Head Coach: Dan Quinn
2014 record: 6-10 overall, 5-1 NFC South
2014 Postseason results: None
Odds to win Super Bowl 50: 45/1
Odds to win NFC Championship: 20/1
Odds to win NFC South Division: 2/1
Regular season wins: over 8 1/2 -115 / under 8 1/2 -115
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Despite being 6-9, the Atlanta Falcons entered week 17 at home against the Carolina Panthers with the NFC South title and a playoff spot on the line. The Falcons would get crushed in that game 34-3. Coach Mike Smith was fired after seven seasons. Although, the Falcons made the playoffs 4 times in his tenure, he had a 1-4 record in those games. Although Smith was 20 games over .500 in his career, the Falcons only won 10 games over the last two seasons. Atlanta hired Seattle Seahawks’ defensive coordinator Dan Quinn for his first NFL head coaching job.
Last year, five of the six wins for the Falcons came within the division. The Falcons did beat the 11 win Arizona Cardinals at home in early December. It is hard to believe a team with a five game losing streak in the season was only one win away from hosting a playoff game. However, that is exactly what happened to the Falcons.
Quinn has his work cut out for him. He was the architect of the Seahawks’ defense that has played in two straight Super Bowls winning one. Seattle is widely considered to have the league’s best defense. That is certainly not the case with Atlanta. Fortunately, the NFC South is wide open with the Falcons, New Orleans Saints and Panthers all at around 2/1 odds to win the division according to 5Dimes Sportsbooks.
The Falcons had a top ten offense last year averaging 378 yards per game, including 285 passing and 94 rushing yards. The Falcons were #5 in passing but #24 in rushing. Atlanta averaged 23.8 points per game which was #12 in the league. Quinn hired Browns’ offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to run the offense.
Quarterback Matt Ryan threw for 4,694 yards with 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, and rushed for 145 yards on 29 carries. His reputation as an elite quarterback has taken a hit as his interception total has risen in the last two years. However, he has been sacked 75 times in the last two seasons. T.J. Yates returns as the back-up to Ryan.
Running back Steven Jackson was released after last season, and has yet to be picked up by another team. He had 190 carries for 707 yards and 6 touchdowns, along with 20 catches for 148 yards. The Falcons drafted Tevin Coleman in the third round out of Indiana. He is expected to be the starter. Coleman rushed for over 2,000 yards with 15 touchdowns at Indiana last year. Devonta Freeman is back after rushing for 248 yards on 65 carries with a touchdown, along with 30 catches for 225 yards and a touchdown. Jacquizz Rodgers is now with the Chicago Bears. He rushed for 217 yards with a touchdown, and had 29 catches for 173 yards with a touchdown. Antone Smith had 23 carries for 144 yards and 2 touchdowns, along with 13 catches for 222 yards and 3 touchdowns. Fullback Patrick DiMarco didn’t get any carries but did have 9 catches and a touchdown last year.
Receiver Julio Jones had 104 catches for 1,593 yards with 6 touchdowns last year. Roddy White had 80 catches for 921 yards and 7 touchdowns. White had minor elbow surgery during training camp but is expected to be ready by week one. Harry Douglas is now with the Tennessee Titans after making 51 catches for 556 yards and 2 touchdowns. Devin Hester had 38 catches for 504 yards with 2 touchdowns, and also added a rushing touchdown. Tight end Levine Toilolo had 31 catches for 238 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Falcons signed free agent tight end Jacob Tamme from the Denver Broncos. Tamme had 14 catches for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns last year. The Falcons drafted receiver Justin Hardy in the fourth round out of East Carolina. They also signed free agent Leonard Hankerson from the Redskins. Hankerson missed almost all of last year with an injury.
The line struggled in pass protection and run blocking. Tackles Luke Matthews and Ryan Schraeder, guards Jared Smith and Jon Asamoah, join center Joe Hawley as the line looks for improvement.
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Atlanta was dead last in defense last year allowing 398 yards per game. The pass defense was also last at 280 yards per game. The rush defense was #21 at 118 yards per game. The Falcons were #27 in points allowed at 26.1 points per game. Quinn hired co-defensive coordinators Raheem Morris and Richard Smith to overhaul the defense.
Atlanta drafted defensive end/linebacker hybrid Vic Beasley out of Clemson in the first round. He is expected to start right away. Adrian Clayborn signed as a free agent from the Buccaneers and will start at the other end. Quinn also brought over O’Brien Schofield from his old team the Seahawks. The Falcons lost Osi Umenyiora and Jonathan Massaquoi to free agency. Massaquoi signed with the Titans, while Umenyiora has yet to be picked up. Paul Soliai and Ra’shede Hageman will start at the tackles. Grady Jarrett, a teammate of Beasley at Clemson, was a fifth round pick and will also see time at tackle.
The linebackers lost weak side Sean Witherspoon to the Arizona Cardinals. Atlanta sighed Justin Durant from the Cowboys and Brooks Reed from the Texans. Both should start at the outside positions. Paul Worrilow returns in the middle. He led the team in tackles at 143 last year.
Cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford each had 3 interceptions last year. The Falcons also drafted Jalen Collins in the second round out of LSU. William Moore and Dezmen Southward will start at the safeties.
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Kicker Matt Bryant made 29 of 32 field goals last year. Punter Matt Bosher averaged 41.7 net yards per punt last year. Devin Hester will once again return both kicks and punts. He had over 1,1oo kick return yards last year because the Falcons received a lot of kicks with the defense being so awful. He averaged 13 yards per punt return with a touchdown. Special teams were a bright spot during a dismal season.
The Falcons open the season at home against the Eagles in the first Monday night game, followed by road games at the Giants and Cowboys. October brings home games against the Texans and Redskins, followed by road games against the Saints on a Thursday night and Titans. In November, Atlanta hosts Tampa Bay before traveling to San Francisco. The Falcons have their bye in week ten, before closing out November with home games against the Colts and Vikings. December brings a three game road trip to Tampa Bay, Carolina, and Jacksonville, before two home games to close out the season against the Panthers and Saints. The last seven games of the season are all with-in 500 miles of Atlanta, for what it’s worth.
The defense was absolutely terrible last year. Quinn, Smith, and Morris look to get the defense at least competitive. Beasley should help immediately with the almost non-existent pass rush. The offense should still be explosive but the line needs to protect Ryan. The NFC South is basically a toss-up, but all three favorites have glaring weaknesses. I think Atlanta wins 7 or 8 games this season.
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