NFC South Betting Preview: What's the Best Way to Bet on the Heavily Favored Buccaneers?

If there is ever a downtime for the NFL, this is it. Between the draft and the start of training camps, this is one of the rare stretches on the calendar when there isn't something big happening.

That doesn't mean we have to check out from the action.

NFL odds offers a robust futures market, including odds for each division winner as well as win total odds for every team. Now is a great time to lay some futures bets.

Let's take a look at the NFC South and see where there's betting value to be had.

Buccaneers Over 11.5 Wins (-110)

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are so much better than every other team in the NFC South -- as long as Tom Brady is healthy -- that there's no value on betting the division winner.

The Bucs are an overwhelming -290 to win the division -- priced as the biggest division favorite in the NFL -- and that implies odds of 74.4%. We project them to win the NFC South 71.2% of the time. The -290 juice makes this an unappealing bet outside of lumping it into a parlay.

So we're going to have to turn elsewhere when discussing the NFC South, and that elsewhere is the Bucs' win total.

Our numbers really like Tampa Bay. We project them to have the fourth-best defense and third-best offense. We hand them a nERD of 6.21 -- which is their expected margin of victory against an average opponent on a neutral field -- the second-best in the NFL (trailing only the Buffalo Bills).

We project the Bucs to go 11.6-5.4, so we're right in line with oddsmakers. I think you can fully justify taking the over on the Bucs' win total right now.

Here's where things get interesting, though -- there's a chance that the best time to lay futures on the Bucs is after Week 4. That's because of how the schedule falls for Tampa Bay, which is something our Jim Sannes broke down earlier this offseason.

The Buccaneers open with a tough four-week stretch versus the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. The Packers, Cowboys and Chiefs are all in the top eight in nERD, and the Saints have given Tampa Bay fits of late. After that, things get much easier for the Bucs as they face only one team the rest of the way that ranks in the top nine in nERD (Los Angeles Rams). That's a 13-game run with only one clash against a squad we currently rank as a true top-tier foe.

Depending on how Tampa Bay's opening four-game stretch goes, we might be able to get the Bucs -- in both win-total wagers and division-winner bets -- at more enticing numbers after Week 4. Of course, things could go the other way if the Buccaneers start 4-0, which they're capable of doing.

I'm inclined to wait and see while acknowledging that Tampa Bay could start well and spoil the fun. I think the potential reward outweighs the risk. If the Bucs enter Week 5 having lost a couple of games, it should be a great time to pounce.

Falcons Under 4.5 Wins (+100)

In a league with as many close games as the NFL has, it's scary to bet on a team to win four or fewer games. But five teams did it a year ago, and I think the Atlanta Falcons can do it this season.

Atlanta finished with a respectable 7-10 record in 2021, but they were fortunate to have that many wins. The Falcons' point differential was -146, which was four points worse than the point differential of the three-win Detroit Lions and ranked as the fifth-worst point differential in the league. Atlanta mustered only 5.1 Pythagorean wins. They were really bad.

And since last season, they've traded away Matt Ryan and will be going with a combination of Marcus Mariota and rookie Desmond Ridder -- a third-round pick -- under center. That's probably not going to go well.

Our numbers project the Falcons to have the third-worst defense and eighth-worst offense. They sit 31st in nERD with a mark of -5.10. They might be the worst team in the league.

The schedule does them no favors, either. They are matched up with the NFC West and AFC North. Those two divisions have exactly zero teams in the bottom 10 in nERD, and their same-place matchup from the AFC is the Los Angeles Chargers, a team we rank seventh overall.

It's not that hard to envision a scenario in which the Falcons are going nowhere midway through the season and opt to throw Ridder in there to see what he's got and/or tank. But even if Mariota starts all 17 games, Atlanta should be one of the league's worst teams both offensively and defensively.

A bad team with a tough schedule, Atlanta is in for a rough season, and I'll take the +100 price for them to go under 4.5 wins.