Atlanta Falcons 2014 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

The Falcons went 13-3 in 2012 and got the NFC’s #1 seed, but they did so in a largely unsustainable way and looked like a prime candidate to regress in 2013 and be that year’s team that went from a first round bye to out of the playoffs (there’s at least one almost every year). The Falcons did that and then some, falling all the way to 4-12. The good news is that a lot of the fluky things that helped them go 13-3 hurt them significantly last season so they are a prime candidate to bounce back. The real talent level of the Falcons is somewhere right in the middle of 4 and 13 wins. Teams that decline by a significant win total usually bounce back by an average of half the number of wins they declined by the following season. That would put the Falcons right in the middle at 8-9 wins (which, ironically, is where the odds makers put their over/under, 8.5 wins).

In 2012, the Falcons dominated close games, going 7-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less and winning 13 games despite a Pythagorean Expectation of 11.2 wins. In 2013, they went 3-7 in such games and won just 4 games despite a Pythagorean Expectation of 5.9 wins. They also faced a much tougher schedule, facing the #27 schedule in terms of opponents’ DVOA in 2012 and #2 in 2013. On top of that, the Falcons had way better luck with turnovers in 2012 as opposed to 2013. In 2012, they had a turnover margin of +13 with a fumble recovery rate of 64.29%, 2nd in the NFL. In 2013, they had a turnover margin of -5 with a fumble recovery rate of 48.57%, 20th in the NFL.

The Falcons were DVOA’s 10th ranked team in 2012, as opposed to 25th ranked in 2013, which shows that the difference between the two teams is not as significant as 9 wins. In terms of rate of moving the chains differential, the Falcons were 20th at -1.56%, which, again, shows they were significantly better than their record. The Falcons also had significantly more injuries in 2013 than 2012, with the 11th fewest adjusted games lost in 2012 and the 6th most in 2013. These weren’t just minor injuries either as top wide receiver Julio Jones went down for the season 5 games in. Highly paid left tackle Sam Baker played just 4 games thanks to injury. Roddy White only missed 3 games, but he was severely limited for most of the season with a variety of leg problems.

In 2013, the Falcons should be a lot healthier. They’ll also have better luck in close games (not at the 2012 level, but enough to help them win a few more games). They won’t as dominant in the turnover margin as they were in 2013, but they should be a little bit better in that aspect. They should also have an easier schedule. The Falcons also had the 6th overall pick as a result of last season’s collapse so they get to add a very talented young player into the mix in the form of Jake Matthews. This team has the important thing figured out (quarterback Matt Ryan) and they aren’t that far away from being a playoff team again.

Speaking of quarterback Matt Ryan, he really carried this team last season. Despite having no running game to help him, a crumbling offensive line, and a depleted receiving corps, he still led this offense to move the chains at a 73.69% rate, 11th in the NFL. He had his worst quarterback rating since 2009, but a quarterback rating of 89.6 is still really solid and most of his statistical decline can be attributed to the decline of his supporting cast. He completed 67.4% of his passes for an average of 6.94 YPA, 26 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked quarterback.

That’s the 2nd worst season of his career in that aspect (3rd in 2008, 20th in 2009, 2nd in 2010, 4th in 2011, 5th in 2012), but he should bounce back and be a top-10 quarterback again this season. For his career, he’s completed 63.7% of his passes for an average of 7.14 YPA, 153 touchdowns, and 77 interceptions. He’s one of the better quarterbacks in the league and with his offensive supporting cast likely to be much better this season, he should once again lead one of the NFL’s more explosive and dangerous offenses.

Grade: B+

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Easily the biggest injury the Falcons suffered last season was Julio Jones. Jones, the 6th overall pick in 2011, showed himself as one of the best young wide receivers in the game in his first 2 seasons in the league. In 2011 and 2012 combined, he caught 133 passes on 218 targets (61.0%) for 2157 yards and 18 touchdowns on 1035 routes run, an average of 2.08 yards per route run. He was Pro Football Focus’ 15th ranked wide receiver in 2012.

