The NFC South was perhaps the worst division in football during the 2022 NFL season, with
none of their four teams possessing a winning record. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers paced the
pack with an 8-9 record, owing largely to the efforts of now-retired quarterback Tom Brady, who
kept the ship afloat (albeit barely) despite lackluster performances and a plethora of injuries that affected the rest of his offense and defense.
The other three teams all held matching 7-10 records: not bad enough to tank, not good enough to go on a championship run as is. As such, the Carolina Panthers decided to roll the dice this offseason, trading with the Chicago Bears for the first overall pick in the draft, and the ability to pick Alabama quarterback and 2021 Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young.
The Panthers have a solid roster across the board, with their 2022 season largely held back
because of lackluster play from their quarterbacks. Baker Mayfield managed just six
touchdowns and six interceptions in seven games (six starts) before the Panthers
unceremoniously cut him loose. Career journeyman P.J. Walker filled in for Mayfield while he
missed time due to injury, managing less than one touchdown pass per start, with three in the
five games he began. Mayfield’s fellow 2018 first-round pick Sam Darnold started the other five
games, turning in the best scoring performance of any quarterback on the roster, throwing
seven touchdowns to just three interceptions: the performance still wasn’t good enough for him
to get a second look in Carolina, as the Panthers opted to let him walk once the season ended.
The Panthers subsequently drafted Young, who is officially listed at a diminutive 5-foot-10 and
204 pounds (keep in mind that both numbers are probably oversold) but he’s excellent at
making plays in structure from the pocket, even behind the Crimson Tide’s NFL-sized offensive
line. His size constitutes a considerable gamble, but no one can argue that his potential stands
off the charts.
Given that the Panthers had one of the more talented rosters in the division last season (but
were sunk by pedestrian quarterback play), adding Young to the mix has NFL pundits like
Gilberto Manzano of Sports Illustrated saying that Carolina has the NFC South’s best roster.
“The Panthers aren’t far ahead of the Falcons and Saints, but they get the top spot because
they have fewer holes on a roster made up of quality veterans, Pro Bowlers and promising
young players,” Manzano said. “The offensive depth chart looks to be in good shape—there isn’t
a glaring position hole…and the defense is ascending with [edge rusher Brian] Burns leading
Despite Manzano’s cautious words of praise, Caesars Sportsbook doesn’t see it that way, giving
the Panthers the third-best odds of winning the division in 2023 at +330, behind the New
Orleans Saints (+115) and Atlanta Falcons (+260). Be sure to use a Caesars Sportsbook Promo Code if you want to bet on the NFC South race (or any other sport or event) so that you stand to gain the most money from the amount you wager.
Here’s a look at what needs to happen for the Panthers to win their first division title since 2015. The Saints are listed at No. 1 because they have the most proven quarterback of any team in the division in longtime Raiders’ signal caller Derek Carr. He isn’t a world-beater, and it’s not like he’s going to carry New Orleans to the Super Bowl, but he’s good enough to get the job done, providing a high floor (and a simultaneously low ceiling). As such, he’s sort of the polar opposite of the boom or bust that Young could be if his build doesn’t translate to the NFL.
Meanwhile, the Saints had to burn through most of their roster this offseason as they once again found themselves in what feels like a perennial salary cap hell. They don’t have the depth that Carolina has, especially not at the position that matters most: quarterback. Beyond Young, the Panthers have quarterback Andy Dalton, who has started 162 games in his 12-year NFL career. Like Carr, he’s a capable quarterback and an excellent locker-room voice, capable of showing flashes of greatness.
Dalton is the No. 1 starter for now, but likely won’t remain that way for long if Young impresses
during training camp and the preseason. Even so, the Panthers have an excellent one-two
punch no matter which player starts during week one, making them an excellent sleeper pick for the division title.