Two of the NFC’s favorites will face each other in Week 1 of the 2015 NFL season. The New Orleans Saints, expected to win the NFC South, and the Arizona Cardinals, a favorite in the very strong West division, will match up with each other on the league’s first Sunday. Head coach Bruce Arians has quietly put together one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the NFL taking the Cardinals to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2009. Arians was named the league’s Coach of the Year as a result. What is even more impressive about the Cardinals success last year is that they did it playing three quarterbacks. Hopefully, they don’t have to do that again. Carson Palmer returns healthy after a knee injury ended his 2014 season prematurely. Even with a healthy Palmer behind center, New Orleans Saints vs Arizona Cardinals odds only favor the home team by just a field goal (-2½) with the over/under total at 48.
Looking past the season opener, Arians and the Cardinals will need Palmer to stay healthy because the drop-off to No. 2 QB Drew Stanton is noticeable. Arizona upgraded the offensive line by adding Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati to help ensure that Palmer plays all 16 games. Running back Andre Ellington returns after an injury as well and the Arizona running game will also help take pressure off of Palmer and the passing game. The Cardinals finished 31st in rush offense last year, something that will need to improve if they are to contend with Seattle for the NFC West title. For those looking to bet on New Orleans Saints vs Arizona Cardinals odds, it is important to note that Vegas currently has 62% of the NFL picks for week 1 taking the Cards laying the points at home.
In New Orleans, Drew Brees returns for his 15th NFL season. He and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger led the NFL in passing yards last year with 4,952. Brees also threw for 33 touchdowns against 17 interceptions. He lost his number one target in TE Jimmy Graham in free agency, but has one of the most unheralded groups of receivers in the league. Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks, and Nick Toon give Brees ample targets in the passing game. The Saints beat Arizona, 31-7, the last time the two teams met back in 2013. Arians has the Cardinals on a different level now, which will make a New Orleans victory even tougher this time around. The week 1 season opener (Sunday, September 13th) between the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals can be seen live on FOX at 4:05pm EST from the University of Phoenix Stadium.
If there is one division in the NFL that any of the four teams competing could win, it would be the NFC South. The Carolina Panthers became the first team to win consecutive division titles (2013, 2014) last season but did so with a less than impressive 7-8-1 record. The Panthers could pull off a three-peat this year but it won't be easy with high powered offenses in New Orleans and Atlanta that will be looking to regain dominance in the conference. That being said, the Atlanta Falcons are favored at +200 in 2015 NFC South odds to win with division predictions listing the Carolina Panthers at +210, the New Orleans Saints at +225 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at +550.
The Atlanta Falcons looked to be a team bound for the Super Bowl in 2012 leading the 49ers (17-0) in the NFC Championship game but failed to put any points on the board in the second half letting San Francisco steal a 28-24 victory. Since then, it seems the Falcons have yet to recover. Could the 2015 season finally get the dirty birds dancing again? Bookmakers certainly think so and with an offense featuring QB Matt Ryan and WR's Julio Jones and Roddy White; anything is possible. That is of course, if they all can stay healthy. RB Devonta Freeman will be counted on to create the balance needed so that Ryan won't need to force risky passes having thrown 14-INT's last year. The defense will most likely be the Achilles heel for Atlanta who finished 27th in scoring and 21st in rushing last season.
The Carolina Panthers had been one of the early favorites in 2015 NFC South odds and predictions to win the division but that was before losing WR Kelvin Benjamin for the season after tearing his ACL during the preseason. QB Cam Newton will now need to rely heavily on WR's Ted Ginn Jr., Devin Funchess and TE Greg Olsen to pick up the slack. Easier said than done. RB Jonathan Stewart will receive a majority of the rushing attempts but don't be surprised to see rookie Cameron Artis-Payne (Auburn) making his presence known. On the defensive side of the ball, LB's Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis anchor a squad that has been a top ten defense for the past three years. If the defense can make it four in a row, the Panthers could easily win the division depending on how the offense copes with the loss of Benjamin.
