If the Saints are the darlings of NFL media at the moment—and with their position in ESPN’s latest power rankings and their post-NFC Conference Championship Game coverage, there’s little arguing to do there—the Falcons have faded back into their customary gloom. A large part of that is deserved after an ugly season, but an equally large part is the team’s uncertain immediate future.
In the aforementioned ESPN power rankings, the Falcons place at #17, just ahead of the Panthers (#18), far ahead of the Buccaneers (#29), and well behind the Saints (#1). Here’s ESPN’s Vaughn McClure weighing in on the why:
Three-words-or-less description: On the line. Those words can be interpreted in different ways. First and foremost, it’s an important fifth season for head coach Dan Quinn, who put the burden on himself by taking over as the defensive playcaller. Consecutive playoffless seasons wouldn’t bode well for Quinn or general manager Thomas Dimitroff. And any hope of being in contention starts with improving talent up front on both the offensive and defensive lines, something the Falcons addressed a bit in free agency but need to revisit via the draft. -- Vaughn McClure
The reality is that the Falcons and Panthers both washed out of the playoff picture in extremely depressing ways in 2018 and both feature coaching staffs (and perhaps front offices) that can be considered to be on the hot seat. The Falcons have yet to make any major upgrades on the defensive side of the ball and the Panthers still have one of the league’s trainwreckiest offensive lines, so the reasons to doubt a rebound exist for both. I like Atlanta’s chances better given their injury picture a year ago, but it’s little surprise that the believers aren’t exactly flocking to the Falcons until this team shows more in the draft and over the summer.
The NFC South promises to be one of the more interesting teams in the NFL yet again in 2019, with four teams larded with real and evident talent and the kinds of question marks that could once again lead to unsettled outcomes in the division.