The Falcons were Carolina’s closest competitor in the NFC South last year. Most people think due to a weak division, they will be again. But I say no. The Falcons have some serious problems. They have no offensive depth, and the defense has some good players, but also some holes, underachieving players and depth problems. The Bucs are a big sleeper, and I think the Saints young receiving staff could even top what the Falcons have. Matt Ryan is being cocky by saying this offense can score 30 points a game. This team will have a rough ride, and Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman and more overrated stars will fall. What does this team have to win?
3 Players to Watch For
1. Tevin Coleman, RB
I know how much attention Devonta Freeman got last season, but with the kind of numbers he put up, and with Tevin Coleman healthy and ready to improve in his sophomore year, I think Freeman had a one and done season that will never happen again. He is a potential bust for the Falcons in 2016. Coleman underachieved last year, and he’s hungry to prove to defenders that he still is what he was in college. I don’t see him doing that badly again. I see at least 500 yards, and he could even come close to topping Devonta Freeman’s yardage this season, even with the Falcons counting on Freeman to start, at least to begin the season.
2. Mohamed Sanu, WR
Sanu may have not been as impressive in 2015 as he was in 2014 when A.J. Green and Marvin Jones were hurt, but Sanu is still a major underrated sleeper. Having just one receiver ahead of him helps this year, even though Julio Jones is a little better than A.J. Green, so Sanu should get more targets. Sanu knew he didn’t want to return to Cincinnati, but this was an interesting and underrated free agent pickup by Atlanta. The Falcons clearly trust Sanu to step up this season, as they released Roddy White and return specialist Devin Hester, who’s probably the best ever at his position. The Falcons do have some depth at the position in Justin Hardy, Devin Fuller, Eric Weems and Nick Williams, the only key names are Jones and Sanu. Sanu is a big sleeper on the Falcons, and I think even with the offense struggling, him and Tevin Coleman will come through this season. The question is, will guys they trust like Matt Ryan and Devonta Freeman, even Julio Jones keep doing their job, and will problems at tight end and even the o-line make a mark?
3. Courtney Upshaw, OLB/DE
Since being drafted by the Ravens with an early 2nd round pick in 2012, Upshaw has never been an explosive player, and the Ravens have plenty of other linebackers that they’ve started in his place, like Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and 2014 1st rounder C.J. Mosley. Suggs and Dumervil have been hurt a lot, but even in a starting role, he’s only racked up 5 sacks. He’s played in every regular season game since his NFL career started, and still only 5 sacks? Upshaw does have a lot of upside, but he will have to compete with the youngsters for a starting job in Atlanta after the Ravens declined his fifth year option. However, I think he’s a sleeper to rack up more sacks than he has so far in his career. If he finishes camp strong, he should take a starting job at outside linebacker opposite rookie Deion Jones or veteran Sean Weatherspoon, who came boomeranging his way back to Atlanta after a 1-year stint in Arizona. Courtney Upshaw could be a strong source for the Falcons pass rush this season. Trust me, he will show up!
3 Questions That Must Be Answered
1. Can the offense consistently be a force?
That’s very tough to say. This offense has never been known for consistency, but when they do well, they do very, very well. the Falcons have usually either gotten off to a terrible start, or fallen apart after a potential playoff contending run. I don’t trust Matt Ryan and Devonta Freeman to consistently run this offense, although when Ryan finds his receivers in the games he performs in, the Falcons thrive. I see Matt Ryan as a bust. He usually is a dominant offensive force but it has tapered off over the last couple seasons, and since when is Devonta Freeman an elite RB based on one great year. If Freeman struggles, and then Tevin Coleman fails to fill the starting position has well, they could have a problem at RB. They will be missing elite Steven Jackson, who is lost in free agency, declining in condition as he ages. I don’t think this offense can be a consistent force, and that will be one thing causing the Falcons to have the terrible season I’m projecting.
2. Will some small defensive tweaks help in 2016?
Vic Beasley Jr. is moving to defensive end, and the linebakcer corps is revamped with Courtney Upshaw and Sean Weatherspoon along with draft pick Deion Jones playing next to veteran Paul Worrilow. Beasley should be able to find his groove at a new position, and after a rookie year disappointment, could finally be the intriguing pass rusher he was in college. Upshaw, Weatherspoon and Jones are all getting a fresh start with a new team, even though Jones is new to the NFL, and Weatherspoon has been here before. The secondary even looks like a minor improvement, even with Jalen Collins suspended for a quarter of the season. Robert Alford now plays across from Desmond Trufaunt, and Ricardo Allen plays accross from Collins. I think in the end, the moves will add up to minor improvements in 2016, but nothing major, and it won’t quite make up for the problems on offense.
