Finally. The season is upon us and every team is optimistic with blue sky thinking. Ultimately of the 32 expectant franchises, only 12 can play in January and only one can take the glory.
What of the Atlanta Falcons? Now three years out from losing the Super Bowl in devastating fashion and looking to recover from a 7-9 record in 2018? Can Dan Quinn rekindle the offence and bring back the glory days?
Improvements – Offensive Line
The Falcons have focused on the offensive line throughout the offseason, with major free agent and draft additions in James Carpenter, Jamon Brown, Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary.
They already have top quality at the skill positions with Julio Jones, Mo Sanu, Devonta Freeman, Austin Hooper and Calvin Ridley, but they also need to keep Matt Ryan upright and open up running lanes. Now they believe they can do that. If the offensive line is on song, this could be the most explosive offence in the league by far.
Biggest Hole – Defensive Depth
There have been some big losses on a defence that already ranked fifth worst in yards and eighth worst in points a year ago. Bruce Irvin, Brooks Reid and Robert Alford are all gone leaving the Falcons heavily reliant on Grady Jarrett and a resurgence from Vic Beasley to create pressure. John Cominsky will also need to step up and play a big role as a rookie.
The secondary is also weaker with Alford in Arizona, can Kendall Sheffield or Jordan Miller fill his shoes? It looks unlikely with both surviving cutdown day at the back end of the roster.
One to Watch – Calvin Ridley
While he was a rookie last year, Calvin Ridley is poised for a big season and earn the Y receiver role ahead of Sanu. Ridley was a breakout star last year and the Falcons will look to him more in year two as a more polished receiving option.
With the Falcons offensive threats, defences can’t cover everyone, especially if Ryan has a clean pocket to extend the play, and Ridley’s speed could see him get free for more than a couple long touchdowns this season.
Leading Question – Can Dan Quinn reboot this defence?
While Julio Jones is still looking to sign a new deal, which will likely now wait until after the season, Atlanta needs to improve on defence. Very little attention was paid to it in player acquisition with the only major additions coming in the fourth and fifth round, drafting DE John Cominsky and CBs Kendall Sheffield & Jordan Miller).
Now with Marquand Manuel gone as DC, Dan Quinn is back calling plays as Defensive Coordinator, as he did in Seattle, there is talent on the defence in Deion Jones, Desmond Trufant, Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Tak McKinley but is yet to mesh together during the Dan Quinn era, they nearly allowed 6000 yards on their way to the Super Bowl.
Schedule – NFC West & AFC South
The NFC South has tough pairings this season which means that the Falcons must travel to the Vikings, Colts and Texans, as well as host the Jaguars, Seahawks, Rams and Eagles, on top of four games against the Saints and Panthers. All this means that the Falcons have very little room for manoeuvre and may need a coin flip game or two to go their way.
Verdict – 10-6
With a tough schedule and a paper thin defence, the Falcons will be in a dogfight to make the playoffs. They’re in a tight division and will likely need to fight for a wildcard against the Panthers, Eagles/Cowboys, Vikings/Bears and Seahawks. 10-6 is a strong season, but it looks as though the bar for the playoffs will be 11.
Image: USA Today Sports