The New Orleans Saints made perhaps one of the biggest off-season trades by sending TE Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks to upgrade the offensive line by acquiring Max Unger. Also gone is WR Kenny Stills who took his talent to Miami but any team that has QB Drew Brees behind center will find away to put points on the board. Brees finished last season throwing 4,952-yards for 33-touchdowns and at the age of 36, still shows no signs of slowing down. Look for WR Brandin Cooks to receive a majority of the looks down the sideline while TE Josh Hill will be counted on to replace the production of Graham in 3rd down situations. RB Mark Ingram will receive a majority of the rushing plays once again but will have a formidable duo in C.J. Spiller and Khirly Robinson as backups. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will need to tighten up the secondary if the Saints are to have any chance of winning the division in 2015 NFC South odds since finishing last season 31st in total defense.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took QB Jameis Winston (Florida State) as the #1 overall pick in the draft to help anchor an offense that finished last year with a dreadful 75.2% production rating. Head coach Lovie Smith also proceeded to use 12 of his 13 draft picks on offensive players to help right the ship so to speak. Winston will have a towering pair of WR's at his disposable with Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson but whether or not the offensive line can protect the former FSU star long enough to find them remains to be seen. RB Doug Martin will look to better last season's mark of 494-yards for 2-touchdowns if he can stay healthy. The defense will have the foundation of DT Gerald McCoy and LB Lavonte David while the secondary is littered with former Smith players from Chicago. If the defense can gel under the Tampa 2 scheme and Winston matures quickly, there is no reason that the Buccaneers couldn't be playing for the division title.
The New Orleans Saints have had two mediocre seasons in the past three including last years’ 7-9 campaign in which New Orleans forgot how to play defense. After hiring defensive coordinator Rob Ryan prior to last season, the Saints finished No. 4 in total defense only to fall to 31st last season. The defense will have to get better if New Orleans is to reach the postseason once again. That being said, NFL odds have listed the Saints as +225 longshots to win the NFC South, +1800 to win the NFC Conference and +3300 in Super Bowl predictions to hoist the Lombardi trophy once again. Head coach Sean Payton and the Saints front office believes they have taken the necessary steps to shore up the defense. Payton brought in Dennis Allen, the former Raiders head coach, to assist Ryan with the defense.
The club signed cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Kyle Wilson and linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Anthony Spencer in the offseason. The New Orleans Saints also went defense-heavy in this year’s draft using five picks including a first-rounder on Stephone Anthony, a 6-3, 243-pound linebacker from Clemson. The resurgence starts with the defensive line where fourth-year DE Akiem Hicks and running mate Cameron Jordan need to rebound from a so-so season last year. Junior Galette was the team’s best pass rusher with 10 sacks. Jordan finished with 7.5. Whatever Ryan and Allen can put together is likely to be better than the output seen last season. Offensively, any time you have Drew Brees under center, you’ve got a chance. Brees enters his 15th NFL season, coming off of one in which he led the league (tied with Pittsburgh’s Ben Rothliesberger) in passing yards with 4,952. He threw for 33 touchdowns and was the key to the NFL’s No. 1 offense.
This year though, Brees will have to do it without Pro Bowl TE Jimmy Graham. The Saints traded Graham to the Seahawks for veteran center Max Unger and a first-round draft pick. It’s not as if the well is dry on offense. New Orleans added RB C.J. Spiller, drafted giant tackle Andrus Peat (6-7, 313) out of Stanford, and still have receivers Marques Colston and Brandin Cooks. The Saints should still be one of the league’s best offenses. With an improved defense, New Orleans will contend for the 2015 NFC South title and a trip to the postseason. In terms of Super Bowl predictions, the schedule is a favorable one but Brees and the Saints will have to be more consistent and avoid traps like the three-game skid they suffered last season, one that cost them a division title.
Saints Update (9/9/15): New Orleans are now +4000 favorites in Super Bowl predictions, +2200 to win the NFC Conference and +175 to win the NFC South.