Bill Barnwell at Grantland has been putting together a series of articles on how teams fared in 2011 and how that may predict how they'll do in 2012. The 49ers, for instance, appeared to be extremely lucky with turnovers and overall team healthy, while the Dolphins were unlucky in both.
Why do I bring this up? Because these same lessons apply for our Atlanta Falcons. According to Football Outsiders, the team had a Pythagorean win expectation of just under 9.5 in 2011, and they won ten games. That means they did slightly better than you'd expect given their points for and points against. That wouldn't seem to auger much in the way of movement either up or down in the standings for 2012, and I'd have to say I agree with that in principle.
Here's why I'm optimistic the team will match or exceed their win total from 2012.
- The division won't be outrageously difficult, hopefully. This is somewhat of a transition year for the Buccaneers, who have a new coach and are accumulating dangerous talent that will need time to gel. The Saints almost certainly will lose a game or two in the standings minus a couple of players and their head coach. And the Panthers, while looking awfully scary already, probably aren't quite there either. The Falcons have a middle-of-the-road kind of schedule and shouldn't suffer a huge downslide thanks to either.
- Middle of the road turnover numbers. Many of the teams Barnwell has taken a closer look at have been teams with unusually good or unusually bad turnover numbers. The 49ers, for example, were extremely lucky, while the Dolphins were relatively unlucky.
The Falcons were middle of the road. Their turnover ratio for the year stood at -3, which suggets that if anything, they were slightly unlucky. A huge swing either way could alter performance in a significant way, but I doubt that'll happen here.
- The Falcons will hopefully remain healthy. Last year was a relatively healthy year for the Falcons, but they still lost key contributors such as Julio Jones, Stephen Nicholas and Brent Grimes for chunks of the season, not to mention chronic injury issues for guys like Sam Baker and Michael Turner. You can't predict injuries from year-to-year, but I don't think the team was unduly lucky in 2011.
Aside from the fact that they're obviously a talented team on paper, these are my three reasons. Weigh in.