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Why the Falcons might might exceed or fall below their Vegas NFL win total

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The Falcons have talent on their side, but injuries, a lack of growth, and a few questions marks could still doom them.

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

SB Nation recently put together a look at why each NFC South team might beat or fail to achieve its Vegas win total, and of course I thought it was a good time to dive in on that very angle for our Atlanta Falcons.

You can read the condensed answer here, but here I’ll dive in a bit more on why I think the Falcons will hit the over on 8.5 wins and why I think they might hit the under.

Why the Falcons will hit the over

I could go on forever about this one, but restraint and caution demand that I do not.

Simply put, the talent on hand here is real and suffuses the entire roster. The Falcons have one of the five or so best veteran quarterbacks in football, a dynamic back returning to health, a top three receiver, top ten tight end, excellent complementary receiving options, and a rebuilt offensive lines featuring two promising first round rookies, a top ten tackle in Jake Matthews, and arguably the best center in football in Alex Mack. Their talent on offense is rich, fairly deep, and enough by itself to drag them to nine wins even if the defense is largely average again.

The defense, meanwhile, features at least one top-tier player in every unit, with Grady Jarrett up front, Deion Jones at linebacker, and Keanu Neal at safety figuring to make opposing team’s lives very difficult. Along the defensive front, the Falcons figure to lean heavily on a breakout year from Takk McKinley (who has the talent), but they also added veterans Adrian Clayborn, Tyeler Davison, and Ra’Shede Hageman, giving them talent and experience for a unit that lacked both at times in a shaky 2018. Linebacker has De’Vondre Campbell and Foye Oluokun to complement Jones, and the secondary is studded with promising young players like Isaiah Oliver, Damontae Kazee, Kendall Sheffield, and Chris Cooper, with the return of Neal and Ricardo Allen figuring to make a major difference. Not all of those pickups and breakout years are going to work out, but reasonable health and a handful of them will at least see the Falcons playing at a higher level.

Atlanta was a frustrating, largely bad team in 2018, but they lost their best RB, two starting guards, and prominent members of their defense for huge swathes of the year, had little in the way of a pass rush aside from brief spurts, and suffered through atrocious offensive line play and still went 7-9. Considering everything, 8.5 wins feels a bit low.

Why the Falcons will go under

Injuries are the biggest specter, as they are every year, and we saw the huge impact they can have when the bags of hammers started to fall in 2018.

Set those aside, though, and assume a reasonable level of health for the franchise. There are still a number of ways this thing could go sideways, most of which will be familiar to you all as longtime fans. There’s the possibility that Devonta Freeman isn’t quite the same player he was pre-injury, which would hurt this team’s balance on offense. There’s the stronger possibility that Alex Mack ages a little bit, rookies Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary go through rookie growing pains, and this offensive line isn’t quite the juggernaut we’re hoping it is. Any limitations to the offense will have real impacts on this team’s success.

It’s still the defense that looms as the most worrisome unit. There’s talent on hand in spades, but if the core pass rushers like Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley don’t live up to their promise this year, the defense will be a little limited. If Isaiah Oliver struggles in his second season and Damontae Kazee has any trouble transitioning back to cornerback, to say nothing of Desmond Trufant suffering an off year, the defense will really struggle. And if Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen or both aren’t full strength early in the year, that will hurt.

This team should be good enough to win 8-9 games even if a handful of things go wrong. The fear is all the on paper improvements won’t translate and the Falcons will come in about where they were a year ago, which would suck a lot.

Where do you think the Falcons will end up?