Some NFL stats can be harder to predict year-over-year than others, and interceptions tend to fall in that category. That’s for a few different reasons. First, it depends on the level of pressure a defense is able to get on a quarterback consistently, as that should lead to more errant passes and opportunities. Second, it depends on how much risk-taking a scheme is willing to endure from its players. Finally, it depends on the players themselves to make plays on the ball when chances do arise. For that reason, setting an over/under for interceptions can be a difficult exercise.
Despite wanting his defenses to focus on “The Ball” as often as possible, Dan Quinn’s defenses didn’t force turnovers at the desired rate. With new leadership in place and some fresh faces in the secondary, the Falcons are hoping to turn things around in 2021.
To find the right mark to set for the Falcons this Fall, I looked at two specific five-year sample sizes. The first, obviously, was the past five seasons for Atlanta. The high-water mark for interceptions by an individual player came in 2018 when Damontae Kazee tied for the NFL lead with seven picks. By and large, however, the team leader finished a given year with three interceptions. The second sample I looked at was the last five seasons Dean Pees was a defensive coordinator. His defenses tended to create more turnovers and averaged out to just over four picks a year.
I’ll split the difference there and set the over/under for Atlanta’s team-high interceptions at 3.5 for the 2021 season.
The case for the over
It’s notable that Pees’s defenses had individuals with higher single-season interception numbers. Now, that could obviously point to the players he coached in Tennessee and Baltimore, but I’m a firm believer that schemes put players in a position to succeed. Remember, this isn’t just a metric for the secondary, either, and Deion Jones has proven to have as good a nose for the football as anyone. If Pees is able to create confusion for opposing quarterbacks, it would not be surprising at all to see Jones sprint into throwing lanes and head full speed in the opposite direction.
We’ve yet to see the strides A.J. Terrell will make in his second season. He only came away with one interception as a rookie, but he dropped an easy one against Kansas City and was in position to probably come away with a couple more. He’s likely the best bet to lead this category if he continues to make strides the way he did in Year 1. Safety Duron Harmon also has two seasons with four interceptions under his belt, so he’s proven to have great ball skills on the back end of the defense.
There are some players for Pees to work with, just not too many, which brings us to our next part.
The case for the under
This isn’t a defense filled with playmakers – or, at least we haven’t seen that just yet. Atlanta no longer has Kazee or Ricardo Allen on its roster, and they had proven to have the team’s surest hands in the secondary in recent years. We don’t yet know how rookie safety Richie Grant will fare in this area, but as we saw last year with Terrell, even outstanding young players can have low interception totals. It’s not enough just to be in position to make a play, and securing an interception isn’t always to easiest task for some defenders.
Four interceptions in a single season may not seem like a lot, but the only two players to have done that for the Falcons over the last five years are no longer on the team. Perhaps Pees will be able to give his guys so many excellent looks that they can afford a few drops and still hit the over but given the quality of wide receivers and quarterbacks in the division – not to mention the conference – Atlanta may not get enough chances for a single player to get four interceptions in 2021.
How many interceptions will the Falcons’ team leader have?
This poll is closed
4 or more
3 or less