The Atlanta Falcons entered 2017 determined to put their Super Bowl collapse from the previous season behind them. Ultimately, they couldn’t find their way back to the Big Game. However, going 10-6, earning a playoff berth in the NFC South, and advancing to the Divisional Round of the playoffs is the kind of season that would make most teams proud.
More importantly, most of the key players that carried the Falcons to the Super Bowl two seasons ago remain in Atlanta. The jury is still out on offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. But the Falcons enter another season with the expectation that they will be a Super Bowl contender.
Oddsmakers have made the Falcons +2100 to win the Super Bowl heading into the season. For a team that’s just two seasons removed from winning the NFC and nearly taking home the Vince Lombardi trophy, there’s a lot of value there. On the other side of the coin, the Falcons have a projected win total of just nine games this season, in large part because of how deep the NFC South is expected to be.
Part of the concern with Atlanta is that Matt Ryan isn’t coming off his best season. He threw for over 4,000 yards, but he had just 20 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. The Falcons also struggled in the red zone in their first season with Sarkisian calling the plays. Obviously, Ryan is capable of playing much better, but it’s up to him to maintain a high level of play over 16 or more games.
Fortunately for Ryan, he still has Julio Jones on his team. Jones had just three touchdowns a season ago, but he still accumulated over 1,400 yards and is still one of the best receivers in football. Mohamed Sanu and tight end Austin Hooper also provide steady receiving targets for Ryan. Meanwhile, rookie Calvin Ridley could be an x-factor this season. Rookie wide receivers aren’t always ready to contribute right away. But with Ridley’s speed and playmaking ability, he could help take Atlanta’s offense to the next level.
Of course, the Falcons still have Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in the backfield. These two form one of the most reliable running back tandems in football. The Atlanta offensive line is also a rock-solid unit led by Alex Mack and Jake Matthews, so running the ball and having good balance on offense shouldn’t be a problem.
Defensively, the Falcons should be fine after having a top-10 defense a year ago. The defensive line is a little younger than last season, but Grady Jarrett is still there to anchor things. Deion Jones is still controlling things at middle linebacker and the entire secondary is more or less the same as 2017, so the Falcons should have plenty of continuity on defense. The lone question is with regard to pressuring the opposing quarterback. Adrian Clayborn and his team-leading 9.5 sacks left town. The Falcons need someone other than Vic Beasley to provide a consistent pass rush.
In a division that includes the Saints and Panthers, it’s tough to guarantee a division title. However, Atlanta is at least on level footing with those two teams. As long as Ryan is at or close to the top of his game, it’s tough to envision the Falcons missing the playoffs. If Atlanta is one of those six teams in the NFC, they’ll be a tough out in the postseason.
|Sep 6||@ Philadelphia Eagles||8:20 PM|
|Sep 16||Carolina Panthers||1:00 PM|
|Sep 23||New Orleans Saints||1:00 PM|
|Sep 30||Cincinnati Bengals||1:00 PM|
|Oct 7||@ Pittsburgh Steelers||1:00 PM|
|Oct 14||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1:00 PM|
|Oct 22||New York Giants||8:15 PM|
|Nov 4||@ Washington Redskins||1:00 PM|
|Nov 11||@ Cleveland Browns||1:00 PM|
|Nov 18||Dallas Cowboys||1:00 PM|
|Nov 22||@ New Orleans Saints||8:20 PM|
|Dec 2||Baltimore Ravens||1:00 PM|
|Dec 9||@ Green Bay Packers||1:00 PM|
|Dec 16||Arizona Cardinals||1:00 PM|
|Dec 23||@ Carolina Panthers||1:00 PM|
|Dec 30||@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1:00 PM|
Atlanta’s early-season is schedule is brutal. They open with the Eagles, Panthers, and Saints the first three weeks of the season, followed by a game in Pittsburgh in Week 5. Things get a little more manageable after that. However, starting on Thanksgiving Day, the Falcons play four of their last six on the road, so nothing will come easy.
If the Falcons can just finish September 2-2, there’s every reason to expect them to go on to win at least 10 games. That should be enough to get them into the playoffs, even if it doesn’t guarantee a home game. Like a lot of teams, the Falcons have enough pieces to make a Super Bowl run. It’s a matter of staying healthy and star players living up to their potential. Atlanta should not be forgotten or overlooked in a sea of outstanding NFC teams.