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NFC South Notebook
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Carolina Panthers

2013 Record: 12-4
Postseason: L 10-23 vs. San Francisco in Divisional round
Off YPG: 319 (25th)
Def YPG: 301 (2nd)
Off PPG: 22.9 (18th)
Def PPG: 15.1 (2nd)

2014 Total Win Analysis - LVH Total Win Opening Line: 8

The Panthers were the surprise team in the NFL last year. After starting 1-3, Carolina reeled off 11 wins over the final 12 games to win the division and earn a first round bye in the playoffs. After some personnel losses and a much more difficult schedule, Carolina is expected to take a bit of a step back this season. They still possess one of the top defenses in the NFL, but the offense didn't do a whole bunch to improve on its below-average 2013. Cam Newton is one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the league, but the Panthers let his two top targets walk in free agency leaving Newton with little to work with in the passing game. The schedule will not be easy. In addition to playing six difficult games against division foes, Carolina plays at Baltimore, vs. Chicago, @Cincinnati, @Green Bay, vs. Seattle, and at Philadelphia. With what appears to be a below-average offense against a very difficult sched, expect Carolina to take a step back this season. We recommend a play on the UNDER 8 wins.

Betting Notes

-- 2013 ATS-O/U Record: 9-6-1, 5-11
-- Carolina ranks as the 6th best road team since 2003, accumulating a 53-39-2 (57.6%) record over that span.
-- They also rank 6th in the NFL as a favorite since 2008 with a 24-18-2 ATS record (57.1%).
-- Since 2011, the Panthers are 9-4-1 ATS (69.2%), the 2nd best percentage in the NFL over that span.
-- The Panthers had only five of 17 games finished 'OVER' the total last year, just 29.4%, by far the lowest in the NFL.
-- Carolina has had the most in-division success with New Orleans. The Panthers are 9-3 ATS in the last 12 meetings. They are also just 11-2 ATS in the last 13 road games at NO.
-- The Panthers are 3-1 SU & ATS in the last two years against the Falcons. They are also 4-2 ATS in the last six road games at Atlanta.
-- Carolina won & covered both meetings with Tampa Bay last year by an average of 19.5 PPG. The Panthers are 7-4 ATS overall in the last 11 meetings.

Player & Team Notes

-- Newton's passing stats didn't wow anybody last year. He managed games well, throwing for 3,379 yards (61.7%), 24 TD, and 13 INT. He also tallied 585 rush yards and 6 TD on 111 carries.
-- Newton will have to get acclimated to a whole new WR corps as the top three WR from 2013 - Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, and Ted Ginn Jr. - are gone. The Panthers picked up Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery in free agency and added 6'5" Kelvin Benjamin in the 1st round of the draft.
-- Another area for concern is the offensive line. Newton was sacked 43 times (6th highest in the NFL) last year and now his LT and LG both retired in the offseason. -- Carolina is a bit strapped against the salary cap, so they didn't make any big name additions, but they were able to retain DE Greg Hardy on a franchise tag. Hardy and fellow DE Charles Johnson helped Carolina lead the NFL in sacks in 2013.

New Orleans Saints

2013 Record: 11-5
Postseason: L 15-23 at Seattle in the Divisional round, 15-23
Off YPG: 399 (4th)
Def YPG: 306 (4th)
Off PPG: 25.9 (10th)
Def PPG: 19 (4th)

2014 Total Win Analysis - LVH Total Win Opening Line: 9.5

The Saints bounced back with 11 wins after their 7-9 finish in the "bountygate" 2012. New Orleans was finally able to pack a punch defensively after bringing in Rob Ryan. They finished 4th in both yards allowed and points allowed; 12 of 16 regular season opponents were held to 20 points or fewer. If that defense can hold steady behind this Drew Brees-led offense, this team will win a lot of games; which is why we're high on this team and recommend a play on the OVER. The schedule opens up very favorably for this team (@ATL, @CLE, vs. MIN, @DAL, vs. TB, @DET) and anything less than a 5-1 start would be surprising. After that they get their four toughest non-division games of the season - Green Bay, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Baltimore - all in the comforts of the Superdome. Atlanta, Carolina, and Tampa Bay will all be competitive this season, but we don't see any of them challenging the Saints for the top spot in the South. Expect at least 10 wins and take the OVER.