He looked on his way to a breakout year in his 3rd year in the league (a common breakout year for wide receivers) in 2013, catching 41 passes on 57 targets (71.9%) for 580 yards and 2 touchdowns on 212 routes run, an average of 2.74 yards per route run, best in the NFL among eligible receivers. However, he broke his foot 5 games into the season and missed the rest of the year, killing his chance at that breakout year. Still, he was Pro Football Focus’ 28th ranked wide receiver on just 298 snaps played, with no one playing fewer snaps than him and grading out higher in pass catching grade.

He has a troubling injury history, particularly with his foot, dating back to his collegiate days. The good news is that reports out of training camp are really promising and he’s only going into his age 25 season. If he can stay healthy, he could absolutely dominate the NFL this season and make life much easier for Matt Ryan. Just for fun, his stats in 2013 extrapolate to 131 catches for 1856 yards and 6 touchdowns over 16 games. He won’t reach that level of production, but I wouldn’t be shocked at all if he led the NFL in receiving if he stays healthy. His injury history is the only thing stopping me from considering him as a receiver on the same level as Calvin Johnson.

Roddy White’s future isn’t as promising as he goes into his age 33 season. White missed 3 games and was severely limited for most of last season with leg problems, catching 20 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown in the first 8 games he played last season. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 101st ranked wide receiver in pass catching grade out of 111 eligible overall, catching 63 passes for 711 yards and 3 touchdowns on 94 targets (67.0%) and 524 routes run, an average of 1.36 yards per route run. Those 3 games were the first games he missed in his career and last season was the first season since the 2nd season of his career in 2006 that he had fewer than 1000 yards. The once reliably solid wide receiver no longer is.

He did finish last season on a tear, catching 43 passes for 502 yards and 2 touchdowns in the final 5 games of the season once he got healthy, which could be promising for 2014. However, his age and the fact that he’s coming off of a serious injury plagued down season are both concerns. Even the average top-20 receiver (in terms of yardage all-time) has his last 1000 yard season at age 34-35, averages 48 catches for 594 yards and 3 touchdowns for 2 more seasons after age 34-35, and is done playing by age 36-37. White isn’t quite there right now, but he’s at the point in his career where is age is becoming a concern. White’s 9,436 career receiving yards are “only” 45th all-time. White will still probably have a better year than last year if I had to put money on it, both in terms of production and efficiency, but his best days are behind him.

Jones and White are likely both going to be better this year, but the Falcons did suffer a big loss this off-season when Tony Gonzalez retired. Dominant to the very end, even amidst a terrible Falcons season, the future Hall-of-Famer graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked tight end in pass catching grade last season. He caught 83 passes for 859 yards and 8 touchdowns on 115 targets (72.2%) and 609 routes run, an average of 1.41 yards per route run. He’ll definitely be missed, even if he was going into his age 38 season.

Part of that is because the Falcons are incredibly thin at the tight end position behind him. No Falcon tight end played more than 198 snaps other than Gonzalez last season, as the Falcons rarely ran two-tight end sets, and for good reason. They didn’t do anything to upgrade the position this off-season, except add blocking specialist Bear Pascoe from the Giants. Levine Toilolo, who played those 198 snaps, is currently penciled in as a starter. The 2013 4th round pick is completely unproven and a total wild card as a starter.

The Falcons will once again use a bunch of three-wide receiver sets this season. They’ll do a better job of that this year because White and Jones are healthier, allowing Harry Douglas to move back to his natural role on the slot as the Falcons’ 3rd receiver. Douglas caught 85 passes for 1067 yards and 2 touchdowns last season, but he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 91st ranked wide receiver out of 111 eligible, showing himself to be overstretched as a number #1 receiver. His production was largely a result of volume and having Matt Ryan under center, as he averaged 1.66 yards per route run, dropped 9 passes, and had 7 interceptions on passes thrown to him. He’s a much better fit as the 3rd receiver though. It’s an improved receiving corps compared to last season.

Grade: B+

Offensive Line

The offensive line will also be improved over last season. Sam Baker played just 4 games and 190 snaps last season and sucked when he was on the field, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th worst ranked offensive tackle despite such limited playing time. No one even came close to playing as few snaps as he did and grading out worse. In his absence, Lamar Holmes was the starter and he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst offensive tackle overall, meaning Ryan saw really poor blindside protection all season.

