In my 2017 NFL Preview of the Atlanta Falcons, I said that the Falcons success would come down to two things: Atlanta’s mental stability, and the play-calling of Steve Sarkisian. We’re at the halfway point of the current NFL Season. How as Atlanta’s season gone so far? Check it out!
Atlanta Falcons 2017 NFL Regular Season Update
Preview Question: Can Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian Have Success in the NFL?
Update Answer: Not yet
This was the primary question going into Atlanta’s 2017-2018 NFL Regular Season. Kyle Shanahan, whom had developed the best offense in the NFL with quarterback Matt Ryan, took the head coaching job at San Francisco. That left Atlanta coach Dan Quinn without an offensive coordinator.
Almost inexplicably, Quinn hired Steve Sarkisian, the former Washington Huskies and USC Trojans head coach. What’s interesting about Sarks’ hiring is that the reason he lost his job at USC was due to alcohol addiction. He appeared okay on the sidelines of the Alabama game versus Clemson. I’m not sure that was enough for Quinn to hire Sark.
Another issue is that Sark’s entire offensive game plan revolves around college football thinking. What I mean by that is Sark creates plays based on his past experience as a college football offensive mastermind. It’s almost impossible to translate what a coordinator is capable of creating in college to the NFL.
Third, and this is the biggest issue for the Atlanta Falcons so far this season, is that Matt Ryan, the NFL’s reigning MVP, hasn’t yet gotten onto the same page as his offensive coordinator. The issues on offense has led to Atlanta not scoring more than 17 points in 3 straight games before their Week 8 tilt versus the New York Jets.
Preview Question: Will Matt Ryan and Julio Jones Remain a Threat?
Update Answer: Yes and No
Although it’s not a very definitive answer, sort of is the only real answer to this question. Ryan’s had so many issues getting into a flow this season that he invariably ends up going to Julio. But, Jones’ numbers aren’t anywhere close to what he produced in 2015. So far, Julio’s only got a single TD. The TD happened in Week 7 versus the New England Patriots.
Julio is averaging close to 6 catches a game. He has racked up 466 receiving yards before Week 8’s battle versus the Jets. Julio should have a monster game versus the Jets. I doubt he will. It took about a year for Ryan to become comfortable with Kyle Shanahan’s system. It appears it’s going to take this entire season for Ryan to become comfortable with Sark’s system.
What it means is that at times, Ryan’s going to exclusively go to Julio Jones. At other times, he won’t be able to because Julio’s going to be double-covered.
Preview Question: Which Running Back Steps It Up?
Update Answer: Neither…but not because they don’t want to
Both Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman have been misused in Steve Sarkisian’s offensive system. That’s the only way to write it. Freeman has only carried the football in 3 of Atlanta’s 6 games so far this season. He does have 5 TDs on the season. He hasn’t scored a TD in Atlanta’s last 2 battles, Week 6 and Week 7.
That’s a shame. Want to know why? Versus Miami in Week 6, the game the Falcons lost straight up 17 to 20 as a -14 favorite, Devonta rushed the football 9 times. He gained 68 yards for a 7.6 per rush average. Versus the New England Patriots in Week 7, a game that Atlanta lost 7 to 23, Freeman rushed it 12 times for 72 yards. That’s a 6-yard per carry average.
Tevin Coleman has rushed the football 44 times for 229 yards. His per rush average is 5.2 this season. He’s also caught 14 passes. Freeman has caught only 14 passes in 6 games. Both appear capable of doing much more than what they’ve done so far in 2017.
Preview Question: Has Dan Quinn’s Defense Improved?
Update Answer: Yes, but not enough
Last season, Atlanta’s defense was ranked 25th in the NFL in yards allowed per game. The Falcons allowed 371.2 yards per game on average. Opponents rushed for 104.5 yards per. They passed for 266.7 yards per. Opponents averaged 25.5 points per game versus Atlanta’s defense.
This season, Atlanta’s defense has improved across the board save for rushing yards allowed. The Falcons’ give up 112 rushing yards per game this season. Opponents only pass for 215.5 yards per while the Falcons’ D allows 22 points per game.
Therefore, yes, the Atlanta Falcons’ defense has improved. The problem is that the improvement isn’t enough to counter the issues Atlanta has had on offense. What’s happened is that Atlanta’s offense has become so bad that opponents are simply rushing the football more and playing a traditional gridiron game. Opposing teams don’t have to score with the Falcons to beat them in 2017. That could be one of the reasons Atlanta’s defense appears to be improved. The fact that the Falcons are 3 and 3 means Atlanta’s defense hasn’t improved enough.
Regular Season Schedule Prediction: 10 and 6
New Regular Season Schedule Prediction: 7-9
Atlanta is 3 and 3 going into Week 8. The Falcons had their bye in Week 5. It sounds sad, but I don’t believe the Falcons did anything during their bye. In Week 4, Buffalo upset the Falcons in Atlanta 23 to 17. Before the Week 4 loss to the Bills, Atlanta was 3 and 0.
What happened after Atlanta come out of their bye? They lost 17 to 20 to Miami in Week 6. Then, they lost 7 to 23 to New England in Week 7. Suddenly, the New Orleans Saints, whom had started the season going 0 and 2, is at the top of the NFC South Division Standings because the Falcons have lost 3 in a row going into Week 8 versus the Jets.
The Falcons haven’t played a single team in their division. They’ve got 2 games versus Jameis Winston and Tampa Bay left on the schedule. They’ve also got 2 games versus Cam Newton, Carolina’s quarterback, and Drew Brees, New Orleans’ quarterback, left on the schedule. They’re on the road versus Seattle. They’ve got a game versus Dallas and a game against Minnesota at home.
The Falcons should lose at least once to New Orleans, Tampa Bay, and Carolina. That’s 6 losses. The Saints could sweep Atlanta this season. It’s doubtful that unless Atlanta’s offense wakes up, the Falcons can hang with the Cowboys or Seawhawks. That’s two more “L’s”. It looks like Atlanta will finish the regular season at 7 and 9.
Super Bowl LII Odds on Atlanta Falcons: Fair or Unfair?
Preview Conclusion: 16 to 1 are fair odds
Update Conclusion: 40 to 1 are fair odds
Atlanta’s got a tough road ahead. When they were undefeated, 16 to 1 odds seemed like a gift. Anyone who paid attention to Atlanta’s games before Week 4 knew that there was something amiss with the Falcons.
The reigning NFC Super Bowl representative still has plenty of supporters. As of 3 days ago, Atlanta’s odds were 14 to 1 to win Super Bowl 52. Think about that. A team on a 3-game losing streak, a squad that hasn’t scored more than 17 points in their last 3, is at 14 to 1 to win the Super Bowl?
It doesn’t make much sense, does it?
Obviously, if I believe the Falcons go 7 and 9 this season, I’m not touching 14 to 1. Atlanta’s odds are exactly where New Orleans’ odds are. The thing about the NFL is that it’s tough to turn it around once things go south. For New Orleans, things went south in the first 2 games. They could make adjustments to become better.
For Atlanta, they must make big adjustments in the middle of the season. It’s terribly difficult to do that. It might be more difficult for Atlanta to do that this season because Steve Sarkisian and Matt Ryan continue to have communication issues. Also, the Falcons are 3 and 3 without having played a single game in their division.
If you want to take a shot on Atlanta, accept odds at 40 to 1 or higher. That’s how bleak things look for the defending 2016 NFC Champions.