Football NFL Offseason

Will the DirtyBirds #RiseUp in the NFC South?

In 2018, the Atlanta Falcons had a rough season, finishing the season going 7-9 and missing the playoffs. Many people will argue they had a bad season because of injuries, play-calling, and other uncontrollable circumstances. In previous seasons such as the 2016 and 2017, the Falcons made it to the playoffs and even the Super Bowl in 2016 with a shockingly similar roster that they had in 2018, the only difference being the injuries. So can the Falcons #RiseUp and take over the NFC South again?

Schedule:

Their schedule according to 24/7 Sports, will be the 7th hardest in the NFL next year, but he schedule is ranked harder then it appears. The tough match-ups will be games away at the Colts, and Texans and at home vs the Rams, Seahawks, Eagles. They will also face trouble against the division rival New Orleans Saints, and potentially the Carolina Panthers too. Although a tough schedule and many challenging games, the Falcons WILL have what it takes to overcome such good competition.

HOME

  • vs. New Orleans Saints (13-3 in 2018) W: Home-field advantage and motivation to prove the 2019 season won’t be a repeat of a horrible 2018.
  • vs. Carolina Panthers (7-9 in 2018) W: Atlanta will win this because the Panthers lack offensive weapons other than McCaffery and Olsen if healthy. Cam and their defensive backs are also too inconsistent to keep up with ATL.
  • vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11 in 2018) W: Jameis Winston doesn’t have what it takes to get wins against top teams. He and the Bucs are under a completely new coaching staff and there is no realistic reason why the Falcons should fall in this matchup.
  • vs. Los Angeles Rams (13-3 in 2018) L: This will be a battle of the trenches. Whoever wins on the line of scrimmage will win the game. Expect the Rams to line Aaron Donald against the young rookies on ATL’s offensive line giving the Rams the edge over the Falcons.
  • vs. Seattle Seahawks (10-6 in 2018) W: Seattle and Russell Wilson are losing some key weapons in 2019 and it will show D.K. Matcalf will not have the year everyone is predicting him to have.
  • vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11 in 2018) W: The Jaguars improved over the off-season, but still don’t have the weapons and right pieces to take down the DirtyBirds.
  • vs. Tennessee Titans (9-7 in 2018) W: Marcus Mariota’s play will dictate the season the Titans have, but the Titans are outmatched against the Falcons stacked roster across nearly every position whether or not Mariota finally reaches the potential everyone saw in him years ago.
  • vs. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7 in 2018) L: The Eagles have arguably the best roster coming into the 2019 season (Might be the only thing Madden 20 got right).

AWAY

  • at Carolina Panthers (7-9 in 2018) W: As stated above, the Panthers simply do not have the weapons outside of McCaffrey and Olsen if healthy.
  • at New Orleans Saints (13-3 in 2018) L: You can’t beat a good team twice. NOLA will have home-field advantage and will edge out the Falcons in a high scoring affair.
  • at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11 in 2018) W: As stated above, Jameis doesn’t have what it takes to lead the Bucs in big games.
  • at San Francisco 49ers (4-12 in 2018) W: Jimmy Garoppolo is still unproven and coming off an injury. They have decent weapons, but nothing in comparison to the Falcons.
  • at Arizona Cardinals (3-13 in 2018) W: Rookie QB Kyler Murray will have a decent rookie season, but other than the old Fitzgerald and the rookie weapons added wont be enough to make them a legitimate contender.
  • at Indianapolis Colts (10-6 in 2018) L: Another stacked roster. Luck and T.Y. will be unstoppable as well as the best TE core in the league. Their defense will also be improved with 2nd year LB Darius Leonard and Safety Malik Hooker leading the charge.
  • at Houston Texans (11-5 in 2018) W: The Texans have one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL and games are won in the trenches. Expect a good game, but the Falcons will pull this one off. Something exciting to watch will be Julio vs. Deandre in this competition.
  • at Minnesota Vikings (8-7-1 in 2018) W: They have weapons offensively and defensively but what gives the Falcons the edge in this game is at the QB position. Kirk Cousins has not shown that he has what it takes to lead a franchise while Matt Ryan has.

Final Record: 12-4

The Returning Injuries:

Last year, the Falcons had numerous season-ending injuries along with injuries where players missed a good chunk of time. They had 22 players miss games in 2018. They had 7 players go on season-ending IR such as Keanu Neal, Devonta Freeman, Ricardo Allen, Brandon Fusco, Andy Levitre, Derrick Shelby, and Ito Smith for the final 2 games. Players who missed games but not the season including Robert Alford (1), Grady Jarrett (2), Deion Jones (10), Takk McKinley (1), Matt Bryant (3), and 10 other players (14). The Falcons were not the most injured team of the 2018 season, but the injuries they sustained were the most impactful.

