In a division containing New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccanneers, the Atlanta Falcons are ignored in the NFC South. They could yet be a surprise contender in 2020.
The Dirty Birds may be a shock name, having mustered two consecutive 7-9 records in recent seasons. While Dan Quinn was fortunate to remain in the job after posting a 1-7 start to 2019.
However, the Falcons rebounded to register a 6-2 record after the bye week, to give the former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator another shot at guiding the Falcons back to the playoffs. Atlanta has already shown signs of significant improvement after free agency and the draft.
Despite having little cap space available, the Falcons made a flurry of moves to rebound, bringing in ex Los Angeles Rams Dante Fowler Jr and Todd Gurley. While Thomas Dimitroff managed to replace Austin Hooper, who departed to join the Browns in free agency, sending a second round pick to Baltimore for tight end Hayden Hurst.
Atlanta continued its impressive offseason in the draft addressing a number of needs, namely selecting cornerback AJ Terrell to replace Desmond Trufant, who was a cap casualty this offseason. In addition, the Falcons added Marlon Davidson, Matt Hennessy, Jaylinn Hawkins, Mykal Walker and Sterling Hofricter. Davidson projects to play a significant role alongside Grady Jarrett on the interior of the Dirty Birds defensive line.
The Atlanta Falcons already have a championship core
The Falcons have been one of the more confusing teams in the NFL lately, due to the calibre of talent on their roster. A roster featuring a number of bonafide stars like Julio Jones, Matt Ryan, Grady Jarrett, Alex Mack, Deion Jones and Jake Matthews shouldn’t be underperforming as it has been.
Adding two impressive stars and a strong draft class to that core places the Falcons in good stead ahead of a do or die campaign for Coach Quinn. However, much of that will rest on fitness and the Falcons ability to keep Ryan upright, something they haven’t done well since 2016.
The offensive line should be significantly improved with Chris Lindstrom fully fit after injuring his foot in week one last season and Kaleb McGary likely to be better after experiencing growing pains in 2019. The line surrendered 48 sacks in the league, which was joint worst in the NFL. Atlanta also need to rectify a pass rush which was one of the league’s worst in 2019, Fowler Jr features to be a big part of that.
Fowler bolsters a pass rush which struggled mightily in 2019, registering under 30 sacks. The ex Ram also projects as an instant upgrade over Vic Beasley, who left to join the Titans in free agency. Adding a player of Fowler Jr’s calibre will be beneficial for someone like Takk McKinley, who has a high pressure rate but has struggled to finish off plays in his first three seasons.
The Falcons must compliment Matt Ryan
Lastly, in order to return to contention Atlanta must return to the style of complimentary football that helped them achieve a Super Bowl berth in 2016. Putting Gurley, a former MVP candidate in the backfield indicates a return to that style of complimentary football.
Ryan threw for the fifth most yards in the league as the Dirty Birds again had the third best passing offense in the NFL. However, the Falcons sorely lacked a running game to compliment Ryan. The Falcons finished 30th in rushing, and its 10 rushing touchdowns were just 24th in the league, Gurley actually outscored the Falcons backs himself with 12.
Interestingly Gurley wasn’t fully fit last season and still outperformed the Falcons backs. If the former Georgia Bulldog can remain healthy the Falcons could see a peak similar to what their running game achieved in 2016.
Lastly, every four years for the Falcons have seemingly moved one step closer to the Super Bowl. In 2008 in Ryan’s rookie year they made the playoffs, in 2012 the Falcons made the NFC Championship game, in 2016 Atlanta made the Super Bowl. Could 2020 be the year where the Falcons break their Super Bowl drought?