It was a bitter off-season for the Atlanta Falcons this year with the addition of fourth overall pick Kyle Pitts and subtraction of star receiver Julio Jones. Atlanta was put in a difficult financial situation this offseason to the point where they were not able to sign their newly drafted rookies until they got some big contracts off of the record books. This ultimately led to them sending the wideout to Tennessee in return for 2022 second round and 2023 fourth-round picks. The trade cleared 66 million dollars off of their current payroll going into 2021. I think it is safe to say Julio Jones did not meet up to his usual standards as he only accounted for 771 receiving yards on 51 catches. Jones only played in 11 games as he spent a good portion of the season battling injury. Although Julio was not Julio from previous years, it did not stop Matt Ryan from throwing for 4,581 yards with 26 touchdowns. Ryan's production was among the league's best last year, ranking 4th, but his team sometimes struggled to protect him as he was sacked 41 times. The offensive line was a big area of struggle for the Falcons in both pass protection and their running attack. As a team, they only rushed for 1,519 yards in all 16 games, which was about 95 per game (27th in NFL). Going into the 2021 season, Atlanta will only be bringing back tackle Jake Matthews and right guard Chris Lindstrom from last year's unit. They drafted tackle Jaylen Mayfield from Michigan with their third-round selection. After an 0-5 start and the firing of head coach Dan Quinn, interim coach Raheem Morris led the Falcons to a 4-7 record. After not retaining Morris, Atlanta hired former Tennessee offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. Smith had spent five years in Tennessee, the last two as offensive coordinator. He was responsible for leading the Titans to have the 2nd best offense in the NFL last season.
The Falcons defense gave up on average 25.9 points per game which were very average across the league. Although they didn’t get killed on the scoreboard, they ranked dead last in total passing yards allowing a total of 4,697 on the season. Despite giving up only 104.8 yards per game on the ground, it is hard to consistently win football games, giving up about 294 yards through the air week to week. It is no secret that the Falcons were a poorly coached team last year as they lost 8 games within one possession as a result of things such as blowing leads, not falling on onside kicks, and scoring too soon. There is no surprise why Atlanta ultimately finished with a 4-12 record and last in the NFC South last year. When evaluating this team as a whole, I think that the Falcons are very possibly Matt Ryan and Calvin Ridley away from being in serious contention for next year's first overall pick.
This year the Falcons schedule consists of only 6 games against 2020 playoff opponents, 4 of them being between division rivals Saints and Bucs. Washington and at Buffalo are the other two playoff teams. Their overall strength of schedule is .454, the lowest in their division. Atlanta's bye week comes in week 6, sandwiched between games against the Jets, which will be played In London as part of the NFL International Series on October 10th and at the Dolphins. Although the matchup in London will be played in a neutral site, the Falcons will be represented as the home team. With the addition of the 18th week, this year adds their week 12 matchup at the Jaguars to their schedule. During weeks 2-10, they will spend 6 out their 8 games away from Mercedes Benz Stadium. The Falcons only have one primetime game on their schedule this year, which would be the week 11 game when they host the Patriots.
Matt Ryan keeps putting up Hall of Fame numbers, and the Falcons keep losing games, going 18-30 the last three years. In needing 8 wins to win this bet, it is very hard to see Atlanta doubling their win total from 2020. They have nine returning starters from a defense that ranked 29th in the NFL! They made no significant changes to bolster the defense. Arthur Smith has never been a head coach at any level, and it will be difficult to change the losing culture left by Dan Quinn. Matt Ryan will throw for 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns, and the Falcons will lose 11 or 12 games.
Atlanta Falcons under 7- wins.