The Atlanta Falcons fell just two games short of going to their second Super Bowl in two years. The Falcons offense spluttered at the worst possible moment as the team fell to the Eagles 15-10. So whilst it may just be May what can we expect from the Falcons in 2018?
The Falcons offense clicks under Steve Sarkisian
The first year with a new offensive coordinator is always tough and the Falcons found that in 2017. However, another whole offseason for the Falcons should help fix many of their issuesconcerns. Matt Ryan will have had another 12 months under his belt in the system and they added more receiving talent in Calvin Ridley. Sarkisian will also have a better idea of what each of his weapons provides compared to last year. This offense will probably never be what it was under Kyle Shanahan but I think they improve hugely.
The Falcons go into Philadelphia and upset the defending champions
History is definitely against the Falcons on this one. Since the defending champion has played the NFL kickoff game their opponent is 3-11. Given that the Kansas City Chiefs upset the New England Patriots last year you would think the odds are truly stacked against the Falcons. However, in this case history is on the Falcons side. The first time the defending champion lost was the New York Giants losing to the Dallas Cowboys in 2012. The following year the defending champion Baltimore Ravens also lost to the Denver Broncos. The anomaly there is that the Ravens played the game on the road due to a conflict with a major league baseball game preventing use of their stadium.
Now that the history lesson is out of the way, how do the Falcons win this game? Well the Eagles are either rolling into this first game with Nick Foles or Carson Wentz, in his first proper game back from injury. Foles took the NFL by storm to end last season, but the chances of him repeating that feels low. The Falcons will have a whole offseason to plan for Foles and they have the defensive talent to stop him. If Wentz is back, then he will have to deal with all the things that come with a first game back. At some point the sheer lack of a full offseason of practice may catch up to him and when it does the Falcons can pounce. It definitely won’t be easy but if any team has the talent it is the Falcons.
Ito Smith usurps Tevin Coleman
This is hardly bold and is probably the exact reason that Smith was drafted. However, many people expect that Coleman will still be the secondary option in 2018, with Smith taking over next offseason. Smith is no stranger to playing the pass catching role having had 132 receptions in his final three years at Southern Mississippi. That doesn’t mean he cannot run the ball. In his final three years at college he rushed the ball on average 228 times per year. In those three years he averaged 1334 yards and 13.3 touchdowns per year. Smith can be the number two to Devonta Freeman, and I expect to see him get more and more touches as the year progresses.
The Falcons beat New Orleans on Thanksgiving
This is another case of history being against the Falcons. In the last 15 games between these two in New Orleans the Falcons are 4-11. However, in the last four seasons they have gone 2-2 and Thanksgiving games are a totally different situation to normal. The Falcons will enter this game off the back of matchups with the Redskins, Browns and Cowboys. I do not expect those games to put a huge strain on the Falcons and they should be riding high. It will be noisy and the Saints will fight to the last minute but this Falcons team has talent on both sides of the ball. The Falcons can come out of this match with a big statement win to send them hurtling towards the playoffs.
The Falcons make it back to the Super Bowl
This season will be really tough for the Falcons. They have a hard schedule and they are a team that everyone will have circled. The NFC South will be difficult as always but last year three teams came out of it and that could happen again. Home field advantage is huge for the Falcons as their style does not suit cold weather. If they have to go into Green Bay or Philadelphia in January they could be in trouble. However, I think they can win the NFC South and at least have home field advantage in the divisional round.
There is no reason why a team with this much talent on both sides of the ball cannot go all the way. They have an offense which on its day can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the NFL. They have a young, constantly improving, defense who can give opponents fits. They could easily have beaten the Eagles last year had they structured their game-plan better. If they had won that game they could easily have been going to their second consecutive Super Bowl. This year, with the lessons they’ve learnt, they have a real chance to go right back to the big game.
Whether they can then win it all is a totally different matter.