The Panthers are the odds-on favorite to win the NFC South, as you might expect, but oddsmakers haven't abandoned the Falcons bandwagon entirely.
Below, you'll see the odds from Bovada, and you can see just how down on the Buccaneers (and to a lesser extent the Saints) that Vegas is.
- Carolina Panthers -210
- Atlanta Falcons +225
- New Orleans Saints +900
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers +5000
It's not hard to figure out why the Bucs are out of the picture. Despite a very promising rookie season from Jameis Winston and some clear growth as a football team, they remain defensively limited and poorly coached. They're going to be a threat for the division in the near future—though I'm not sure whether that means 2016, 2017, or even 2018—but now they're just not. The Saints are still technically in it, but as the loss to the Titans reminded us, they have an incredibly weak defense and are entirely dependent on Drew Brees' age-defying excellence to win football games, so nobody really likes their chances all that much.
That brings us to Atlanta. The Falcons were actually slight favorites to win the division back in August, and that looked pretty good when they started the season off 5-0. Since then, of course, the Panthers have remained undefeated, and the Falcons have gone 1-3 over their last four games, playing some truly pitiful football along the way. It goes without saying that a couple more games like the ones they "enjoyed" against the 49ers and Buccaneers will mean they're out of the NFC South hunt entirely, to say nothing of the Wild Card. The Panthers are comfortable favorites here because they're been playing the best football in the division, they have the best record in the division, and their elite defense and Cam Newton plan has gone swimmingly thus far.
I'm going to sound a bright note right now, though. As good as the Panthers are and as legitimate as they undoubtedly will be going forward, they're not going to remain undefeated much longer. They've won just two games all season by more than one score, their receiving corps has been limiting an already turnover-prone Cam Newton, and the offensive line is functioning at a reasonably high level primarily because Newton's ability to escape the pocket is handcuffing defenses. They're going to have a dud or two or three in the second half of the season, which gives Atlanta a legitimate chance to get back in the race if A) they can play better in general and B) they can actually beat the Panthers. It's no sure thing, and I still expect Carolina to win the division, but it's not hopeless just yet.
How do you expect the South to shake out?