Welcome to “This Is Totally Your Year,” our overly optimistic preview of the 2014-15 NFL season for all 32 teams. We’ve broken down why every team — yes, even your team (and yes, even your team, Rams fans) — will win it all this year. We’ll also give some reasons for pessimism and even estimate an actual season prediction. Next up: The Atlanta Falcons.
This is totally your year, Atlanta Falcons.
Perhaps the only thing the 2013 Falcons had over the 2012 incarnation was consistency. Last year the Birds sucked all season and were eliminated in Week 12, keeping expectation slow (although they were a consistent preseason Super Bowl pick). In 2012, however, it was a great season right up until it abruptly ended (c’mon, up 24-14 at the half against the Niners and you couldn’t score a FG or two? Okay, so I might still be a little bitter).
To be fair, last season’s campaign was wrecked by a revolving door of injuries (Thanks, Obamacare!). Roddy White, Julio Jones, Steven Jackson, Sam Baker… take your pick. I’m sure at a Hooters somewhere last year Steve Bartkowski inexplicably fell to the ground. The offense couldn’t score, the defense was porous, and Tony Gonzalez realized he had made a horrible mistake coming back for one last season.
That’s now all in the past. Why are the Falcons going to win it all this year? Three reasons, my friend: parity, parity, parity. The NFL is set up to punish the successful and help the failures so no one team dominates (isn’t that right, Seattle?). Sure, it’s not 100% successful, but it will help the 2014 Falcons. So with the NFL’s help, here’s why the Birds will have more than a dead cat bounce this year and win it all:
They have an easier schedule. Coming off of a four-win season, they get to play the other sucky teams. But a-hah, the Falcons were only faux sucky, and being a good team this year they will go through their schedule like a hot knife through melted butter. In their non-division games, the Falcons only face two teams with better than eight wins last year, and one of those is the Cardinals (does that game even count?). After their opener with the Saints, the Falcons also face four teams (Bengals, Bucs, Vikes and Giants) going through either coordinator or coaching changes. The Birds have a chance to catch them off guard (see what I did there?). Going 4-1 out of the gate would be so much better than starting 1-4 like last year.
The offense is at full strength(ish). Sure, Jones remains an injury risk, but until he does get hurt, being on the end of Matt Ryan passes along with White will create all sorts of problems for opposing D’s. And for fantasy purposes, both of those guys should go off without Gonzalez at TE any more. There is some question in the backfield as Jackson has now hurt his other hammy (Dude, you’re running out of legs) and Jacquizz Rodgers has played like, well, Jacquizz. But Florida State draftee Devonta Freeman could easily walk/run into a starting role in a high-powered offense, and he too should be on your fantasy team.
The offensive line is less offensive. In a rare moment of clarity the Falcons front office realized that seeing Ryan lying on the turf is bad for their team’s chances. Also, to be fair to Rodgers, he had a similar problem, seeing more defenders than blockers in the backfield when he was handed the ball. So with their sixth overall pick the Falcons took Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews. Hey, if he can protect Johnny Football, he should be able to do the same for Ryan, right? With Matthews on the right and a healthy Baker on the left, the team will have Justin Blalock, Joe Hawley and former Chiefs guard Jon Asamoah in between. But most importantly, the team hired Mike Tice to coach the O-Line. So expect Ryan to have more time and the RBs to get past the line of scrimmage. But football is a violent game, and behind this new O-Line is the same terrible one from last year. Key O-Line injuries could bring a return of the 2013 Falcons.
And as for the defense, did I mention that PK Matt Bryant had three FGs from 50+ yards last year? Okay, with the Falcons you know what you have. This team has an offense that scores more than Charlie Sheen on payday, coupled with a defense that is more observer than obstruction. The defensive line is bad against the run and the pass, but besides that… On the bright side, the secondary is young and improving, but this team will have to some 38-35 games, but they can do it.
So write it down, the Falcons will win half of their division games, seven of their non-division games, and sail into the playoffs at 10-6. Then they’ll roll over the other NFC playoff teams, setting records for most points scored in a playoff game (and likely the most points given up as well), and then meet the, oh let’s say Patriots, in the Super Bowl, winning 63-62.
A Reason for Pessimism: It’s easier to go from 13-3 to 4-12 than the other way. This team is one-dimensional, and that dimension could easily end up on the IR list. Julio Jones is the Josh Hamilton of football: gallons of talent held in a glass container. And once he goes, so goes the passing attack. And even if no one gets hurt, the Texans Jadeveon Clowney illustrated the other night that until this team proves it can run, the defense can concentrate on the pass and reintroduce Matt Ryan to the turf.
An Actual Season Prediction: This is definitely a bounce back year, and a playoff spot isn’t out of the question. But this team is thin where it is strong and still needs a defense, so the most likely scenario is a middle of the pack 8-8 campaign, with fantasy fans winning their leagues with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, but reality fans hoping this season is one to grow on for the future.
Photos via Getty
David Young has been a columnist for ESPN and Sports Illustrated, and is now one for SportsGrid.com. Follow him on Twitter @turkeysflying.