcons at 9 games and the over a -126 favorite. I see them running neck-and-neck with the Saints all season. Therefore, I will not be betting them at this number.  

The Panthers were a bit of mess last season, due mostly to injuries. This should be a big comeback year for this squad. Of course, QB Cam Newton must return to form. Early signs in practice are positive for the quarterback. Head coach Ron Rivera, who has a background with the defense, must get that side of the ball to hold up in 2019. 

I really feel the Panthers will be a tough out this year. Vegas is underrating the Panthers with a win total of just 7.5 games and the over a hefty favorite. This is an over play for me. I can see the Panthers coming in at eight or even a nine-game winning season total. 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a big change at head coach by bringing in Bruce Arians. I believe that will show immediate results for this team, though the Bucs are still a cut below the other three in the division.

Can Arians rein in QB Jameis Winston both on and off the field? Winston has a world of talent but is a bit of a wild card much too often for me to depend on him running this club. 

The pieces are there for this team to be both high scoring and a winner, should the defense show improvement and Winston not turn the ball over as has been his history.

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Vegas posted a 6.5 win total on the Bucs with the under the slight favorite at -1.15. I’m betting this total over because of Arians, a top coach who will turn this team around. All he needs to do is get Winston on the same page as the rest of the offense.  

NFC West

The Los Angeles Rams made it all the way to the Super Bowl last year under head coach Sean McVay and Jared Goff at quarterback. The team had a great defense with lots of defensive skill players. 

This year, some of those key players are missing. most predictions will be that there will be some regression with this team from the Super Bowl team of 2019. 

I like the head coach McVay and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Goff still has a lot to prove and RB Todd Gurley has knee issues that may be worse than we have been led to believe.

 If there is to be regression it might not show up in the division, unless other teams can show up and give the Rams some competition.  

Key offseason acquisitions for the Rams were Blake Bortles to backup Goff and Clay Mathews at linebacker. The latter returning home where he went to a local high school and then was a standout at USC. 

Vegas’ win total for the Rams is set at 10.5 games with the over at +126. Because there is plus money attached, I would go over as a small play.   

The San Francisco 49ers have a solid head coach in Kyle Shanahan, and he will be working with QB Jimmy Garoppolo. Jimmy was out for most of the last year, but he showed a lot of promise when he was playing and looks to be the QB of the future in the Bay Area.   

This is a team that has a lot of rebuilding that must be done, especially on the defense which will have to prove itself on the field. If Garoppolo can stay healthy, they have the talent to be very explosive under a Shanahan-coached team. 

You may remember that when Shanahan was with the Atlanta Falcons, they went to the Super Bowl and held a 25-point lead at halftime over the Patriots. He did a hell of a job that year with that offense and I believe he’ll do the same with the 49ers. Vegas has a win total of 8 games on the 49ers with the over a heavy chalk of -146.  I believe this is the perfect number for the 49ers and will have a small lean to the over. 

The Seattle Seahawks have one of my favorite quarterbacks in the NFL in the person of Russell Wilson. I like the way he handles himself under pressure and he’s very durable.  

Head coach Pete Carroll is solid and has a great history of winning big games. Carroll has been to a couple of Super Bowls and should have had back-to-back rings but for one colossal mistake we all remember. 

The Seahawks have lost a lot off that great defense. They also lost Doug Baldwin at the wide receiver spot, who was a favorite target of Wilson’s last year. 

This division has many question marks. If the Rams regress, as many expect, the door will be open for the young Niners and rebuilding Seahawks to step up in the NFC West. Vegas has the win total for the Seahawks at 8.5 games with the over at -113. I lean under here on the Seahawks as I expect them to have an 8-win season.  

I still think the Rams will take the division again, as they are just better put together than the others at this time. 

I’m not going to give a lot of consideration for division success in Arizona, even though they have the No. 1 draft choice in Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray and he has looked very good in practices thus far. 

The Cardinals also have rookie HC Kliff Kingsbury. This club is in rebuilding mode and likely will take time to put the pieces together. They do have the potential to score a lot of points this year and they could rise up and be interesting. 

The Vegas win total on the Cardinals tells us a lot of what’s expected of them. The win total on Arizona is at 5 games with the over set at -133. 

Again, a very solid number in my opinion. With the rookie head coach and quarterback, I wouldn’t bet this total unless it was 5.5 or 6 games. Then I would go under with the team in a rebuilding mode.  

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