Last season’s surprise team was the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons weren’t considered a contender to win the NFC South, much less win the NFC. Not only did the Falcons win both the NFC South and the NFC, they had the New England Patriots on the ropes in Super Bowl LI.
Atlanta Falcons 2017 Preview
Unfortunately for Atlanta and its fans, Terrific Tom Brady orchestrated the best comeback in the history of the NFL. New England beat Atlanta 34 to 28 in overtime. This after the Falcons took a 19-point lead into the fourth quarter.
That’s the biggest, most obvious, question regarding the Atlanta Falcons going into the 2017 NFL Season. Will the Falcons losing the Super Bowl after dominating the Patriots for three quarters affect how they play in 2017?
The answer to that question will arrive once Atlanta starts playing NFL Regular Season football games. We’ll be able to tell right away if Atlanta has put the epic Lombardi Trophy meltdown in the rearview mirror.
I try to answer easier questions in this Atlanta Falcons 2017 preview. No facts are going to help us come to a conclusion regarding Atlanta’s mental stability.
But the questions below? Yes, those I can attempt to answer.
Can Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian Have Success in the NFL?
To me, this is the biggest question. The rapport that quarterback Matt Ryan developed with last year’s coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, led to Ryan winning the NFL MVP. That type of rapport can’t be underestimated. Shanahan decided to go to the train wreck that is the San Francisco 49’ers.
I don’t believe SF is as bad in 2017 as they’re projected to be. I love what John Lynch did in the NFL Draft. But, that’s info for a different blog.
The problem that Atlanta should have is getting Steve Sarkisian, whose only been a college football coach, to develop the same type of rapport that Matty Ice had with Shanahan. Sarkisian is used to having his own way.
Before leaving USC due to an alcohol problem, Sark was where the buck ended. His Trojans would do anything for him. Even when Sark ended up as Alabama’s offensive coordinator in the National Championship Game, Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban allowed Sark to call the plays he wished to call.
The NFL is different. It’s a relationship between offensive play-caller and quarterback. The very best offensive play-callers and quarterbacks discuss what play to call. If Atlanta wants to win a Super Bowl, they must allow Matty Ice to have a say.
Will Sark do that? Also, are Sarkisian’s plays as effective at the NFL level? The reason why college coaches don’t exceed in the NFL is due to the talent level. Every NFL team has enough talented players to upset your team on any given day. You can’t overwhelm opponents, like Sark did at USC, with better talent. It doesn’t work that way.
Atlanta has taken a huge leap of faith by hiring Steve Sarkisian as their offensive coordinator. College genius isn’t the same as NFL genius.
Will Matt Ryan and Julio Jones Remain a Threat?
Ryan has been in the NFL since the 2008-2009 season. Ryan is close to being a 10-year veteran. He should have no trouble playing at least 4 more years. With quarterbacks, though, you never know. I mean, not everyone holds up to an NFL Season the same way.
Falcon fans should be more worried about Julio than they are about Ryan. Jones hasn’t played in the NFL as long as Ryan has. Julio’s definitely taken more hits, and more harder hits, than Matty Ice.
He’s also suffered nagging injuries the past couple of season. Eventually, nagging injuries add up. One only needs to remember former Atlanta great Roddy White. Once his skills started downhill, Roddy never recovered.
The reason Ryan to Jones is such a big deal is because it’s one of the few QB to WR combos that every defense in the NFL must prepare for. The only other two are Big Ben to Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh, and Eli to Odell in New York.
The Falcons had amazing success on offense last season primarily because they didn’t have to go to Julio Jones. That’s the thing. Julio is such a strong weapon that his mere presence on the football field leads defenses to flutter around in anticipation.
If Ryan to Jones doesn’t remain one of the most potent threats in pro football, Atlanta could have some trouble.
Which Running Back Steps It Up?
Which running back, Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman, steps it up?
Freeman rushed for 1,079 yards last season. He rushed for 11 TDs. His per rush average was a crazy good 4.8. Coleman rushed for 520 yards last season. His per carry average was 4.4. He only rushed for 8 TDs.
Based on those stats, it’s Freeman, right? Not exactly. As always, money’s going to play a role. If Atlanta doesn’t sign Freeman to an extension right away, they might not even give Devonta the ball as many times this season as they did last season. It could happen subconsciously.
But, Devonta’s not the only one Atlanta must worry about. Tevin Coleman’s contract ends in 2018. They could sell high, allow Devonta to walk after this season, and by low, resign Tevin to a long-term deal before the end of next season.
Welcome to the NFL where players walk unless the money talks.
It’s hard to say which player steps it up. My gut tells me that Coleman gets his number called more often this season. Lest we forget, Coleman was the starting RB in Atlanta until getting hurt. Shanahan preferred Tevin Coleman. His injury a couple of seasons ago is what opened the door for Devonta.
I might be wrong, but the Falcons could decide to go with the lesser cost option knowing that the lesser cost option was their first option before he got injured. Not only that, but Tevin Coleman strikes me as more of a Sark type RB than Devonta does.
Has Dan Quinn’s Defense Improved?
Sure, Atlanta changed defensive coordinators. Don’t worry, Falcon Fan. Dan Quinn, your head coach is the defensive coordinator. Quinn developed the defense in Seattle. He knows defense. The coordinator that Quinn has hired, Marquand Manual, has been with Quinn since his days in Seattle. Manual is going to work closely with Quinn.
I think Manual is an improvement over Richard Smith. Smith is a good defensive coordinator. I believe his biggest issue is being overly aggressive. The Falcons played way too much break and not enough bend in the first half versus the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. Atlanta’s D was gassed by the end of the third quarter.
Manual is a better fit. Quinn and Atlanta’s front office helped Manual big time during the NFL Draft. Takkarist McKinley could be one of the best defensive ends in the NFL within one to two seasons. Inside LB Duke Riley from LSU was a steal pick in Round 3.
The defense should be better this year than it was last year.
Atlanta Falcons 2017 Preview – Regular Season Schedule Prediction
As to be expected, the Falcons’ schedule is much tougher in 2017 than it was in 2016. I believe that Falcons lose 6 games.
Atlanta loses at least once to Tampa Bay, Carolina, and New Orleans. The NFC South is deep this season. Any one of the four teams could win the division.
That’s 3 losses. The other 3 losses come at Detroit on Sept. 24, at New England on October 22, and at Seattle on Nov. 20. Because the NFC South is so deep, a 10 and 6 record could lead to a division title. Nobody’s running away with the NFC South this season.
Super Bowl LII Odds on Atlanta Falcons: Fair or Unfair?
Atlanta opened at 8 to 1 to win Super Bowl LII. Their odds have drifted all the way to 16 to 1 in some sportsbooks. Are the odds on the Falcons fair?
Heck, yeah! In fact, at 16 to 1 odds, the Falcons are a definite play to win Super Bowl LII. Atlanta has two real question marks. First, can Steve Sarkisian transfer his college playing calling to the NFL? Second, are the Falcons mentally stable enough to win the Super Bowl after the crushing defeat in Super Bowl LI?
I have faith in both Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman. No matter how the running back situation shakes out, Atlanta’s rushing attack should be good to go. I also believe that Ryan and Jones remain the top offensive combo threat in the NFL.
So, it really comes down to Sark and Atlanta’s mental stability. At 16 to 1, I’m willing to wait for the answers. The reason is because I believe Atlanta’s defense becomes one of the best units in the NFL this season.