Holmes’ season was so bad that he isn’t starting at either tackle position this season. The Falcons used the 6th overall pick on Jake Matthews and, even as a rookie, he should be a solid starter from the word go. If Baker goes down with an injury again, Matthews will move to the blindside and Holmes will slot in at right tackle. The Falcons are obviously hoping that won’t happen again, considering they gave Baker a 6-year, 41.1 million dollar deal before last season, but it very well could happen.

Baker has played all 16 games just twice in his 6 season career, since going in the first round in 2008. In the other 4 seasons, he’s missed a combined 29 games, playing 10+ games just three times in six seasons. He’s also graded out below average in 5 of 6 seasons in the league, including obviously last season, a 2010 season in which he graded out 72nd out of 78 eligible, and a 2011 season in which he graded out 59th out of 76th eligible on just 428 snaps at the position, getting benched early in the season and eventually moved to right guard for a start. He was 29th among offensive tackles in 2012 back at left tackle and played all 16 games, which is how he got that extension, but the Falcons overpaid for a one-year wonder. He’s unlikely to be worth his deal this season, though the Falcons will overall obviously have better tackle play this season than last, particularly on the blindside.

Matthews wasn’t the only addition on the right side, as the Falcons signed ex-Chief Jon Asamoah to a 5-year 22.5 million dollar deal to play right guard. It was a very good move at a position of need. Asamoah, a 2010 3rd round pick, made 41 starts over the past 3 seasons combined at right guard in Kansas City and graded out 16th, 10th, and 21st in 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively. Prior to signing him, the Falcons would have had to start Peter Konz at either right guard or center, but now they don’t have to, which is good news considering Konz was horrible last season, splitting time at right guard and center. He was Pro Football Focus’ composite worst ranked center and 5th worst ranked guard last season.

Asamoah will complement left guard Justin Blalock very well. Blalock was the only Falcons’ offensive lineman last season to make more than 10 starts and grade out above average, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 23rd ranked guard. This is nothing new for him as he’s made every start but 2 since his rookie year in 2007, including 100 straight dating back to 2007, and he’s graded out above average in each of his last 4 seasons, maxing out at 12th among guards in 2010. The Falcons have a pair of solid guards.

At center, the Falcons re-signed Joe Hawley to a 2-year, 6 million dollar deal and he’s expected to be the starting center ahead of Konz. Hawley, 2010 4th round pick, played 40 snaps in 2010 and 2012 combined, but he played 876 snaps in 2011 and 553 snaps last season, splitting time at right guard and center in both seasons. In 2011, he struggled mightily at center, grading out as Pro Football Focus 6th worst center despite playing just 230 snaps there, with no one playing fewer snaps and grading out worse. He then moved to right guard, where he graded out slightly above average. In 2013, he also graded out below average at center and among above at right guard, which is mildly concerning as he’s now a full-time center. It’s an overall improved offensive line though.

Grade: B

Running Backs

The Falcons also had an injury to a starter to running back, but they probably won’t be much better at this position next season. Steven Jackson was limited to 157 carries in 12 games and rushed for just 543 yards and 6 touchdowns, a pathetic average of 3.46 yards per carry. In his absence, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling really struggled. They combined to rush for 496 yards and 3 touchdowns on 140 carries, an average of 3.54 yards per carry.

Jackson probably won’t be better or healthier this season. Of the top-25 all-time leading rushers who have played in the last decade, the average one has his last 1000 yard season in his age 30 season at 2602 carrier carries. And after players have their drop off, they average just 169 carries per season at 3.52 yards per carry and just 5 touchdowns, so they’re really a non-factor as a back. Jackson has rushed for 10,678 yards (20th all-time), but Jackson is going into his age 31 season with 2553 career carries, so what happened last season is no surprise and should be seen as the beginning of a very swift end.

The Falcons obviously didn’t see either Snelling or Rodgers as the future at running back so they drafted Devonta Freeman in the 4th round. He has a good chance to open the see as the primary backup to Jackson and have a significant role from the start. And if Jackson continues to struggle or gets hurt, that role will grow. If I had to guess, he’ll lead Falcon running backs in touches this season. That being said, while there are a lot of people who will vouch for Freeman as another running back who will prove to be a steal in the mid rounds, he’s still just a 4th round rookie and could easily struggle this season. There isn’t a ton to get excited about at the position.