Betting Notes

-- 2013 ATS-O/U Record: 8-8, 6-10
-- New Orleans is 3rd in the NFL in overall spread record, tallying a 31-21 ATS mark (59.6% cover rate).
-- It's a remarkable advantage that the Saints have when playing at home. Since 2010 they are 24-9 ATS (72.7%). That's by far the best record in the NFL over that span. -- It's also quite remarkable the disadvantage they have when playing on the road. Since 2010 they are just 14-22 ATS (38.9%) in away games - 2nd worst in the NFL.
-- They've been getting overvalued on the road over the past few seasons. They are just 7-14 ATS (33.3%) as a road favorite since 2010. The 21 games as a road favorite is 3rd to only Green Bay (24 games) and New England (23 games).
-- The Saints are 5-0 SU & 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings with Tampa Bay. The 'UNDER' is 9-2 in the last 11 meetings.
-- New Orleans is 13-3 SU in the last 16 meetings with Atlanta. They are 5-2 ATS in the last seven overall and five of those games have remained 'UNDER' the total.
-- New Orleans has had the most in-division trouble with Carolina. The Saints are just 3-9 ATS in the last 12 meetings. They are also just 2-11 ATS in the last 13 home games against the Panthers.

Player & Team Notes

-- Drew Brees surpassed 5,000 yards for the fourth time in his career. No other player has done it more than once. He's been the model of consistency as he's averaged 38 TD and 15 INT per season over the past six years.
-- The Saints let one of Brees' favorite targets walk in the offseason as RB Darren Sproles was traded to the Eagles. Sproles caught 86, 75, and 71 passes in his three seasons in New Orleans.
-- New Orleans is hoping top draft pick WR Brandin Cooks can fill in for Sproles. The speedster from Oregon State caught 128 passes for 1,730 yards and 16 TD for the Beavers last season. He's drawn rave reviews from Saints camp so far and expect to see him often on Sundays.
-- The defense that performed so well last season lost a number of veteran starters. Roman Harper, Jabari Greer, Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, and Malcolm Jenkins were all let go in the offseason.
-- New Orleans brought in All-Pro safety Jairus Byrd and future Hall of Fame CB Champ Bailey to team with Kenny Vaccaro and Keenan Lewis, forming one of the better secondaries in the NFL.
-- Among the Saints' defensive accomplishments last year: 49 sacks (4th), 16 forced fumbles (11th), 194 pass YPG allowed (2nd), 20 pass TD allowed (6th).

Atlanta Falcons

2013 Record: 4-12
Postseason: No Playoffs
Off YPG: 343 (14th)
Def YPG: 379 (27th)
Off PPG: 22.1 (20th)
Def PPG: 27.7 (27th)

2014 Total Win Analysis - LVH Total Win Opening Line: 8

After three straight playoff trips, including a narrow loss to San Francisco in the 2012 NFC Championship game, the wheels fell off for the Falcons last year as the team limped to a 4-12 finish. Injuries played a big part in the downfall, but so did a porous defense and a terrible offensive line. The Falcons seemed to make the necessary moves to improve their areas of need, and there's still a lot of talent on this roster -- which is why we're leaning slightly towards the OVER on this total. Looking at the schedule - which is ranked the 11th toughest - the Falcons won't have an easy time in the division as Carolina and New Orleans both made the playoffs last year and Tampa Bay is a trendy wild card pick this season. Outside of the division is where Atlanta catches some breaks. They have manageable road games at Minnesota and NY Giants while hosting Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Arizona, and Pittsburgh. The two toughest non-division games happen on October 19 (@Baltimore) and December 8 (@Green Bay). There's ample talent on the roster that, if healthy, can contend for the NFC South crown. Expect a +.500 season and take the OVER.

Betting Notes

-- 2013 ATS-O/U Record: 7-9, 9-7
-- Since Matt Ryan arrived in 2008, the Falcons have been one of the more dependable favorites in the NFL. Atlanta is 34-25-2 ATS (57.6%) over that span - behind only Green Bay, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Seattle.
-- They are also a favorable 12-7-1 ATS (63.2%) as an away favorite since 2008, the sixth best percentage in the NFL.
-- Over the last decade they rank 5th in non-conference games with a 27-17 ATS record (61.4%) - the best mark among NFC teams.
-- Since 2009, Atlanta has been the 5th best 'UNDER' bet when playing at home, tallying a 57.1% rate of 'UNDER.'
-- Atlanta is just 3-13 SU in the last 16 meetings with New Orleans. They are just 2-5 ATS in the last seven overall and five of those games have remained 'UNDER' the total.
-- The Falcons are just 1-3 SU & ATS in the last two years against the Carolina Panthers. They are also just 2-4 ATS in the last six road games at Carolina.
-- They are a positive 8-6 SU in the last 14 meetings with Tampa Bay, but just 4-10 ATS in those 14 games.