That being said, the DirtyBirds will be getting a fresh start with no injuries as of now for the 2019 season. They will return a healthy Keanu Neal who is a top 10 strong safety when healthy, Devonta Freeman who is a top RB in the league, a premier free safety in Ricardo Allen, and Deion Jones, who played 6 games in 2018. With these guys returning from injury, there is no way there will be a repeat of 2018.

A Stacked Roster:

The Falcons have had a very familiar roster throughout Dan Quinn’s career at the Falcons. We’ve had few additions and a few losses, but no drastic changes. With skill and depth on both sides of the ball, the Falcons will have a top 10 roster in the NFL next year. If Matt Ryan can have a season in 2019 like his underrated MVP caliber season in 2018 and his MVP season in 2017, the Falcons will go all the way. He will have weapons with a top 3 receiving core including Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy, and a stacked tight end room including Austin Hooper and newly acquired Luke Stocker. The running game will also help out Matt Ryan as we will get to see Devonta Freeman again after missing the majority of last season, Ito Smith who had a promising Rookie Campaign, along with Brian Hill and rookie Qadree Ollison. With the return of Devonta Freeman, the Falcons run game will improve which will also positively affect the already top tier passing attack The Falcons are so confident in the skill position players they have, that this whole off-season they bolstered up the offensive line by drafting two offensive linemen in the first round (Chris Lindstrom (OG) and Kaleb McGary (OT)). They also picked up James Carpenter and Jamon Brown in free agency. The Falcons play in the trenches will be dependent upon how these draftees and off-season additions can contribute and play at high levels. If they play as or better than expected, the Falcons are a minimum 12 win team.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Falcons will return basically the whole secondary other than Robert Alford whose struggles defending got him released this off-season. Returning from injury will be Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen who will hold up the safety positions while the interception leader from a year ago Damontae “Crazy” Kazee will move from free safety to play the slot corner. At the corners we will have the consistent Desmond Trufant alongside second-year man Isaiah Oliver who showed potential during his rookie season and Damontae Kazee as the slot CB. The Falcons are expected to have a top-10 defensive backfield this upcoming year. At the linebacker position, you will have the stud MLB Deion Jones with DeVondre Campbell and either Foyesade Oluokun, who was runner up for the Falcons in tackles a season ago, or Duke Riley. At the defensive ends, the Falcons expect Takk McKinley to have a big year next year and also hope Vic Beasley proves he wasn’t the bust everyone thinks he is despite leading the league in sacks in 2016. They will be backed up by Adrian Clayborn, rookie John Cominsky, and a handful of others. At the interior defensive line, Grady Jarrett will hold it down with second-year man Deadrin Senat and a host of backups. All the Falcons need to do is improve their pass rush to be a contender for the best defense in football. Atlanta, if healthy, can be a top 10 defense if not better, especially with Dan Quinn taking over the defensive play-calling.

Coaching Changes:

Head Coach Dan Quinn hired former Jaguars, Falcons, and Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter after former offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was fired and left to go to Alabama as their offensive coordinator. During Koetter’s 3 year stint with the Falcons, Ryan averaged 4,611 yards, 28.7 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions, with a 94.1 passer rating and an overall record of 23-25. Koetter and Ryan have history, so there won’t be much time wasted on learning a new playbook for Ryan. They also had success passing when they were together during their first stint but will now have a much improved supporting cast for Matt and a much improved defense.

Head Coach Dan Quinn will also be taking over the defense which will help tremendously this upcoming season. Dan Quinn is regarded as one of the best defensive play-callers in football, and it will benefit the Falcons very much with him calling the plays for the defense. While in Seattle as the defensive coordinator he led them to be the best defensive team two years in a row allowing the least points per game, yards per game, and takeaways in his first season there! The only to do so since the 1985 Chicago Bears. With similar pieces in Atlanta as he had in Seattle, the Falcons defense is set up to be top tier this upcoming season. The Seahawks reached and won a Super Bowl under Dan Quinn, can the Falcons do the same?

The Falcons have also hired former Titans head coach Mike Mularkey as the tight end coach which will help Austin Hooper’s development and tap into his full potential. They also hired Ben Kotwica as special teams coordinator who led the Redskins in 2017 to be 2nd in return yards.

