Just three short seasons ago, the Atlanta Falcons won 13 games and were headed to a Super Bowl before blowing a 17-point lead in the 2012 NFC Championship Game. Atlanta followed in 2013 with a rash of injuries to an offensive line and WR Julio Jones that left the team struggling to finish 4-12. The Falcons improved to a 6-10 a year ago, but it just wasn’t enough and head coach Mike Smith was sent packing. The Dan Quinn era begins in 2015 and the first order of business is fixing a defense that was dead last in the NFL last season. No team gave up more yards per game (398.2) than the Atlanta Falcons. The good thing is that Quinn was the architect of the Seattle defense that helped the Seahawks reach consecutive Super Bowls.
Although Quinn might have the resume, Super Bowl predictions for 2015 are not expecting him to help the Falcons reach the championship this year. NFL odds have listed Atlanta as +4000 longshots to lift the Lombardi trophy next February and +2200 to win the NFC Conference. That being said, the Falcons are favored to win the NFC South division (+200) over the Panthers, Saints and Buccaneers. Quinn and his new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris went out in the free agent market and picked up a few Seahawks cast offs. Cornerback Philip Adams and defensive end O’Brien Schofield were signed along with names such of LB Justin Durant of Dallas and LB Brooks Reed of Houston. Quinn went out and got the edge rusher he was looking for in the first round of this year’s draft when he selected Clemson’s Vic Beasley.
On offense, Atlanta has one of the best group of skill players around. Quarterback Matt Ryan is a franchise player and when healthy, Julio Jones (104 receptions, 1,593 yards) is one of the league’s best receivers. Add in WR Roddy White and even Devin Hester and the Falcons have some weapons. The problem on offense is the running game. The Falcons averaged just 93.6 yards per game in 2014, 24th in the NFL. Steven Jackson was the team’s leading rusher with 707 yards, averaging just 3.7 yards a carry. He is gone and second-year pro Devonta Freeman or rookie Tevin Coleman will be the starter. Coleman rushed for over 2,000 yards last year at Indiana and whether its him or Freeman, they will run behind a line that will shift to a zone blocking scheme to take advantage of the team’s smaller faster offensive linemen.
Atlanta should have no problem winning the 2015 NFC South but Quinn and the Falcons will find out how far they must go to defy Super Bowl predictions and get back into the playoff picture when their season starts with three straight games against teams from the NFC East. After taking on Chip Kelly’s Eagles at home on the season opening Monday night, Atlanta travels to the New York Giants and Dallas in weeks two and three. After that stretch, though, the Falcons play just two more games against teams that had winning records in 2014 – Houston (9-7) in week four and Indianapolis (11-5) in week eleven.
Falcons Update (9/12/15): Atlanta are now +4000 favorites in Super Bowl predictions, +2200 to win the NFC Conference and +200 to win the NFC South.