Yesterday, I took the unpopular stance that the Falcons were likely to regress in 2017, and outlined three reasons why I believed that. Now that the dust has settled on that take, it’s time to talk about why I still firmly believe the Falcons will be contenders and a playoff team this season, despite the typically dismal fortunes of teams who just lost the Super Bowl.
Here’s my three reasons. Provide your own in the comments, of course.
They still have the best offensive lineup in football
I said yesterday that the Falcons are going to probably lose a little ground on offense, whether by injury or simple regression to the mean. That doesn’t mean they’re going to morph back into, say, the Panthers on offense.
They have a legitimate top ten quarterback in Matt Ryan, the reigning NFL MVP. They have the best running back duo in football in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. They have the best receiver in football in Julio Jones, one of the most dynamic weapons in Taylor Gabriel, and one of the most promising young tight ends in Austin Hooper. They also have, with the exception of an unsettled right guard spot, one of the best offensive lines in the game. A lot of things would have to break wrong for this not to be a top ten offense, and top five seems likely.
If your offense is that good, chances are you’re going to win a bunch of games, not to state the obvious. The Falcons can afford a healthy amount of regression on this side of the ball before they’re anything less than one of the league’s elite units.
The defense is going to improve
Usually I’d couch this, but take this to the bank: A healthy Falcons 2017 defense is going to be markedly better than the 2016 version. It just will.
For starters, the Falcons have added a massive upgrade in the middle, with Dontari Poe stepping next to Grady Jarrett. Considering it was an aging (but still great!) Jonathan Babineaux, or Ra’Shede Hageman, or even Tyson Jackson a year ago, that’s fantastic news. The team also added Jack Crawford, a capable player, to the defensive tackle rotation, and still have Hageman on hand. They still have a strong, deep rotation at end that they’re likely to add a promising rookie to, a capable set of linebackers with Kemal Ishmael joining full time, and one of the better young secondaries in football.
In addition, I expect growth from Deion Jones and Keanu Neal, and a leap forward for De’Vondre Campbell, who has as much upside as any defensive player on this team if he can harness it. Taken together, all of this suggests that this Falcons defense will pick up where it left off in the second half of the season and grow. If that happens, the offense can pull back a little bit and this team will still be very successful.
The playoff path won’t be noticeably more difficult
I noted yesterday that the NFC South is a little tougher this year, or at least figures to be. That’s a reason to expect perhaps another loss or two in the division, but it’s not a reason to think the Falcons will be knocked out of the playoffs.
Why? Because their schedule, and the NFC in general, doesn’t look demonstrably tougher than it did in 2016. There are some true AFC East cupcake games on this schedule, manageable games dotting the rest of the landscape, and very few clearly improved NFC teams at this juncture. That may change after the draft, training camp, and preseason clarify things, but for now, the Falcons look like they’ll be a contender just by making a few tweaks to the roster.