Marc and Ben are back with their takes on the NFL on Nickelodeon debut and the first round of playoff football. Also, Marc gives his list of the top head coach candidates.
Schedule: SEA, @DAL, CHI, @GB, CAR, @MIN, DET, @CAR, DEN, BYE, @NO, LVR, NO, @LAC, TB, @KC, @TB
Additions: EDGE Dante Fowler (FA), RB Todd Gurley (FA), CB Darqueze Dennard (FA), TE Hayden Hurst (Trade), CB A.J. Terrell (Draft), OL Matt Hennessy (Draft)
Losses: TE Austin Hooper (FA), CB Desmond Trufant (FA), LB De’Vondre Campbell (FA), OL Wes Schweitzer (FA), EDGE Vic Beasley (FA), EDGE Adrian Clayborn (FA), DL Jack Crawford (FA)
After starting 1-7, the Falcons ended 2019 on a 6-2 tear. This team is a great case study for whether momentum carries over from season to season. As you can tell from the 7-9 prediction, I don’t think it does. A main reason is the coaching situation. Dan Quinn’s seat is scalding, so another slow start could be it for him. Implementing an interim coach is far more likely to lead to the team bottoming out than making a playoff push.
Last year was supposed to see the rebirth of Atlanta’s offensive line. That didn’t exactly happen, as Matt Ryan was once again left to run for his life. Jake Matthews and Alex Mack have left tackle and center, respectively, locked up. The problem lies at every other position, where the Falcons will start a rookie and two second-year players. Those young guys will have to learn fast for this line to make a drastic jump.
Heading into year 12, Ryan is still a great quarterback. He doesn’t win games single-handedly, but you could do far worse at the position. Julio Jones does win games by himself, at least as much as a receiver realistically can. He’s my top wideout in the league, and his teammate isn’t that far behind. A third-year pro, Calvin Ridley has been one of the top second options in the league from the day he entered it.
If defenses manage the unenviable task of shutting those two down, there’s no other receiver that will scare them in the slightest. Now, with Austin Hooper gone, that problem becomes even bigger. Hayden Hurst is intriguing, but he’s yet to prove he’s a TE1 in the NFL.
At running back, Todd Gurley has the opposite issue. He was a top running back in the league as recently as two years ago. A lot can change in two years, though. Crippling arthritis in his knee left Gurley virtually unrecognizable in 2019. His explosion has been completely zapped, and he’s little more than a solid back now. Unless the Falcons discover the cure to arthritis, that isn’t likely to change
Even with all those concerns, there’s no question Atlanta is a top-10 offense. The question is whether they’re good enough to make up for the defense. While the unit has stars in Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, and new signing Dante Fowler, they’re subpar as a whole.
Defending the pass was particularly challenging for the Falcons—mainly because opposing quarterbacks had all day to throw. Even with Fowler, the second-lowest sack total in 2019 isn’t likely to skyrocket. Not with Vic Beasley and his eight sacks out the door. Posting average numbers would be a win for the pass rush.
In their defense, the secondary is just as big of a problem. After a rough year, Isaiah Oliver returns at one outside corner spot while newcomer A.J. Terrell takes the other. Considering how much rookie corners usually struggle, it’s hard to see strong play from the position.
Behind them, Keanu Neal returns after playing just four games over the last two seasons. Expecting elite play from the oft-injured safety feels unrealistic. He won’t get much help from Ricardo Allen or Damontae Kazee, either, as each is coming off a forgettable season. The only bright spot in the secondary might be slot corner, where Darqueze Dennard will roam after many strong years with the Bengals. Still, between the lackluster pass rush and secondary, opponents could have a field day through the air.
After this largely negative preview, I feel the need to say Atlanta could definitely make the playoffs. Double-digit victories is doable if things go their way. However, sitting in the 6-9 range and competing for a wildcard spot feels far more likely for the Falcons.
What’s your record prediction for the Falcons? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.