Tomorrow, the Falcons kick off the 2021 season. We’ve written and talked about this quite a lot over the last few months, but it’s difficult to feel certain about what’s ahead for this team with a new front office, new coaching staff and some significant changes to the roster.
Still, it’s a time-honored tradition to make record predictions for the season ahead so we can all laugh about it (or, I guess, cry about it) later, and the show will go on. Below, you’ll find out staff predictions for 2021, which range from “more optimistic than a year ago” to “genuinely optimistic.”
Read ours and share yours, if you would.
I’ve gone around and around on this, but ultimately where I’m landing is a little shy of a .500 year. I think the Falcons are going to better than they were a year ago in several ways that matter—most of them on offense—but we’re also talking about a team with legitimate questions about their ability to protect Matt Ryan, generate a consistent pass rush that doesn’t rely mostly or entirely on Dean Pees’ ability to be a baseball-capped wizard, and 10 road games in a long season with zero financial flexibility if something should go wrong. You can talk me into a range of outcomes that extends from 5 wins all the way up to 11, but my expectation is that they’ll show enough improvement to encourage us, but not enough to repeat the magic of, say, 2008 under Mike Smith. —Dave Choate
We are just one day away from Falcons’ football. It’s a special moment for fans who can remain optimistic for what may unfold over the next several weeks. I’m choosing to be optimistic with this new regime, at least out of the gate. The schedule is favorable in my opinion, aside from having fewer home games than away games somehow. But even with that, Arthur Smith has my faith until he gives me a reason to take it back. Ignore the fact that the team went winless during the preseason, considering many of the starters we will see tomorrow didn’t even play. Given the schedule and the roster, I think best case scenario for this group is 11-6 with a floor of 7-10. - Evan Birchfield
I cannot believe how blind we are flying only days away from the regular season. Matt Ryan has a new head coach, offensive coordinator, quarterback coach, running back group, lost Julio Jones, lost Alex Mack, has a new left guard, a fresh new tight end, yet we did not see Ryan take a single snap in preseason. The defense will rely heavily on Dean Pees. That is a good spot to be in, but it is unclear what it will look like with the starters. Will the interior offensive line prove to be the team’s downfall? Can we find some depth that will step up once injuries start rising? Can the team put just enough together to sneak into the slot for the second best team in the NFC South? Maybe! There is little room for error but the foundational parts are there for ending up on the right side of .500. - Matt Chambers
A new regime, a new outlook, a new perspective. The Arthur Smith-Terry Fontenot administration in Atlanta has seen a significant amount of turnover from last season’s roster. Adding Kyle Pitts to the offense inserts a young thoroughbred that will be fun to watch in the offensive scheme. Bringing in Dean Pees will install a sense of coaching wisdom that the Falcons have not had in a very long time. The mantra is being preached that the team is still looking to win games in 2021. Honestly, with better coaching, they will. However, the talent level seems to be a year away from being one that has significant playoff potential. I do think the run game will improve. I also believe this will be an opportunistic defense. This team has an 11-5 ceiling if a game or two gifts the team with a lucky outcome. The roster as a whole portrays one that can be in the Wild Card hunt by season’s end but may need a little help to get into the playoffs. - Eric Robinson
I’ve waffled all offseason long and long felt that nine wins was the benchmark the Falcons needed to hit in order to say Arthur Smith’s first season as head coach was a success. But at the end of the day I’m drawing from the lesson I learned back in 2015 when Dan Quinn took over and guided that team to an 8-8 record, the same record I felt the Falcons under Mike Smith should’ve hit the previous year in 2014 despite underachieving with a 6-10 finish. So, with my belief that the 2020 Falcons should’ve probably won seven games coupled with a softer schedule, I can push their win total to eight wins. I’d like to go higher but I just think their lack of depth across the roster might drag them down somewhat. — Aaron Freeman
The Atlanta Falcons don’t have a lot of proven talent. The Julio Jones trade changed the entire dynamic of the offense, and the defense just doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence outside of guys we for sure know will perform like Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, Foyesade Oluokun and A.J. Terrell. The coaching braintrust looks good on paper, but we have no idea how they’ll do once rubber hits the road this Sunday. Why am I not quite as bullish as my colleagues? I think the schedule will wind up being tougher than expected, and I think the offense will need a year to try and figure things out under Arthur Smith without a true elite talent at running back (as excited as I am for Mike Davis). Will they win games? Sure! Will they lose games? Most definitely. Do I hope I’m wrong? You betcha. But 7-10 feels right for where the team is — in line for a decent-enough draft pick next spring. — Cory Woodroof
I’ll start out with the positives: I think the Falcons are going to be a much better-coached team under Arthur Smith and Dean Pees. That coaching advantage will translate to better play than their overall roster might suggest, but I still don’t know if it’ll be enough to overcome the lack of depth (and proven starters). Despite what Terry Fontenot and Smith are saying about competing now, this team is a 2-3 year project. I think they’ll be competitive every week and possibly even contend for the final Wild Card slot in the newly-expanded playoffs, but they’re not quite ready to take the next step. The offense is likely to be the saving grace once again, and Dean Pees should at least make things interesting on defense, but 2021 is probably going to be a “stepping stone” season to better things in 2022 and 2023. — Kevin Knight