The Atlanta Falcons had a stellar season last year, but ultimately fell short in the Super Bowl to the New England Patriots. Although the dreaded Super Bowl hangover may be in the back of some fan’s minds, there is little reason to worry. They only got better over the off-season and look poised for another Super Bowl appearance.
The Falcons arguably have the best trio in the NFL at the three major offensive skill positions with Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, and Julio Jones. Ryan, the reigning MVP, is coming off the best year of his ten year career. He led the league in passer rating with a ridiculous 117.1, and placed second in passing yards and touchdowns. A big reason why he was so effective is because of the weapons surrounding him. Jones is one of the top receivers in the league. The video game type talent was second in the league in yards, and second in catches of over 20 yards, highlighting his big play potential. The team also has a top tier talent at running back in Devonta Freeman. The back posted over 1,000 yards on the ground, and nearly 500 receiving. All of this talent on offense resulted in the team leading the NFL in points with 540.
The defense is regarded as the weakness to the team. They gave up the sixth most points per game with 25.4, and sixth most yards per game with 371.2. However, they were fourth in total turnover differential. This statistic is key to winning football games. The Falcons also had the league leader in sacks and forced fumbles in outside linebacker Vic Beasley. However, as a team they were very average coming in 15th in sacks. Even with pass rush specialist Beasley wreaking havoc, the team was carved up in the passing game. They allowed the third most passing yards per game, and fifth most passing touchdowns.
Over the off-season, the team lost fullback Patrick DiMarco to free agency, and defensive end Dwight Freeny to retirement. The Falcons did not add a lot of free agents to the team, hoping that they can replicate last years production, but with a better finish. To replace DiMarco the team signed former Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman, which is not too much of a loss in talent. On the defensive side of the ball, they drafted defensive end Takkarist McKinley, linebacker Duke Riley, and signed defensive tackle Dontari Poe in free agency. They did not panic after the Super Bowl defeat, but instead kept the team together.
The biggest off-season change for the team did not involve the players, but the coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan accepted the head coaching position in San Francisco, so the offense could see a dip in production. His replacement, the former Alabama offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian has some large shoes to fill. Sarkisian is a questionable hire due to his troubled past. He was fired from his head coaching position at USC in 2015 because he allegedly showed up to team meetings drunk. The entire scandal is murky, and what actually happened is up in the air. However, as long as he can keep the Falcons offense firing on all cylinders, his past matters little.
The Falcons rank 13th in strength of schedule for this season, and their division rivals have improved. The Saints and Buccaneers made major off-season moves in an attempt to dethrone the Falcons from the top of the NFC South. The Panthers did not improve as much, but will not be a push over either. If the offense can produce at near the same level as last season and the defense improves even a little, then the team should continue to dominate the division. I think that the Falcons will finish the season at 11-5 and return to the super bowl in a rematch with the Patriots.
2018 Prediction: 11-5, lose Super Bowl to Patriots