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NFL odds: Previewing NFC South

NFL odds: Previewing NFC South Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints begin the 2014 NFL season as strong 2/3 favorites to emerge as NFC South champs in NFL futures betting.

Sean Payton's squad is coming off a solid 11-5 regular season in 2013 that was capped by a thrilling last-second playoff win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Wild Card Weekend. Still, despite their record, the Saints failed to win the division last year, instead finishing one game back of the surprising Carolina Panthers, who won 11 of their last 12 games to capture their first NFC South title since 2008.

DIVISION PREVIEWS: NFC: East | West | North | South
                                    AFC: East | North | South | West

But while offseason change has left oddsmakers unsure of what to expect from the Panthers in 2014, there is little concern about the Saints, who also join the favorites in Super Bowl betting with odds of 12/1.

Quarterback Drew Brees will once again be the straw that stirs the drink on Bourbon Street. The eight-time Pro Bowler threw for over 300 yards on 11 occasions last season, including each of the Saints’ eight home victories, and he trails only Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos and Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers in NFL MVP props betting, with odds of 8/1.

The Saints face a tough opener in Atlanta, which is 5-0 against the spread when it opens at home, according to the OddsShark.com NFL database. The Saints were 1-7 against the spread in the regular season on the road a year ago, before coming alive in the playoffs.

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The Panthers trail the Saints in NFC South futures betting, with odds of 9/2 to repeat as division champs. The Panthers matched a franchise-best with 12 wins in 2013, on the strength of a potent defense and an offense led by QB Cam Newton. The club posted seven wins by double digits, allowing no more than 20 points in each of their 12 victories.

However, they've had a difficult offseason, losing receivers Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn in free agency and cutting veteran Steve Smith to leave Newton with few weapons. That has had an impact on their odds this season, as has the recent injury to Newton, whose team was originally favored by three points in its opener at Tampa, but is now a 1-point dog.

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The club is a 4/7 bet to win UNDER 8.5 games in 2014, and is a distant 25/1 in Super Bowl futures betting at online sportsbooks. In addition to the team’s defense, which remains one of the best in the NFL, Newton remains a bright spot for the Panthers, with odds of 33/1 to win 2014 NFL MVP honors. Conversely, coach Ron Rivera sits squarely in the middle of a list every coach wants to avoid, with odds of 20/1 to be the first NFL bench boss fired this season.

KING: Brees: 'I want people to say, I would have loved to play with that guy'

Elsewhere in the division, the Falcons ​are coming off a dismal year. A year ago, the Atlanta was pegged as the favorite to claim the division. But things quickly unraveled for the Falcons, who tumbled to the bottom of the division alongside the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with a 4-12 record.

Wide receiver Julio Jones was lost for the season after suffering a foot injury in Week 5, while an offensive line depleted by injury did little to protect QB Matt Ryan, who was sacked a bone-crushing 44 times.

With a healthy lineup breaking camp, there is nowhere for the Falcons to go but up. The club sits as an EVEN bet to post OVER 8.5 wins, but are a 2/1 longshot to make the playoffs this season, with odds of 5/13 to finish outside the playoff picture in NFL team props wagering.

Tampa Bay once again remains the long shot in the NFC South, with futures odds of 11/2. But optimism springs eternal for Buccaneers fans, with the team owning 5/7 odds of winning more than seven games in 2014.

2014 NFL division preview: NFC South

Sports Illustrated's Don Banks previews the NFC South for the 2014 NFL season.

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