Depending on who you ask, the Falcons are either potential favorites in the colossal shipwreck that is the NFC South, or a team in flux doomed to its basement. If you ask a smart guy at Harvard, they're potentially playoff bound, and that's good enough for us.
Kurt Ballard of the famed school has designed a prediction model for 2015 that use Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value stat, the makeup of NFL depth charts and strength of schedule to figure out each team's shot of making the playoffs. The Falcons clock in at 51%, good for 18th in the NFL and comfortably ahead of the Saints (42%), Panthers (19%), and Buccaneers (3%).
Parsing what this actual means is a tricky proposition, but Bullard's model suggests the Falcons have a stronger roster than a year ago (duh), plus a relatively easy schedule (double duh). Whether that holds when the games are played is naturally up for debate, but on paper, this team certainly gives us some solid reasons for increased optimism. Let's hope Bullard's right and the Falcons are in the postseason in 2015.
An appreciative hat tip to moderator illusiveflaw for alerting me to this study.