The Atlanta Falcons hold 28/1 odds to win the NFC Championship in 2019, so they are more of a hit-or-miss bet. Unlike our dark horse candidates like the Detroit Lions, Washington Football Team, New York Giants, and Carolina Panthers, you have to fork up more expendable cash if you want a nice profit on the Falcons if they win their second NFC Championship in five seasons.
Is it possible? More than so. From a team who has a ton of players on both sides of the ball with Super Bowl experience (including coach Dan Quinn) to Matt Ryan’s aerial assault and the arrival of pass rusher Dante Fowler, the Falcons are a good bet.
But watch out, because they may still struggle on defense, and the offensive line looks weak. Here are the issues further explained.
1 – Matty Ice’s Aerial Assault
You gotta love it. Matt Ryan is still one of the best players in the league at age 35, as evidenced with his 4,466 passing yards. He led the offense to a fifth-place ranking in the league in 2019 while the passing offense finished third.
With him comes one of the most dynamic receiving duos in football: Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. They combined for 13 touchdown receptions in 2019 and 162 total receptions. Jones is about as ageless as Ryan, recording 1,394 receiving yards in 2019.
The Atlanta Falcons also own one of the most underrated slot receivers in the game in Russell Gage, who could start for many NFL teams. He’s a quick route runner and an exceptional possession receiver.
He logged 49 receptions in 2019 and look for him to improve again here in 2020 as he gained Ryan’s confidence as the year wore on. You also can’t count out Olamide Zaccheaus, who broke loose for a 93-yard touchdown reception in 2019.
Another addition to the Atlanta passing attack is Hayden Hurst, who never caught on in Baltimore. However, he is a speedy player who fits Atlanta’s passing system. He is a breakout candidate in the offense.
And finally, you have former All-Pro running back Todd Gurley. While Gurley’s left knee may relegate him to a short-yardage, at the sticks and goal line role, he is also a dangerous pass catcher out of the backfield.
2 – Matty Ice’s Shallow Pocket
A downer you must pay attention to is the offensive line, which is a combo of aging, underperforming, and inexperienced.
It doesn’t bode well for the team with the knocked out offseason practices. This line allowed 50 sacks in 2019 and was the reason Matt Ryan missed a game for the first time in 10 seasons.
Opponents sacked Ryan 48 times (the other two times went to backup Matt Schaub). Defenses hit him 135 times. Both were records for his time in Atlanta. Given that Ryan is part of the dying breed of traditional pocket passer, he isn’t mobile enough to escape the relentless pass rush.
It’s not a good sign for a quarterback on the wrong side of 30 whose offensive line comprises an aging center, an underperforming tackle, a second-year tackle who struggled as a rookie, a rookie guard, and a second-year guard who has five games of NFL experience.
Given the fact that the rushing attack may still lack consistency with a biologically aging Todd Gurley (sad to say considering he’s just 26) and the line’s inability to pass block, the Falcons will struggle against the NFL’s best defenses.
Don’t be surprised to see blowouts in 2020. It is one reason to exercise caution before placing a risky bet on the Falcons.
3 – Fowl in the Pass Rush
The Falcons recorded an abysmal 28 sacks in 2019 but they figure to fix this with Dante Fowler Jr. arriving in full force. Fowler replaces Vic Beasley, who moved on to Tennessee to resume his NFL career with the Titans.
Fowler recorded double-digit sacks as a member of the Los Angeles Rams and figures to contribute to a defense who ranked 22nd in pass defense in 2019. He will line up outside Allen Bailey, a 10-year vet who sets the edge well on the other side.
If former first-round pick Takk McKinley can provide a boost as he enters his fourth season, it will hand Fowler yet another player that offenses must pay attention to.
Fowler is the player who can change the way offenses operate. They must account for where he is on the field at all times. He can also help fill gaps in the running game and is the gamebreaker the Falcons need on defense.
4 – December Harbinger
Love what the Falcons did in December? It was a December to remember, and it can set the stage for what may come in 2019. The team finished 4-0 in December and a solid 6-2 over their final eight games in 2019.
Given the fact the offensive skill position players remain intact, look for the Falcons to continue their onslaught in which they averaged 24.5 points scoring and allowed an average of just 18.6 points. Harbinger of things to come?
If, and it’s a big “if,” the offensive line holds and the defense continues to play like it did over the final eight games in 2019.
The 2020 schedule will test the Falcons early as they open up against the Seattle Seahawks. Then, they get to play the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears, and Green Bay Packers as September fades into October.
It’s not the easiest schedule out there. If you are betting on the Falcons, consider their success in December where they split with the Saints and the Buccaneers. They swept the Panthers, and they even defeated the San Francisco 49ers. And the Saints and 49ers continue to be one of the league’s best.
But you must also consider the tough first month for the team. And if the same Falcons team that started the season 1-7 shows up, don’t even expect them to get into the playoffs let alone win another NFC Championship.
5 – The Weakest Link
The state of the defense should scare you. Signing Fowler may change the entire unit. While football is a team game, a dynamic pass rusher will turn a below-average defense into one who will put up decent statistics.
And if they lack that pass rusher, their entire season will sink. Just ask the Cleveland Browns after they lost Myles Garrett for the final six games because of a suspension for one of the most infamous incidents in NFL history.
However, early in the season, the Falcons are playing teams who have quarterbacks elusive enough to escape the rush. Quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott, who can also take advantage of the Falcons weak situation at corner.
At one end, first-round pick A.J. Terrell will start, but he is a rookie whose first taste of the NFL comes in a game that counts against none other than Wilson. And of course, his second game comes against Dak Prescott. Double whammy! Welcome to the NFL, rookie.
Who will line up at the second corner? We will probably find out when the Falcons take the field during Week 1. Isaiah Oliver manned the spot last season, but he has seen more downs than ups over his first two seasons.
Look for guys like Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Kendall Sheffield to provide competition. It doesn’t get any better at safety with Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee lining up. Kazee is a hard hitter and a ballhawk, but he plays out of control at times and is hit or miss as a tackler. Neal is also a thumper, but he is injury-prone.
The worst situation here will involve a steep learning curve for Terrell, another downer from Oliver where none of his backups will take advantage of winning the job while Neil suffers yet another injury.
With that said, if the Falcons plan to return to and win the NFC Championship, they need to generate a pass rush from their front seven. If not, your bet will go to waste fast.
6 – Experience Is a Plus
Around a dozen of the team’s key players have Super Bowl experience. About 10 of them remain from the team’s run in 2016, and there are a few more with experience playing in the Big Game arriving here in 2020.
Also, half the coaching staff, including the incumbent head coach, were all with the team during their Super Bowl run back in 2016.
This is a huge upside for the Falcons, who have been there and done all of that once before. Given the fact that many of the key players like Ryan, Jones, Mack, Mathews, and others are still with the team gives the Falcons a squad that remains at a championship-caliber level.
Though it isn’t flashy, never count out a team’s previous experience winning an NFC Championship and getting to the Super Bowl.
The Falcons have talent at the skill position unit and have one of the best quarterbacks in football in Matt Ryan. Their units are championship-caliber, and the arrival of Dante Fowler may change the fate of the defense.
However, holes exist in the defensive secondary and offensive line. If the line doesn’t improve and Ryan finds himself on his back often, don’t expect the Falcons to sniff the playoffs and expect a repeat of 2019.
The Falcons must also generate a pass rush or at least get better on defense if they hope to make a playoff appearance.
Do you like the Falcons’ chances this season? And do you find them to be a sensible bet at 28/1?
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. …