Throughout its 10-year history, the NFC South has been consistently inconsistent – and wildly entertaining. Since the NFL realignment in 2002, not one NFC South team – the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers or Tampa Bay Buccaneers – has won the division in consecutive seasons. Also since 2002, each NFC South team has not only won at least two division titles, but also appeared in a conference championship game – the only division with such distinctions.
Before the “Bounty Gate” scandal, New Orleans – after winning the division in 2011 – were an overwhelming favorite to be the first team to repeat as NFC South champs. However, in early March, an NFL investigation revealed that between 22 and 27 Saints defensive players participated in a “bounty” program from 2009-2011, where cash bonuses were paid out to those who intentionally injured opposing players. Consequently, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued sanctions to several Saints players, coaches and front-office personnel, most notably year-long suspensions to head coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Unless he takes an analyst job on cable tv Payton will vanish from the public eye until next offseason. He is not allowed to have any contact with the Saints organization or anyone associated with the NFL until the day after the 2013 Super Bowl.
With these heavy penalties – and history – working against them, the New Orleans Saints will have their hands full if they are going to retain the NFC South crown.
According to the latest odds, the Saints (+120) are still a slight favorite to win the division. The Atlanta Falcons (+130) are only very slight underdogs while the Carolina Panthers (+500) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+1200) are betting longshots.