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The Atlanta Falcons defense is being underrated headed into the 2017 season

At least, we think so.

Super Bowl LI - New England Patriots v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

I believe that most people have properly rated the Falcons offense heading into the 2017 season. The average analyst, pundit and fan is comfortable thinking of the Falcons are one of the NFL’s best, though probably slightly less effective than they were in 2016. That’s all well and good.

The defense, on the other hand? The defense appears to be underrated.

Take Football Outsiders, which does a marvelous job of building out projections for each season based on in-depth analyses of performance over the last few years, among many other variables, to try to produce a quality forecast for how each NFL team will perform and rank statistically in a given season. They’re not always right—they had the Falcons with a less than 30% chance of making the playoffs last year—but they run a much more rigorous analysis than other shops. And where do they have the 2017 Falcons defense ranking, you ask?

24th! After they were 26th overall a year ago. We’re still waiting for FO’s explainer for this, but it does underscore the fact that not everyone is seeing and forecasting the same kind of defensive improvement that bullish Falcons fans are. They may not be hyper-impressed by the addition of Dontari Poe, they may see some regression from Vic Beasley, or they might just not think this unit can gel and improve hugely. The team did get better-than-expected contributions from Deion Jones and Keanu Neal last year and still don’t have an obviously elite set of pass rushers to work with, so the skepticism is understandable to a certain extent.

Whatever the rationale, they’re being underrated. If they’re not, this season may not go the way we want it to.

The Bears game is a good first opportunity to prove that improvement is here, even if Chicago is hardly an offensive juggernaut. The better opportunity will come in Week 2 against a potent Packers offense, but either way, I’m chomping at the bit to see what they can do.

How about you? At all worried about a lack of defensive improvement?