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Can the Falcons jump from the basement to an NFC South title in 2021? Pro Football Focus thinks so

Atlanta’s new brain trust is inspiring some trust from analysts at Pro Football Focus.

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Atlanta Falcons v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Falcons finished in the basement of the NFC South, something that hadn’t happened since 2007. Their slow, multi-stage implosion from 2017 through 2020 ended with a 4-12 whimper, and that mercifully led to the organization making sweeping changes and trying to bring in fresh perspectives.

Will that lead to an immediate rebound, a long-term return to relevance, or will it be more of the same for Atlanta? That question won’t be answered for a while, but at least one outlet likes the team’s chances of pushing their way back up in the NFC South this year.

Here’s the high level reasoning from Pro Football Focus:

The first is that they were not as bad this past season as their record indicates. Despite earning the fourth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Atlanta actually finished the year at 18th in PFF’s ELO Power Ratings. The second is that a perennial powerhouse in the division — the New Orleans Saints — could be primed to take a step back following Drew Brees‘ retirement and an offseason with plenty of question marks when it comes to the salary cap on the horizon.

As PFF also notes, the offense should be good again in 2021, with the upgrade from Dirk Koetter to Arthur Smith providing quite a bit of that juice. The addition of Dean Pees at least provides some level of hope that the defense will be consistently better, even if expecting a one year jump to good is probably a bridge too far. There’s little question that Atlanta is talented enough on paper with the right additions to take a substantial step forward, and that’s why the Falcons are second on this list behind a capable 49ers team.

There are several obstacles, of course, that remain likely to keep Atlanta out of first place in the NFC South. The first is a Buccaneers team that intends to reload for another title run with Tom Brady at the helm, and while no team has repeated since the 2003-2004 Patriots, their chances of snagging the division with the talent on hand is high. The Panthers and Saints are unlikely to be bad teams next year, so long as both of them at least get capable quarterbacks in the fold, and so it will be a true fight just to push into second place. I like the Falcons’ chances against a New Orleans team that is going to bleed some talent and a Carolina team with a rookie quarterback at the helm, but so much remains to be done before I can feel great about it.

Atlanta can make some noise with an effective offseason and what we all hope is a better coaching staff. I’m just not quite ready to predict something as wild as them knocking off the defending Super Bowl champions for the division crown in February.