Player & Team Notes

-- QB Matt Ryan was sacked 44 times last seasons, the 3rd highest mark in the NFL. That constant pressure from opponents led to hurried throws and a career high 17 INT's. Still, he had a respectable 4,515 yards and 67.4% completions.
-- Ryan will also get one of the top WR's in the NFL back in the fold as a healthy Julio Jones returns to the lineup after only playing five games last season. Jones had 41 receptions for 580 yards through just five games in 2013 - which would translate to 125+ receptions and 1,700+ yards through a full season.
-- With a revamped O-Line and a healthy Julio Jones, Ryan will absolutely benefit. But perhaps more importantly is a run game that was non-existent a year ago (77.9 rush YPG on 3.9 YPC) will finally see some daylight.
-- The Falcons offensive line, which was so bad in 2013, appears to be a unit of strength now. They brought in RG Jon Asamoah from Kansas City and drafted LT Jake Matthews (who will start at RT) with the 4th overall pick in the draft. That'll be a huge upgrade for both the protection of Ryan and opening holes in the running game. -- Outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon will miss the entire 2014 season with an achilles injury. He missed 10 games last year with injury.
-- The Falcons were absolutely abysmal on defense last year. They allowed 31 TD passes and only recorded 10 INT's last year. They couldn't get to the quarterback (29th with just 32 sacks) and also ranked 31st against the run (135.8 rush YPG allowed).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2013 Record: 4-12
Postseason: No Playoffs
Off YPG: 277 (32nd)
Def YPG: 348 (17th)
Off PPG: 18 (30th)
Def PPG: 24.3 (21st)

2014 Total Win Analysis - LVH Total Win Opening Line: 7

It was a nightmare season in 2013 for the Bucs. Tampa lost its first eight games, released once-considered franchise QB Josh Freeman, and concluded with the firing of head coach Greg Schiano. Despite everything that went wrong, there's still quiet optimism heading into the 2014 season. Lovie Smith has brought a new attitude and with a young & talented roster, this team is on the way up. Still, winning more than seven games in this division will be a tall task for the Bucs and we're leaning slightly towards the UNDER. We don't know Josh McCown will perform as the unquestioned starter after playing very well in relief duty for Jay Cutler in Chicago last year. The offense as a whole looks better on paper, but this unit still has a ways to go after ranking dead last in yards per game and 30th in points per game in 2013. A tough first five weeks of the schedule will give us a good idea of where this team is headed. They host Carolina and St. Louis in weeks 1 & 2, then have three straight road games at Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and New Orleans. An 0-5 or 1-4 start is certainly plausible and then it'll be extremely difficult to exceed seven wins if that's the case. Especially with matchups at Chicago, vs. Cincinnati, at Detroit, at Carolina, vs. Green Bay and vs. New Orleans to end the season. Take the UNDER.

Betting Notes

-- 2013 ATS-O/U Record: 6-10, 8-8
-- TB is just 13-26-1 ATS (33.3%) at home since 2009, the 2nd worst home record in the NFL over that span.
-- On the flip side, they have the 3rd best record in the NFL on the road since 2009, accumulating a 23-16-1 ATS record (59%).
-- They are also 22-14 ATS (61.1%) as a road underdog since 2008, the third best percentage in the NFL.
-- Since 2003, the Bucs are just 11-22-2 ATS (33.3%) as a home underdog, the third worst spread record in the NFL over that span.
-- Tampa Bay was 0-2 SU & ATS last year against Carolina, losing by an average of 19.5 PPG. The Bucs are just 4-7 ATS overall in the last 11 meetings.
-- TB is 0-5 SU & 1-4 ATS in the last five meetings with New Orleans. The 'UNDER' is 9-2 in the last 11 meetings.
-- The Bucs are a 10-4 ATS in the last 14 games against the Atlanta Falcons.

Player & Team Notes

-- Delegated QB Mike Glennon to 2nd string after a decent rookie season (19 TD, 9 INT) in favor of free agent Josh McCown. McCown threw for 1,337 yards, 13 TD, and just 1 INT in eight games with Chicago last year.
-- TB will get a healthy RB Doug Martin back after he missed most of last season with a knee injury. Martin rushed for 1,454 yards (4.6 YPC) and 11 TD as a rookie and had 456 yards through six games last year before the injury. Martin will be a welcome addition considering TB rushed for just 5 TD in 10 games without him.
-- McCown should have no shortage of big targets in the passing game. After drafting Mike Evans in the 1st round, the Bucs will feature a very intimidating receiving corps. Evans, Vincent Jackson, and rookie TE Austin Sefarian-Jenkins are all 6'5". Fellow receivers Chris Owusu and Louis Murphy are 6'2".
-- Released arguably the top CB in the league, Darrelle Revis. Revis wasn't a natural fit in the defense Greg Schiano was running and Lovie Smith apparently felt he wasn't a great fit in his defense either. Replaced him with Pro Bowl CB Alterraun Verner from Tennessee.
-- This defensive line should resemble something close to what Lovie Smith had in Chicago when they had a dominant defense. They will rotate about 6-7 players regularly, led by All-Pro talent DT Gerald McCoy and DE Michael Johnson.

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