It was not long ago that I wrote that the Falcons were probably done flying under the radar. The additions of Jessie Bates and Bijan Robinson added a pair of bonafide stars to a team that had been scrappy the previous two years despite being held together by duct tape acquired on a shoestring budget. The Falcons promise to be fun and exciting this year if things go reasonably well, and good if they go a little better than that.
For all those good vibes, the Falcons remain a team with question marks, as we all know. Nobody’s quite sure what Desmond Ridder’s ceiling will be and how the weapons on this passing attack will mesh, how this defense will hold up even with all the new additions, and whether this team is complete enough to take advantage of a weakened NFC South. Those questions are less pressing within an optimistic fanbase than they are in the outside world, where this team is still being ranked by skeptical analysts as a bottom third squad.
Well, except for CBS Sports. They’re cool.
Take Pro Football Focus, which focuses on the question of how good this quarterback room will be in taking the under on 8.5 wins.
Over/Under 8.5 win total: Under
It’s hard to give the Falcons a winning record with Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke as their quarterbacks. Even so, the NFC South may see an under-.500 division winner again. Bijan Robinson fits in perfectly behind Atlanta’s offensive line, and Arthur Smith is an excellent play caller. With that in mind, the Falcons feel like a seven-win team that could come out on top in a couple more games if their quarterbacks overachieve.
Immediately after the draft, outlets like SportsNaut and NFL.com had this team in the same neighborhood, with much the same reasoning. There’s a sense the Falcons have improved, but a great deal of skepticism about the extent to which they’ve improved, which you’d expect for a team that is fresh off five straight losing seasons. This team was always going to have to prove these signings and picks and their even their larger philosophy are legitimate, and that the roller coaster they’ve ridden to get here is arriving safely and on time.
To the extent that you can get mad about it, you can get mad about the funny notion that the Falcons will win the same amount of games (or, I guess, one more) with a roster that looks drastically better on paper than it did a year ago. Is Desmond Ridder worse than Marcus Mariota, Mack Hollins than the Bryan Edwards-shaped outline the Falcons carried on the roster for a while, and Jessie freakin’ Bates than the very solid Jaylinn Hawkins? Are these lines worse? Is the NFC South really any better than the abject mess we all saw a year ago? The urge to put the Falcons down with the dregs of the league when things finally seem to be looking up is frustrating, even for a grizzled fan who should know better than to get frustrated.
Whether anyone’s excited or down on the Falcons here in early June matters very little, in the end, though. The Falcons will finish where they’ll finish, and for me with months still to go before the season begins, it’s an exciting time and a hell of a chance to deliver on those early 2021 comments about Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot about the dangers of doubting this team.