3. Matt Ryan and Devonta Freeman: STUD or DUD?
I know Matt Ryan and Devonta Freeman have don some pretty good things in their past, but Ryan just doesn’t have it in him anymore, and Devonta Freeman looks to me like a one year wonder that will be overused in 2016, with Tevin Coleman being held to minimal touches, ready to break though. Ryan lost production in 2015, and I could see that continuing to happen to him in 2016, and this year Freeman. Both have overachieved at certain points, and really, this Falcons offense is going to have some serious problmes this year if they can’t even figure themselves out.
3 Bold Predictions
1. Vic Beasley Jr. or Courtney Upshaw will lead the team in sacks
I think this year is the year for some of Atlanta’s younger pass rushers to thrive. Adrian Clayborn, Paul Worrilow, Sean Weatherspoon and Dwight Freeney aren’t as productive as they used to be, and young pass rushers Vic Beasley Jr. and Courtney Upshaw could be sleepers to rack up double digit sacks. Personally, I see the duo will get between 8 and 12 sacks apiece, and the older guys will all be held to 5 or 6 sacks at most. Upshaw and Beasley are major sleepers, and the guys around them are getting to the age where their prime has ended and they can’t do what they used to be able to do anymore.
2. Tevin Coleman will lead the team in rushing
Like I said earlier, I don’t think Devonta Freeman will ever be what he was last year again. Tevin Coleman was a highly drafted RB in the 2015 draft, and like a lot of the 2015 RB class, I think he should blossom this year. He may not get many carries to start the season, but once he gets the chance to prove he’s better than Freeman, his carries will increase, and he will thrive in the Falcons system. Tevin Coleman is a big sleeper, and I like what he’s doing, especially with my faith in Devonta Freeman pretty low right now.
3. Julio Jones will break the 1500 yard barrier, but he’ll be 1 of 5 or more to do so
Julio Jones is a dominant wide receiver, but this year’s wide receiver group is domInant as well, especially with Jordy Nelson and Dez Bryant. I’m sure Julio Jones will break the 1500 yard barrier, but he is one of many that is highly capable. I expect Antonio Brown, OBJ, Dez Bryant, Jordy Nelson and maybe A.J. Green or DeAndre Hopkins to match that stat. Plenty are capable, and several will do it. I don’t even expect Julio to make the Top 3 in receiving yards. This wide receiver group is loaded, and lots of shocking stats will prove it.
The Falcons have a couple winnable games, but have a relatively tough schedule, and the way things are looking, I don’t think the Falcons will fare very well. With revamped defense and young offense, Week 1 already boasts a tough match-up against the Bucs. Even at home, the Bucs are a major sleeper and I like Tampa to win this. That could be winnable though. Then they face a similar team in Oakland, that’s another loss, especially on the road. The Saints offense could be a little overwhelming for the Falcons secondary in New Orleans, and they will lose under road trip pressure.
Weeks 4-6 boast some very strong opponents. They can not beat Carolina this year. The Broncos will be tricky and tough on the offense in a road match-up, and they definitely can’t beat Seattle on their own turf. They get a one week break at home, hosting the Chargers. I do think they can win this one, Stevie Johnson is likely out for the year, and although I do see some improvement in San Diego, nothing major will happen. This is an easy W for the Falcons at home. But it’s back to the tough schedule in Week 8 against the Packers, who will blow them out. Then they go to Tampa Bay. If they can’t beat the Bucs at home, it definitely won’t happen on the road. After a tough 6-week stretch where the Falcons go a horrid 1-5, they play one more game before the bye, in Philadelphia. The Eagles will be pretty bad as well, but still have enough in them to beat a sucky Falcons team with home field advantage. The team will enter the bye at a horrid 1-9, one of the worst first 10 weeks in the league.
Then after the bye come another two terrible match-ups, as they host the powerful Cardinals and sneaky, underrated Chiefs. Two losses at home fresh off a bye is not good, but is bound to happen with these match-ups, much unlike what would of happened in these games a couple years back. They get a tough break at the end of the season though. One tough game stuffed between three easier match-ups. The first is against the Rams in Los Angeles. I have to give LA the win here though. At home, the Rams defense will outsmart Matt Ryan’s offense. They host the 49ers, which I think is an easy W for Atlanta. The Niners have it even worse then they do. The Falcons at least have stars on offense. That just isn’t there in San Francisco. They get beaten by Carolina on the road, but I think they will close out the season with a third win in New Orleans. With that weak a defense, this is one game Matt Ryan and the offense could thrive in.
The Falcons will have a lot of trouble on the road, and the offense may struggle to get going. An inconsistent Falcons team will not win on the road, even with easy match-ups against the Eagles and Rams. I say they finish the season 3-13 instead of 2-14 or 1-15. 3-13 is pretty terrible, but at least the Falcons got those wins a little easier then the teams below them in my ranks, and hey, they won three easy home games. They were just inconsistent and did terrible on the road. Yes, even with a 3-5 home record.