The Atlanta Falcons overcame some major obstacles in 2017. The biggest of those was trying to bounce back from that epic Super Bowl collapse against the Patriots, where they blew a 28-3 lead. They also had to adjust to new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan left to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers and defensive coordinator Richard Smith was let go.
The Falcons wound up going 10-6 and made it back to the playoffs as a Wild Card, which was quite an accomplishment. They went on the road and knocked off the Rams 26-13, but would come up just short in a 15-10 loss to the Eagles in the Division Round.
Now the focus shifts to getting back to the big game in 2018 and it certainly feels like the Falcons are a legit Super Bowl contender going into the season.
Whether or not Atlanta delivers in 2018 will likely come down to the direction the offense takes in year-two under offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. While the Falcons finished a respectable 8th in total offense (364.8 ypg) and T-14th in scoring (22.1 ppg), it was quite a drop off from 2016 when they finished 2nd in total offense (415.8 ypg) and led the league in scoring at 33.8 ppg.
The biggest thing will be getting veteran quarterback Matt Ryan back to playing at an MVP level. Ryan’s numbers dropped across the board in 2018. The most staggering decline came in his touchdown passes. Ryan managed to throw just 20 touchdowns. His worst mark since throwing 16 as a rookie way back in 2008 and a significant drop off from the 38 he threw in 2016.
While Atlanta was set to return a potent 1-2 punch at wide receiver with All-Pro Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, they went out and used their 1st round pick (No. 26 overall) on Alabama wide out Calvin Ridley. The addition of Ridley gives Ryan a precise route-runner out of the slot, who could be in line for a monster rookie season. The other big option in the passing game is third-year tight end Austin Hooper, who showed flashes in his first season as a starter in 2017.
While a lot of the attention will fall on Ryan and the passing game, you can’t sleep on the Falcon’s potent duo out of the backfield in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. These two combined to rush for 1,493 yards (12 TDs) on the ground and had 63 catches for 616 yards (7 TDs).
As for the offensive line, all 5 starters are back from last year and it’s going to be critical that this unit plays better than it did in 2017. The biggest improvements need to come from starting tackles Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder. They are set at left guard and center with Andy Levitre and Alex Mack. The biggest liability is at right guard. Wes Schweitzer started all 16 games with mixed reviews and could be pushed by free agent pickup Brandon Fusco.
In the three seasons under head coach Dan Quinn, Atlanta has made some major strides on the defensive side of the ball. Multiple resources have been used in both the draft and free agency to revamp this unit and last year they quietly ranked inside the Top 10 in both total defense (9th, 318.4 ypg) and scoring defense (8th, 19.7 ppg).
For the most part the unit is still extremely young and that gives the hope that they could continue to get better in 2018. They did suffer a couple of big losses up front in veteran defensive tackle Dontari Poe and veteran defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who led the team with 9.5 sacks.
However, they like what they have coming back. Vic Beasley Jr. and Takkarist McKinley will be the two starters at defensive end. Fourth-year pro Grady Jarrett is an emerging star at defensive tackle. The only question is who starts inside next to Jarrett. Jack Crawford and 3rd round pick Deadrin Senat figure to compete for the job in training camp.
At linebacker the Falcons are excited about the potential of Deion Jones, who made the Pro Bowl last year in his second season. The unit will also be counting highly on a couple other youngsters on the outside in De’Vondre Campbell and Duke Riley.
The secondary is headlined by another emerging star in third-year safety Keanu Neal, who is coming off a Pro Bowl season. Ricardo Allen is back to start alongside Neal at strong safety. Veteran corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford will be pushed by rookie Isaiah Oliver, who Atlanta took in the 2nd round. The hope is that Oliver emerges as a starter opposite of Trufant, which will allow Alford to move inside to the nickel role, where he’s much better suited.
There’s no doubt that the Falcons have one goal in mind going into 2018. That’s to get back to the Super Bowl and finish what they couldn’t a couple years ago. The only problem is the Super Bowl is being played on their home field and no team has been able to win it all the year they hosted the final game of the season.
2018 Falcons Schedule & Projected Odds
Below you will find the early odds released by Vegas for Weeks 1-16, as well as my projected number for Week 17. Using the lines we are able to give a game-by-game win probability, which we used to come up an expected win total.
|1||at Eagles TNF||+4||0.34|
|12||at Saints TNF||+3.5||0.36|
Projected Wins: 9.09
Over/Under Wins Prediction: OVER 9
If I had to play Atlanta’s win total, I would lead towards the OVER 9. With that said, I do want to say I don’t see a ton of value here at this number. Given how strong the NFC South, it’s going to be tough for any team to win more than 10 games. The biggest thing for me, is I don’t see the Falcons going worse than 9-7, unless they suffer a rash of injuries or lose Ryan for an extended period of time.
In my opinion, it’s more likely the Falcons finish in the neighborhood of 11-5 than 7-9 and both records are just two games off the number. There’s also the potential here with Atlanta that they could fly pass their total and go something like 13-3.
Odds to Win the Super Bowl: +2000
Considering the Falcons just played in the Super Bowl two seasons ago and were in a prime position to win, I don’t see how you don’t consider them one of the elite teams with a legit shot at winning it all this year.
With that said, I think there’s some good value here with the Falcons at +2000 to win the title. Oddsmakers have 8 other teams listed ahead of them and listed the San Francisco 49ers at the exact same price of +2000. I get the 49ers are projecting in the right direction, but I don’t think it’s even close in terms of whether Atlanta or San Francisco is better suited to win the Super Bowl.
I personally think Atlanta should be closer to the +1400 range, which is where you see a team like the Green Bay Packers. With 3 of their first 4 games at home, their might not be a better time to jump on the Falcons.
Odds to Win the NFC: +1000
Same thing here with there being some decent value on the Falcons to win the NFC at +1000, though I don’t see as much value as their Super Bowl odds.
For whatever reason, the 49ers have the same odds to win it all, but are listed with slightly worse odds at +1200 to win the NFC.
Odds to Win the NFC South: +185
Last year the Saints won the NFC South via tie-breaker with an 11-5 record and the Falcons came in 3rd at 10-6. Both Carolina and New Orleans appear to be just as good, if not better than they were a year ago. There’s also the thought Tampa Bay could take that big step forward that everyone was expecting them to do last year.
I believe it’s going to be one of the toughest divisions to win in the NFL. Could the team on top of the NFC South be the Falcons. Without question. The problem is, they could 11-5 and it still might not be good enough. I personally would much rather just take my chances on them winning more than 9 games than worrying about them finishing ahead of the Panthers, Saints and Bucs.