Grade: C+

Defensive Line

Along with adding to the offensive line, the Falcons clearly put a lot of emphasis on adding to the defensive line this off-season. The Falcons offense was going to get better with better health this season regardless, but the Falcons’ defense was terrible last season (27th, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 75.25% rate) and needed an infusion of talent. They signed Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson as free agents to 5-year deals, worth 33 million (14 million guaranteed) and 25 million (11 million guaranteed) respectively. These moves signal that the Falcons and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan are going to run a lot more 3-4 base sets this season as Soliai and Jackson both fit in best as base players in a 3-4.

The issue is that both are pretty much solely base players, as neither offers anything as a pass rusher. They played a combined 493 pass snaps last season and for good reason. Given that, the Falcons overpaid for both. Soliai had a solid season in 2013, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 20th ranked defensive tackle, including 18th in run grade, as a part-time player on 526 snaps. However, he graded out as roughly a league average player in a part-time role in both 2011 and 2012 and, even in 2010, when he had another solid year, it was as a part-time player on 554 snaps, grading out as ProFootballFocus’ 13th ranked defensive tackle, including their 9th ranked in run grade. The 6-4 344 pounder is only a base package run stopper. He’s maxed out at 627 snaps in his career (2012, when he graded out below average) and he’s not going to get any better going forward, already going into his age 31 season.

Jackson is also coming off of a solid season, grading out 14th among 3-4 defensive ends, including 8th as a run stopper. However, he did so on just 509 snaps as the 6-4 296 pounder is just a pure base package run stopper. He’s younger than Soliai, but he doesn’t have nearly the proven track record that Soliai has. He was the 3rd overall pick in 2009, but he was a huge bust as last season was the first season he graded out above average overall and he’s never graded out above average as a pass rusher. The Chiefs seemed to wake Jackson up by slashing his salary for the 2013 season, his contract year, but who is to say he doesn’t coast now that he has all this guaranteed money in his pocket and revert to the bust of a former 3rd overall pick he was from 2009-2012? Even if he doesn’t, he’s still just a part-time player.

The Falcons also gave a multi-year contract to defensive lineman Jonathan Babineaux, re-signing the veteran to a 3-year, 9 million dollar deal and ensuring that the career Falcon would stay in Atlanta for his 10th season in 2014. He’s going into his age 33 season, but this deal was still a better value than the deals that brought Jackson and Soliai to town. He’s not the run stopper either of the other two are, but he’s much more well-rounded and will be able to play in both base and sub packages. He could lead this defensive line in snaps played for the 3rd straight season (he played 924 snaps last season).

Babineaux is definitely on the decline though, grading out above average in every season from 2008-2011, but grading out slightly below average in each of the last 2 seasons. Last season, he was Pro Football Focus’ 39th ranked defensive tackle out of 69 eligible. Now moving to more 3-4 defensive end, I don’t expect him to be much better than that. He’s not terrible though. The Falcons also drafted Ra’Shede Hageman in the 2nd round and will use him in a rotational role as a rookie, before giving him a bigger role in 2015 and beyond. Corey Peters could also be in the mix for snaps, after playing 667 snaps last season, but he tore his Achilles in week 16 last season and could miss the first 6 games of this season on the PUP and be limted upon his return. He’s also graded out below average in each of his first 4 seasons in the league. The Falcons have better options so he’s highly unlikely to see as many snaps as he saw last season.

Grade: B-

Linebackers

The Falcons beefed up their new 3-man defensive line this off-season and improved their run defense, but they didn’t do anything to fix their miserable pass rush, which ranked as Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked pass rush last season in terms of team grade. Neither of their off-season additions, Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson, can do anything on passing downs and they didn’t add anyone at the edge rusher spot. The only “addition” the Falcons have at edge rusher is they will be getting Kroy Biermann back from injury, but that won’t really help them.

Biermann was limited to 99 snaps in 2 games last season before going down with a torn Achilles, which will be a tough injury to return from for a player who wasn’t great to begin with. Biermann has graded out below average on Pro Football Focus in each of the last 3 seasons, with his worst season coming in 2011, when he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 57th ranked 4-3 defensive end out of 67 eligible, after looking like a promising future starter to begin his career as a reserve in 2008-2010. The 6-3 242 pounder is a better fit now as a full-time outside linebacker in a scheme that will use more 3-4 bases, but don’t expect a ton from him.

