The Super Bowl is headed to Atlanta, but the hometown team may just fall short.
Atlanta’s Losses and Celebrations
Atlanta ended 2016 losing to the Super Bowl Champions. The Falcons ended 2017 the same way. The difference? Well, 2016 was in the Super Bowl and 2017 was in a divisional playoff game.
Regardless, the Falcons biggest loss last season was probably losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to the San Francisco 49ers. They replaced Shanahan with former USC coach Steve Sarkisian. (More on that to come.)
Despite that, the Falcons still posted a 10-win season and a spot in the playoff race. Although they didn’t defend their NFC South title—they finished third—the Falcons were able to celebrate their first consecutive winning seasons and consecutive playoff berths since 2012.
That’s a pretty big deal for it being coach Dan Quinn’s third year.
Offense, Offense, Offense
Steve Sarkisian seems happy in Atlanta. But the former USC coach, who was abruptly fired in 2015, just lost $30 million after an arbitrator ruled in the university’s favor in his wrongful termination suit.
On the field, the Falcon’s offense dropped in scoring, from 33.8 points per game (which led the NFL in 2016) to 22.1 points per game last season (15th in the league.) The team did finish eighth overall in total offense (364.8 yard per game), but yardage doesn’t win games.
The Falcons still posted a 10-win season and a spot in the playoff race. Although they didn’t defend their NFC South title, the Falcons were able to celebrate their first consecutive winning seasons and consecutive playoff berths since 2012.
The offensive output can’t just be blamed on Sarkisian. Matt Ryan’s QB numbers took a dip and Devonta Freeman’s went from 73 receptions to just 36 last year.
All-Pro Julio Jones is still one of the best wide receivers in the league and will likely be used a lot to convert those yards to points in 2018.
You Already Know the Offense, so Learn Atlanta’s Defense
Tevin Coleman is someone to keep an eye on. In a two-back stable, Coleman may be the more talented. He’s entering the final year of his rookie contract, so it’s time to put up more so he can ask for more from the highest bidder come the end of the season.
Coleman amassed a career-high 156 carries for 628 yards, but it came in a year when Freeman was hurt. During the time Freeman was healthy, Coleman averaged around 10 touches a game. With Freeman gone? Coleman hit a high of 21 touches. But Freeman is back and Sarkisian will likely keep the 1-2 punch.
Some of Atlanta’s most impactful players on defense are not household names. Vic Beasley led the NFL in sacks in 2016. Last season, he moved to linebacker but will be back on the defensive line full time in 2018. Deion Jones will still be slotted at middle linebacker, especially after leading the team in tackles last season.
But the one on defense you want to keep an eye on is Takkarist McKinley. In 2017, the No. 1 overall selection Myles Garrett compiled seven sacks. He took 500 snaps as a starter. McKinley played pack-up and took 381 snaps and took down the quarterback six times.
Super Bowl 53 is in Atlanta, but the Falcons Won’t Be There to Celebrate
Atlanta is hoping to notch its third consecutive 10-win season. They have a shot at doing so and making it back to the playoffs, but there are too many questions on special teams for us to say they’ll be in the Super Bowl in their home city.
Week 1: Sept. 6 at Philadelphia Eagles
Atlanta’s return to the title game ended last year in the divisional round with a loss to eventual Super Bowl champs Philadelphia. No time like the present to face your last season foe.
Week 2: Sept. 16 vs. Carolina Panthers
Atlanta took the W in the last four against Carolina at home. It’s a good week to recover from that season-opening defeat.
Week 3: Sept. 23 vs. New Orleans Saints
Remember last season when NOLA native Deion Jones intercepted Drew Brees late in the fourth to help secure a Falcons victory. The Saints may be looking for revenge, but ultimately this one always comes down to Matt Ryan and Drew Brees.
Week 4: Sept. 30 vs. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals and Falcons haven’t met since 2014. Ever since they’ve been on different trajectories. The Bengals missed the playoffs the last two seasons. The Falcons played both Super Bowl champions the last two seasons in the playoffs.
Week 5: Oct. 7 at Pittsburgh Steelers
Matt Ryan and Le’Veon Bell vs. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown? We’re going Steelers at home.
Week 6: Oct. 14 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Falcons have a staple in Matt Ryan. And the Bucs have Jameis Winston, who has as much stability on and off the field as he did in college.
Week 7: Oct. 22 vs. New York Giants
Matt Ryan & Co. is a pretty-much full NFL package. (Though they could use some work on special teams.) New York has Eli and Odell. We’re gonna need more out of the Giants to pick them in this one.
Week 8: Bye Week
Week 9: Nov. 4 vs. Washington Redskins
Alex Smith in D.C. Still not enough for Washington. Need more players at other positions to step up (Hello, offensive line.)
Week 10: Nov. 11 at Cleveland Browns
A team with a Super Bowl appearance two years in the rear-view mirror vs. a team who’s never made a Super Bowl? We would let history decide, but the Browns actually lead the series against the Falcons, 11-3.
Week 11: Nov. 18 vs. Dallas Cowboys
If Ezekiel Elliott stays out of trouble and in the Cowboys lineup, this matchup won’t end with the same result as in 2017.
Week 12: Nov. 22 at New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees is Drew Brees on Thanksgiving in the Superdome.
Week 13: Dec. 2 vs. Baltimore Ravens
This is not your Super Bowl-winning Joe Flacco and squad. And Atlanta’s Steve Sarkisian shows off Atlanta’s offensive talent.
Week 14: Dec. 9 at Green Bay Packers
When Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan are at their best, this is quite the offensive showdown. Atlanta won last year in ATL. We say home field has its advantages.
Week 15: Dec. 16 vs. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals are under new leadership. Give ‘em a year or two to learn the head coaching reigns.
Week 16: Dec. 23 at Carolina Panthers
The Panthers and Falcons split last year. But the bulk of Carolina’s defense returns and it was one of the best in the league last season. At home for Cam Newton & Co., we say keep the split again this year.
Week 17: Dec. 30 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Falcons are hoping for their third straight 10-win season. Make it No. 10 in the final weekend against a divisional foe.
TOTAL predicted wins: 10