We’ve finally reached the end of the preseason. I know I’ve started literally every one of my articles about this game like this, but it’s how I really feel. Thank you, football gods, for a merciful, mostly injury-free conclusion to the offseason!
As you know, there’s only one game left: tonight’s tilt against the Jacksonville Jaguars. This game will again be played in the Falcons’ magnificent new stadium, which might be the most exciting thing about it. The starters are unlikely to play much, if at all, which means we’re going to get a healthy dose of Matt Simms and the reserve OL. So far, that’s been a recipe for disaster. Hopefully, they’ll look a little better tonight.
This game mostly matters for those fringe players that are battling for one of the few open spots on the 53-man roster, and the 10 practice squad slots. Let’s take a look at how these two teams compare statistically. All stats are based on the 2016 regular season.
Points/game: Falcons 33.8 (1st), Jaguars 19.9 (25th)
Total yards/game: Falcons 415.8 (2nd), Jaguars 334.9 (23rd)
Passing yards/game: Falcons 295.3 (3rd), Jaguars 233.0 (20th)
Passing TDs: Falcons 38 (T-2nd), Jaguars 24 (T-16th)
Rushing yards/game: Falcons 120.5 (5th), Jaguars 101.9 (22nd)
Rushing TDs: Falcons 20 (T-3rd), Jaguars 8 (T-29th)
Third Down Efficiency: Falcons 42% (11th), Jaguars 35% (29th)
Turnover Margin: Falcons +11 (5th), Jaguars -16 (30th)
I only get to type out these marvelous, wonderful 2016 Falcons offensive stats one more time after this, so I’m going to enjoy it. Obviously, the Falcons once again dominate the offensive stats in their match-up. The Falcons led the league in scoring, and averaged a whopping 12.9 points per game more than the Jaguars. That’s like two more TDs a game. Craziness. Anyway, the Falcons are really good on offense, in case you forgot.
The Jaguars, meanwhile, were not so great on offense in 2016. They were below-average in every major category, and bottom-tier in several. Jacksonville was 25th in points and 23rd in yards. They were equally mediocre at passing (20th) and rushing (22nd). In terms of third down efficiency and turnover margin, they were near the bottom of the league (29th and 30th, respectively). Unfortunately for the Jaguars, the early returns on the 2017 offense don’t look positive.
Points/game: Falcons 25.4 (27th), Jaguars 25 (25th)
Total yards/game: Falcons 371.2 (25th), Jaguars 321.7 (6th)
Passing yards/game: Falcons 266.7 (28th), Jaguars 215.2 (5th)
Passing TDs: Falcons 31 (28th), Jaguars 20 (T-5th)
Rushing yards/game: Falcons 104.5 (17th), Jaguars 106.4 (19th)
Rushing TDs: Falcons 15 (T-18th), Jaguars 17 (24th)
Third Down Efficiency: Falcons 42% (26th), Jaguars 37% (8th)
Sacks: Falcons 34 (T-16th), Jaguars 33 (T-19th)
While I’m sad about the offensive stats disappearing, I’m pretty excited to move on from these rather depressing defensive stats. The Falcons played better than these numbers might suggest, but that doesn’t make the numbers look any better. Atlanta was 27th in points and 25th in yards, and were generally a below-average defense. They were better against the run (17th) and at generating sacks (T-16th). The hope is that the Falcons can improve on defense in 2017, and an impressive preseason has given us some hope.
Jacksonville was a bit of an enigma on defense. They were top-10 in several stats (yards, passing yards, passing TDs, and third down efficiency), but below average in several others (points, rushing defense, and sacks). The points were at least partially the offense’s fault (that -16 turnover margin certainly didn’t help), but it appears the rushing defense was legitimately below-average. The pass defense was very good, though, and this unit certainly isn’t the problem for the Jaguars.
The starters for either team are pretty unlikely to play in this game, making these stats somewhat useless for predicting the outcome. In a regular-season match-up, the Falcons would obviously have the advantage. Atlanta has a massive edge on offense, and the gap on defense is pretty slim (25th to 27th in points). If you can’t stop the Falcons ground attack, you’ll get roasted by play-action—this one would have the makings of a potential blowout.
But, the starters aren’t playing, and these teams might be very different in 2017. I hope the Jaguars are better, for their fans sake. They deserve decent football in Jacksonville, especially with a very good defense potentially going to waste. Perhaps Atlanta finally gets their first preseason win, or perhaps not. It doesn’t really matter. The ones who care will be the reserves who are fighting desperately to make these rosters and practice squads. Good luck to them.
Overall Advantage: Falcons
What are your thoughts on the game? Any particular match-ups you’ll be watching?