The Division Rivals:

For a few years now, the NFC South has been regarded as one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL and rightfully so. With the Falcons, Saints, and Panthers all making playoffs in 2017, and with one or two of them making it into the playoffs since the Saints won it all in 2009.

Bucs:

The Buccaneers are not likely to be contenders to make it to the playoffs in 2019. Although they will have an improved roster and an upgraded coach in Bruce Arians, they are in a rebuilding stage. Jameis Winston is a below-average QB with a decent supporting cast around him but a struggling defense who lost their best defender to the Carolina Panthers. They added Ndamukong Suh as a replacement for Gerald McCoy and added rookie Devin White to partner beside Levonte David, but that’s about as far as their defense goes. They have decent defensive line with JPP and Suh, and a decent LB core with Levonte David and Devin White, but their defensive backfield won’t be near enough to overcome the QB’s and pass-catchers such as Matt Ryan/Julio Jones, Drew Brees/Michael Thomas, and Cam Newton/Greg Olson. Their season will rely entirely on Jameis and their defensive backs.

Panthers:

The Carolina Panthers might be the scariest team in the division for the Falcons next year. They should have a healthy Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly, while having an explosive running back and pass-catcher out of the backfield in Christian McCaffrey. They have a good offensive line, a great backfield, and good weapons for Cam such as Greg Olson, DJ Moore, Chris Hogan, Torrey Smith, and McCaffrey out of the backfield. They also have the best defense in the NFC South with potentially the best front 7 or at least defensive line in the NFL. They have Kuechly who is the best MLB in football if he can stay healthy. They added Gerald McCoy to their stacked DL featuring Kawaan Short, Dontari Poe, Rookie Brian Burns, Bruce Irvin, Mario Addison, and that’s not even all. At LB they have Luke Kuechly who was previously mentioned, paired up with the underrated Shaq Thompson. Their main weakness, like the Bucs, is their defensive backs. While their defensive backfield is far better than the Bucs, they still aren’t good enough to defend against the other quarterbacks and wide receivers in the NFC South other than Jameis Winston and the Bucs. Their season will rely on how healthy Cam’s shoulder will be throwing the ball and if their defensive backs can stop the heavy passing attacks of the current pass-heavy NFL.

Saints:

This Saints team next year will be scary, but there are few reasons that the Falcons will be topping the Saints in the NFC South in 2019. One of those reasons being Drew Brees. Drew Brees is one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. His accuracy is topped by no-one, but he is getting old. Drew will be 40 this year, and his stats will show it. He had an MVP-like season last year solely based on him breaking NFL all-time records and his unbelievable completion percentage. Although his percentages were great and he broke all-time stats his production went down. He didn’t reach 4,000 pass yards which hasn’t happened since he played for the chargers. He also threw for 32 touchdowns when he averages 35 a year, and only threw 7.1 yards down the field which is higher than only 7 other quarterbacks. Not as many yards and deep throws. His backfield duo is what carried the saints last year, but that is also history. The saints also lost Mark Ingram who was instrumental in the rush and pass game while a Saint. Kamara and the Saints will miss him, and it will show. The Saints have an O-line that can give Brees time and open holes for Kamara but can Brees produce and can Kamara fill the spot as the #1 back for the first time in his career? The Saints have a good and balanced defense lead by underrated defensive end Cameron Jordan. They have a solid defense on every level, but can the old and possibly declining Drew Brees keep up? The Falcons will just barely edge out the Saints for the NFC South. The Saints season is reliant on whether or not Drew Brees’s age affects him or not and also if Alvin Kamara can handle being an every-down back.

In Conclusion:

In conclusion, the NFC South is very competitive. Every team has their positives and negatives, but the Falcons are the most balanced team in the NFC South if not the entire NFL. With an excellent passing game that compliments their run game under their west coast offense, they will have a top offense in 2019. They also have a solid front 7 especially if they can develop a better pass rush in 2019. If the pass rush is there, their top-tier defensive backs will have an easier job which will set them up to win the NFC South.

Sources:

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/atl/2018_injuries.htm

http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000001009064/article/falcons-hire-former-bucs-coach-dirk-koetter-as-new-oc

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/coaches/QuinDa0.htm

https://www.ourlads.com/nfldepthcharts/depthchart/TB

https://247sports.com/nfl/atlanta-falcons/Article/Atlanta-Falcons-NFL-Draft-schedule-strength-129346000/

https://nextgenstats.nfl.com/stats/passing#yards

http://www.nfl.com/player/drewbrees/2504775/careerstats

https://www.atlantafalcons.com/news/falcons-name-ben-kotwica-special-teams-coordinator

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