The 2018 season was a season to forget for the Falcons. Injuries plagued the defense early in the season. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian couldn’t overcome his play calling issues and was eventually fired at the end of the season. The Falcons finished 7-9 and missed out on the playoffs, and they didn’t help investors either as they were 5-11 ATS. Dan Quinn now enters his 5th season as the head coach, and despite making the playoffs in 2 of his 4 years, he may need to show some dramatic improvements or else he may be looking for a new job. Quinn was hired from Seattle to fix Atlanta’s woeful defense, and since he has taken over, the Falcon’s best finish in defensive efficiency metrics is 22nd in 2017 and 2015 according to Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA).
Dirk Koetter is back in Atlanta for a second stint as the offensive coordinator (2012-2014 OC) after spending the last 4 years in Tampa Bay, 1 year as the OC and last few as the head coach. Koetter should be drooling at the weapons he has to work with and should look to continue the Falcons impressive offensive numbers, finishing top 10 in offensive DVOA for 3 straight seasons. But if the offense had 1 flaw, it was protecting their quarterback Matt Ryan. The Falcons allowed the 20th most sacks last season (42 in total), and that’s why there may be as many as 3 new starters on the offensive line in 2019.
Super Bowl Odds: +2500
Odds to Win the NFC: +1400
Odds to Win the NFC South: +333 (Bookmaker)
Season Win Total: 9.0 (+110 over/ -130 under)
(lines Weeks 2-16 from CG Technology as of May 16, 2019)
|10||@ New Orleans||7||0.25|
|13||New Orleans (TNF)||2.5||0.46|
|15||@ San Francisco||1.5||0.48|
|17||@ Tampa Bay||-3.5||0.64|
Total Expected Wins: 8.14
It was a pretty busy offseason for both sides of the ball in Atlanta. The offense lost running back Tevin Coleman as well as starting offensive linemen Ryan Schraeder, Andy Levitre (sustained injury) and Brandon Fusco (sustained injury). To replace the linemen, they brought in guards James Carpenter and Jamon Brown from the Jets and Giants, respectively, to improve the offensive line. Coleman’s departure could mean a larger workload for Devonata Freeman.
On the defensive side, three cornerbacks left in free agency. Robert Alford went to Arizona, Justin Bethel to the Ravens and Brian Poole to the Jets. The Falcons didn’t sign any replacement corners and depth may be an issue during the season if the injury bug strikes again. Rotational player and defensive end Bruce Irvin went to the Panthers. The Falcons did add depth to the defensive line by adding DE Adrian Clayborn and DT Tyeler Davison, who might get the start alongside Grady Jarrett on the interior.
The Falcons made it clear that want to protect Matt Ryan as they drafted 2 offensive linemen in the first round, including the top (or one of the top) guard, Chris Lindstrom from Boston College. He would help keep Matt Ryan upright and improve the run game that ranked 24th in adjusted line yards.
The Falcons did address their depth issues at cornerback as they picked Kendall Sheffield from Ohio State in the 4th round and Jordan Miller from Washington in the 5th round. They may have found their power running back replacement in the 5th when they took Qadree Ollison from Pittsburgh.
Dirk Koetter did have success with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones during his first stint in Atlanta, getting Jones over the 1,000 twice in three years (easily would have been all 3 if Jones stayed healthy during the 2013 campaign). Now Koetter gets to work with those two again in addition to All-Rookie receiver Calvin Ridley, Mohamed Sanu, 2018 Pro Bowl TE Austin Hooper and Pro Bowl caliber running back Freeman. Sarkisian could always get this team to move the ball, but when it came to red zone play calling, things were questionable at best. Koetter should provide improvement for this team, and that might be a scary sight for opposing defenses and for under bettors.
Despite the difficulties of keeping Matt Ryan on his feet last season, this unit still finished 8th in offensive DVOA, and top 5 in yard per play (6.43 ypp), 3rd down conversion percentage (45%) as well as quarterback rating (108 according to NFL stats). If the offensive line improves as expected, this could easily be a top 5 offense in the league.
By week 4 last season, the Falcons IR list was littered with starters. Both starting safeties (Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal) and linebacker Deion Jones found their way to that list. This “helped” the Falcons finished 2nd to last in overall defensive efficiency according to DVOA (29th against the Pass and 30th against the rush)…only the Bucs were worse last season. Another appalling stat for this defense was that they allowed 26.4 points per game in 2018 compared to 19.7 points per game in 2017…nearly 7 points more per game
Defense is always difficult to predict year to year but when you finish near the bottom in numerous categories (25th in points per game, 25th in yard per play (6.19), 28th in yard per rush (4.89) and 31st in 3rd down conversion allowed (49%)), there may be more problems than just injuries. With some new faces on the defensive line and hopefully a healthier secondary. The Falcons defense will look to improve on what they accomplished in the 2017 season as Dan Quinn tries to replicate the defenses he had in Seattle.
Notes & Nuggets
They get the Eagles at home on Sunday Night Football in week 2, and this will be a huge double revenge game for the Falcons. Last 2 times these teams met, the Falcons were on the goal line with multiple chances to win, and Philly stopped them, so you know Falcons have this game circles, and I would imagine Koetter would have a better result if given the opportunity.
The expected wins comes out to just 8.14 wins, giving some value to the under, but I’m going to go the other way and take the over at plus money. Koetter should fix the red zone issues, especially if the offensive line does a better job. The defense may still have issues, but should be improved from 2018. They are an underdog of less than 3 point on 5 occasions based on look ahead lines and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them steal a game or two.