The Falcons best pass rusher last season in terms of sacks was Osi Umenyiora, who had 7 sacks. However, even he graded out below average, both as a pass rusher and overall, as the once dominant veteran proved to be a shadow of his former self. He also graded out below average in 2012 in his final year with the Giants. The Falcons kept him on for this season, even at a 3 million dollar salary, but that was largely out of necessity as he’s sadly their best pass rusher.

He’s going into his age 33 season and he’s not a natural fit for a 3-4, after playing his whole career in a 4-3. He’s lost a significant amount of weight, down to 250, in preparation of the position switch, but he’s completely unproven at that position and that weight, after he played in the 265-280 range for most of his career. He’s expected to only be a situational pass rusher and only play in sub packages for that reason, which is also what he did down the stretch last season, as the Falcons benched him in favor of younger options.

None of those younger options showed much of anything though and things are pretty up for grabs at the other starting 3-4 outside linebacker position. Jonathan Massaquoi played the most snaps of any edge rusher other than Umenyiora last season, playing 540 snaps, but he struggled mightily, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 38th ranked 4-3 defensive end out of 52 eligible. That’s to be expected as the 2012 5th round pick was completely unproven coming into the season, playing just 27 snaps as a rookie.

Malliciah Goodman is an option, but the 2013 4th round pick struggled on 305 snaps as a rookie and isn’t an ideal fit for a 3-4 at 6-4 274. Stansly Maponga also struggled as a rookie as the 2013 5th rounder graded out well below average on just 131 snaps as a rookie. Cliff Matthews was a 7th round pick in 2011 and he too struggled mightily last season, doing so on 172 snaps. He’s only played 253 snaps in 3 seasons anyway. The Falcons have spent a lot of mid-to-late round picks on edge rushers over the past few drafts, but none of those fliers have panned out into anything remotely resembling a starter. The Falcons are obviously hoping that one of them can break out this season, but it’s doubtful. Sadly, Biermann (a 2008 4th round pick) is the best mid-to-late round edge rusher they’ve drafted recently. There’s not much to be happy about in terms of pass rush for the Falcons.

At middle linebacker, the Falcons were hoping to get Sean Weatherspoon back from injury, after he was limited to 7 games and 399 snaps by injuries in 2013, but he tore his Achilles this off-season and will miss the entire year. As a result, the Falcons will again turn to a pair of 2013 undrafted free agents in Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow that played significant roles as rookies, 789 and 790 snaps respectively. Bartu was better than Worrilow, grading out 22nd out of 35 eligible 4-3 outside linebacker on Pro Football Focus, while Worrilow ranked 45th out of 55 eligible middle linebackers. However, neither is very good and both are unproven and have yet to prove that the league made a mistake not drafting them last year.

Also, with Bartu, while he was the better of the two last season, he’ll now be playing primarily middle linebacker, which is an unfamiliar position for him, as he played outside last season and both outside linebacker and defensive end in college. He also really struggled in coverage, grading out 3rd worst in that aspect, while grading out 6th best at his position against the run. Coverage is more important for a linebacker. He’d be better off in pure base package work, but the Falcons don’t really have that luxury with Weatherspoon out.

The Falcons’ options at middle linebacker in case either of them struggles and needs to be benched are very limited. Prince Shembo is a mere 4th round rookie and if they have to turn to him for serious snaps as a rookie, it would be pretty bad. Pat Angerer is a free agent acquisition, but he was available into July on a minimum deal because he had microfracture surgery on his knee that ended last season. Angerer has graded out below average in each of the 4 seasons he’s been in the league since being drafted in the 2nd round in 2010 and he’s been limited to 811 snaps in 22 games over the past 2 seasons thanks to injuries. Microfracture surgery is one of the most serious procedures an athlete can receive so they shouldn’t expect much from him. Their linebacking corps is in trouble.

Grade: C

Secondary

One of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season for the Falcons in 2014 was 1st round rookie Desmond Trufant, who started all 16 games at cornerback and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked cornerback, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 53.4% of passes when throwing on him and tying for the league lead with 15 pass deflections. He’s still a one-year wonder technically as he was only a rookie last season, but he’s a phenomenal first round talent only going into his age 23 season.

