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A Falcoholic roundtable: Here’s why the Falcons can go 12-4 this season

Our staff shares some optimism for 2018.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 Falcons had a good season. It’s hard to argue with a 10-6 finish and a playoff bid, not to mention a wild card win over the Rams. But what can we expect from the Falcons in 2018?

Based on how the team performed last year, is a 12-4 finish conceivable? Sure. Our staff explains how the Falcons can get there this season.

Dave Choate: Health and an offensive bounceback

If the Falcons are going to go 12-4, something they haven’t managed since 2012, they’re going to need to be healthy. Their defense is strong but isn’t looking particularly deep at the moment, so injuries on that side of the ball could prove to be costly. Pair good health with the offense not jet sweeping and bobbling its way to inept performances against quality and inferior opponents and you’ve got a recipe for one of the strongest teams in the NFC, and one that absolutely can go 12-4.

Carter Breazeale: Stop settling for field goals

With a team as talented on both sides of the ball as the Atlanta Falcons, a 12-4 record is a reasonable expectation in 2018. In a vastly improved NFC South, it may even be the win-loss floor for taking home the divisional crown. If the Falcons hope to achieve that mark, it’s absolutely imperative that they improve on their red zone opportunities in the upcoming season. In 2017, Atlanta was in the bottom half of the league in red zone touchdown scoring percentage at 49.18%. Too many points were left on the field due to red zone inefficiency, and too many times Matt Bryant (bless him) had to be the man to salvage three at the end of drives. For the Falcons to go 12-4, they must get better inside the 20.

Matt Chambers: Steve Sarkisian

I feel pretty confident that the entire season hinges on Steve Sarkisian. The defense has drastically improved and only seems to be heading up. There should only be a few changes to the offensive personnel, with multiple stars remaining. We should see a little change on special teams, defense, and offense, but really, this year it is all on Sarkisian. I’m sticking by my thought that Sarkisian got a bit of a raw deal last season. The Falcons finished up the season late, and obviously, lots of focus was paid to the Super Bowl loss. He had to adjust to the NFL and this roster on a shortened schedule, was trying to run Shanahan’s offense, and obviously the results were inconsistent. I’m not expecting a Kyle Shanahan-like bump in his second season, but it is easy to forget that Shanahan stunk up the place with a conservative, predictable offense that could not put up points on bad teams. If the Falcons win 12 games, it’s because he got together his play calling.

Allen Strk: Red zone success

It’s easy to pinpoint Sarkisian as the biggest factor. While his play calling desperately needs to improve, they’ll need to execute much better in the red zone. Matt Ryan’s accuracy wasn’t as sharp as usual. His supporting cast did let him down at times, as drops from Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper translated into crucial mistakes. Converting short-yardage opportunities proved to be problematic as well. The loss against New Orleans will be mostly remembered for the horrific officiating. Let’s not forget the Falcons’ inability to score at the one-yard line or convert on fourth and short. Upgrading at full back should be helpful in those situations. The Falcons were 23rd in the league in red zone success rate. If they want to get back to their high scoring and division winning ways, they’ll need to get back into the top ten.

Eric Robinson: Simmered expectations

The last two seasons have been a whirlwind for the Atlanta Falcons. They have experienced ton of highs, witnessed a painful low, slayed a few dragons along the way, and with the dust being settled, now have one of the most talented teams in the entire NFL. There is no question that even with all the talent, that the Falcons operate a little better when they are overlooked. Which is exactly what they will encounter for the 2018 season. With the Eagles as Super Bowl champs and making massive free agency splashes and teams such as the Vikings and Rams catching attention, the team that fields the likes of Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Matt Ryan, Deion Jones, and Keanu Neal can go about their business and simply focus on one thing: winning.

Adnan Ikic: Comfort in Steve Sarkisian’s second season

The Falcons’ offense took a significant step backward last season, and a large part of that is due to the fact that it was playing under a first-year offensive coordinator. Steve Sarkisian adapting more to the NFL in year two and his players on the offensive side of the ball getting more comfortable with his play calling would propel this team to new heights. I have full confidence in the defense, which is young and improving under Dan Quinn’s tutelage. If the offense can even somewhat resemble what it was in 2016 then few teams will be able to keep up with the Falcons next season. Remember, the offense went off the rails in Kyle Shanahan’s first season as OC in 2015 as well, that historic 2016 season happened after the players on the offensive side of the ball got more comfortable in his scheme in the second year.

Jeanna Thomas: A step forward on offense

Remember when everyone wanted to fire Kyle Shanahan after — LOL, JK it was during — the 2015 season? Then the Falcons offense lit up the league in 2016 en route to a Super Bowl bid and MVP and Offensive Player of the Year recognition for Matt Ryan. Should you expect that kind of a leap from Steve Sarkisian’s generally lackluster performance in 2017? No, but an additional offseason for Sark and the offense to acclimate to each other and for Ryan and company to get more comfortable should lead to improvement. This team went 10-6 last year despite wildly inconsistent play on offense. If they settle in, and taking into account the defensive improvement we’ll almost certainly continue to see this season, two more wins seems very attainable.

Kevin Knight: Regression to the mean, and great defense

Let’s face it: the 2017 Falcons were an absurdly unlucky team by several metrics. As of December 29, PFF had Matt Ryan as throwing the lowest percentage of turnover-worthy passes in the NFL. Ryan ended the season with 12 INTs, but at least 8 of them were caused by bobbled catches by the Falcons’ receiving corps. It’s impossible to quantify luck, but the Falcons didn’t have much of it—and the same could be said for the defensive side. So, a little better luck (or simply a return to the mean), plus some stellar defense from a young and improving unit should result in a more well-rounded Falcons team in 2018. That, in turn, should help net the team a few more wins.

What do you think the Falcons need to do to finish 12-4 this season? Sound off in the comments.