Welcome back to FY’s 2016 NFL team previews! Not interested in this team? Jump to: Arizona.
Where They’re Coming From
A third-consecutive non-playoff season.
Despite racking up the seventh-most yards in the league in 2015, they just couldn’t score, ranking 21st in points-per-game. First-year head coach Dan Quinn was at least able to bring the defense back to respectability, though.
Where They’re Going
The defense was horrible under former coach Mike Smith, and the offense was very pass-heavy. As I mentioned, the defense was middle of the pack last year, and Devonta Freeman provided a boost in the ground game. If they can improve their 27th-ranked turnover differential from last season, the Falcons will be a team to watch for.
Key Offseason Moves
Additions: C Alex Mack, WR Mohamed Sanu, DE Derrick Shelby, SS Keanu Neal (drafted)
Losses: DT Paul Soliai, WR Roddy White (only “key” if you ask Roddy, himself, though)
What to Watch For
How much Dan Quinn can get out of this defense.
Quinn was given a lot of credit for the rise of the Seattle Seahawks’ defense, and has already improved the Falcons dramatically. He’ll be relying on last year’s first-round selection, Vic Beasley, to take the next step after an underwhelming rookie campaign. The addition of defensive end Derrick Shelby may open things up for Beasley.
Even after the offseason additions, Atlanta’s is still running a little short on talent. Can Quinn get his group of relative no-namers to overachieve and take another step forward?
Who to Watch For
Matt Ryan, QB
Prior to 2015, Matt Ryan had done everything necessary to put his name in the “elite quarterback” conversation. However, last season saw Ryan turn the ball over as many times as he put it in the endzone (21 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, and five fumbles). His 21 touchdown passes were his lowest total since his rookie season, and he has now developed a number of doubters.
Ryan won’t have any excuses if he doesn’t return to form this year. He has the help of Julio Jones on the outside, arguably the best receiver in the league; Devonta Freeman proved to be a threat in the passing game out of the backfield; and the offensive line gets a major boost from the arrival of centre Alex Mack. The pieces are in place.
What Could Go Wrong
He had one good season in Cincinnati while benefiting from A.J. Green drawing all the attention. He’ll now have Julio Jones to distract the opponent, but can he produce as a legitimate number two option?
There was no pressure on Sanu to produce as a Bengal, as they also had Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones as viable options. However, Atlanta doesn’t have the same depth at receiver, nor do they have a standout tight end.
Where They’ll End Up
Fighting for a playoff berth.
I don’t expect the Panthers to be what they were last season, but I also don’t see the Saints struggling as much as they did, either.
Matt Ryan will cut down on the turnovers, and take advantage of the weapons he has around him. Both Freeman and Tevin Coleman will contribute in the running game, and the defense will be just good enough to compete.
Don’t be shocked when Atlanta has a shot to win the division when they close the season with games against Carolina and New Orleans. Whether they’ll actually win those games is a discussion for another article.