The Atlanta Falcons are going to make or break their 2016 season in the first six games, given that they face a difficult stretch against the NFC South, the Raiders, the Broncos, and then the Seahawks. Ouch.
Come out of that stretch at .500 or better and I see absolutely no reason why the Falcons can’t contend the rest of the way, but if you fall to 2-4 or worse, it’s going to be difficult to go into the rest of the (still difficult) schedule and make a lot of noise. This Week 6 road game against the Seahawks, who are legitimately great and have one of the better home field advantages in football, looms as a particularly difficult challenge.
Learn more about the Seahawks below from our friends at Field Gulls.
Notable free agent additions: J’Marcus Webb, Brandon Browner, Chris Clemons
Notable free agent departures: JR Sweezy, Bruce Irvin, Brandon Mebane, Russell Okung, Marshawn Lynch (retirement)
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:
1st Rd - Germain Ifedi (RG) profiles as the large, athletic guard the Seahawks like for the zone blocking scheme. With enough seasoning, he could be ready to move outside to tackle eventually, but he’ll start at guard this season.
2nd Rd - Jarran Reed (DT) is considered by most Seattle fans by now to be the best pick of the Seahawks draft, if not everyone’s draft in terms of value. Slotted by some to be a top-15 pick, John Schneider got him at 49. Reed could be the best run-defending defensive tackle in the draft and will be heavily used in the rotation this season with Mebane now in San Diego.
3rd Rd - C.J. Prosise (RB) used to play wide receiver at Notre Dame, but as a running back he could be a deadly weapon in Pete Carroll’s offense; the “running back who can catch 50 balls a season” is more and more common in 2016 and while Prosise wasn’t a first round pick, only three RBs went off the board before him. He’s got the size and speed of someone like Devonta Freeman.
Rees Odhiambo (3rd), Nick Vannett (3rd), and Alex Collins (5th) could also contribute this season, but it’s hard to predict to what degree at this point.
Biggest offseason addition: The Seahawks can’t do better than their ranking on run defense last season (1st), but the addition of Reed might mean that they actually do allow fewer rushing yards and yards per carry in 2016. He stopped Georgia running back Nick Chubb with just one arm bar in a game last season. He’s going to be a heavy part of the rotation. Meanwhile, Prosise is a sleeper pick for Offensive Rookie of the Year depending on the health of Thomas Rawls perhaps.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp: When will Thomas Rawls and Jimmy Graham be ready to play? Rawls (broken ankle) and Graham (torn patellar tendon) both suffered serious injuries last season, with some questioning if Graham’s career was over. But Pete Carroll recently said that both are looking good to be ready for the regular season; that’s shocking in the case of Graham, but Carroll went as far as to say that Jimmy was ahead of Rawls in the rehab process. When you look at the players potentially surrounding Russell Wilson all season -- Graham, Rawls, Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, C.J. Prosise, Jermaine Kearse -- it’s hard to not wonder if he could put together an even better case for MVP than he had last year.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: The battle at center will be one to watch, even if it’s hard to stomach. Last season, the Seahawks had a competition at center that was eventually won by undrafted free agent (and former defensive lineman) Drew Nowak. It was a disaster and he was replaced by Patrick Lewis after six games. Things went a lot smoother for Seattle’s offense after that but the damage was already done and the Seahawks started 2-4. However, Lewis is back in another competition and once again he’s losing to someone making a position change. This time it’s Justin Britt, the 2014 second round pick who has now moved from right tackle to left guard and now center in just three years. The sleeper might be Kristjan Sokoli, an athletic freak who was drafted as a defensive lineman out of Buffalo last year and moved to center, but has remained quiet ever since.
Notable injuries heading into training camp: Graham, Rawls.