Rookie cornerbacks tend to struggle in their first year in the league, but Trufant looked like a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate. He could easily be as good or better in his 2nd year in the league in 2014. Even more promising is the fact that he played his best football down the stretch last season, grading out well above average in 4 of his final 6 games after doing so in just 2 of his first 10 games. He allowed 15 completions on 31 attempts in those 6 games and didn’t grade out below average once. He’s on the fast track to becoming one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL if he stays on this trajectory.

The cornerback position after him is pretty shaky though. The Falcons cut Asante Samuel this off-season because he was overpaid and aging (going into his age 33 season). Samuel graded out below average last season, got benched down the stretch, and is still available on the open market for good reason. The Falcons will be counting on Robert Alford and Robert McClain season. Alfred was their 2nd round pick in 2013 and he graded out below average on 585 snaps as a rookie. That’s not a surprise for a rookie cornerback. He could be better in his 2nd year in the league, but there are no guarantees.

Robert McClain was a dominant slot cornerback in 2012, grading out 14th overall on Pro Football Focus among cornerbacks on 613 snaps, including 5th in pure coverage grade, with no one grading out higher in coverage and playing fewer snaps at his position. However, he graded out below average overall last season. He’s still a one year wonder, only grading out above average that one time in 4 seasons in the league since going in the 7th round in 2010. However, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he had a solid season this year and showed some of what he was in 2012 again.

Another bounce back candidate in the secondary is safety William Moore. Moore graded out slightly below average last season, but he graded out above average in both 2011 and 2012, grading out 11th and 15th among safeties on Pro Football Focus in those two seasons respectively. He missed 4 games in each of those 2 seasons and last season was concerning, but I do expect him to have a better season in 2014, even if he does end up missing a couple games with injury again.

The Falcons should get better play at the other safety spot this off-season as well. The Falcons cut Thomas DeCoud this off-season, after he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 82nd ranked safety out of 86 eligible last season. Whoever they have at the position this season should be an upgrade. Veteran Dwight Lowery is the favorite to start right now, but he’s a serious injury risk. He hasn’t played all 16 games since his rookie year in 2008, missing 28 games over the past 5 seasons, including 20 games over the past 2 seasons. He played just 129 snaps in 3 games last season thanks to concussions.

However, he’s an underrated player when healthy, grading out above average in every season from 2008-2012, both as a safety and a slot cornerback. He was never dominant, but he’s always been solid, maxing out as Pro Football Focus’ 18th ranked safety in 2012 on just 557 snaps. There’s a reason he was available for the veteran’s minimum into April, but he could also be one of the real steals of the off-season. Assuming he’s healthy, he should be a solid starter again, but that’s a big assumption. If he gets hurt or isn’t as good as he usually is, the Falcons’ other option is 3rd round rookie Dezmen Southward. He’d probably struggle if forced into action. He’s also probably next man up if Moore gets hurt too. The Falcons’ secondary overall is their strongest unit and a strong point on an otherwise weak defense.

Grade: B+

Conclusion

The Falcons aren’t as bad as they looked last season and they aren’t as good as they looked in 2012. They’ll have better luck in close games, with injuries, and with turnovers this season. The offense, which was already above average last season, has a good chance to be even better this season, thanks to the return of guys like Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Sam Baker from injury. They did lose Tony Gonzalez and neither Baker or White is a lock to return to 2012 form and they still have issues on the offensive line and in the running game, but they have a good chance to be a top-10 offense, primarily on the strength of Matt Ryan to Julio Jones.

Defensively, they’re still a mess though. Their secondary is solid, but their front 7 is one of the worst in the NFL. They should continue being one of the worst defenses in the league overall next season. They’re going to win a lot of shoot-outs this season, but they’re also going to lose a lot of shoot-outs and I think overall they average out to be an average football team at around 8 or 9 wins. That’s right at their over/under (8.5 wins) and right halfway between the 13 wins they had in 2012 and the 4 wins they had in 2012. I’ll have an official win total for them after I finish every team’s preview.

Prediction: 9-7 2nd in NFC South

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