Hastily Written NFL Previews: Atlanta Falcons (2018)

Potential is a dangerous word.

Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and quarterback Matt Ryan look to build off their uneven 2017 campaign. (PHOTO CREDIT: Atlanta-Journal Constitution)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: My name is Nicholas Sheldon. I work in television as a freelance producer/editor, formerly with the NFL Network and Tennis Channel. If you’re at all curious, you can view some of my TV work at nsedit.com

I am currently producing a documentary podcast about the recent history of the San Francisco 49ers called Document 49, exploring the rise, fall, and rebirth of the franchise from 2004 to the present day (please listen and subscribe!). I also write about gambling on the NFL during the season and do my best to pick winners against the spread each week. That effort should continue in 2018, time permitting.

With the 2018 season rapidly approaching, I’ve decided to write short previews for each of the 32 NFL teams prior to kickoff on September 6. I currently do not have a great deal of time to dive deeply into these articles, so take it for what you will. Thanks and enjoy!

The Atlanta Falcons: 10–6 in 2017, 3rd place in the NFC South.

Can they win the Super Bowl? It’s possible.

What’s stopping them: Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who was handed the unenviable task of replacing Kyle Shanahan after the Falcons offense smashed every statistical record to pieces in 2016 and nearly won Super Bowl LI. To be fair, Sark was not nearly as bad last season as the media often made him out to be; Atlanta managed to win ten games in 2017 and also finished 8th in total offense.

WR Taylor Gabriel fails to convert on 4th and Goal against the New England Patriots in a Week 7 loss.

On the other hand, the Falcons also finished 15th in points per game and were absolutely dreadful in the red zone all year, making Sark the de facto scapegoat for fans of the dirty birds.

All Eyes On: Sarkisian and quarterback Matt Ryan, who both need to show they can #RiseUp to the occasion. Did you know Ryan is currently the highest paid player in NFL history? Granted, he’s making a market value salary for an “elite” NFL quarterback, but Matty Ice will need to play more like Drew Brees and less like Andy Dalton this season in order to quiet his critics. And because Ryan was the NFL’s most valuable player in 2016, thanks in large part to the play calling brilliance of Kyle Shanahan, the spotlight of skepticism will regularly pivot between Ryan and Sarkisian if the offense struggles in 2018. I’m sure the local media can’t wait!

Intrigue Rating: 3 out of 10. This is a personal thing for me. I find the Atlanta Falcons to be one of the most boring teams in the NFL, even when they’re playing well. Other writers in the past have compared the Falcons to vanilla ice cream or a loaf of white bread… that seems about right. I suppose it’s the lack of strong personalities on the roster (can you name one player on their defense without a web search?) or their consistent inability to #RiseUp in the playoffs. Either way, I haven’t been excited about watching this team since probably 2008, with 2016 being the lone exception. Michael Turner, where art thou?

Fantasy Player Worth The Price: Running back Devonta Freeman. I’m not crazy about Freeman this season, but his current ADP indicates that the value is right, so at least you won’t be overpaying. Meanwhile, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu will likely go undrafted this year but is a nice waiver wire target in PPR leagues if you need a guy to fill in due to injury or during bye weeks.

Over/Under Wins Prediction: Under 9, but it’s close. Looking at the schedule, nine wins seems about right, so I can’t spend my money praying for that elusive tenth win, especially if Julio Jones ends up on the trainer’s table at some point in 2018.

Currently Overrated or Underrated by Vegas: Even for now. The Falcons are not a public team, but it’s no secret that Atlanta currently has a lot of talent on the roster. If Sark and Ryan struggle early and the losses start stacking up, there will be value to be had on Atlanta later in the season. But at the moment, don’t expect many surprises when taking the Falcons against the spread.

Week One Pick (subject to change): Eagles (-4) over Falcons. Since Doug Peterson took over as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2016, he’s had the Falcons’ number, even when Kyle Shanahan was in command of Atlanta’s record-setting offense in 2016. Thus far, Philly has prevailed over Atlanta twice during the Peterson-era, with both of those wins coming at home at Lincoln Financial Field. I like the Eagles defense to continue that streak in the season opener against the Falcons, even if Nick Foles starts at quarterback for Philadelphia. The Eagles are arguably the better team on both sides of the ball, especially on defense.