Over the course of 32 days (or so) I will be previewing all 32 NFL teams, followed by an overall season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2014 season. This post is previewing the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons had a disappointing 4-12 record in 2013 after three consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins. The offense and defense both took a drop last year compared to recent years — finishing 20th and 27th in the league, respectively — but injuries to key players played a large part in the team’s offensive struggles.
One of the league’s top receivers, WR Julio Jones, missed 11 games due to a foot injury and WR Roddy White was hobbled by ankle and hamstring injuries that not only caused him to miss some time but also limited his production when he did play; he had just 711 receiving yards and three touchdowns — his worst output since becoming a full-time starter in 2007. RB Steven Jackson also missed several games due to injury, and in the 12 games he played he had the fewest rushing yards (543) since joining the league in 2004 and just six touchdowns on the ground. Despite his teammates’ injuries and poor performances, QB Matt Ryan threw for the second-most yards in his career — 4515 — and 26 touchdowns. If his top two receivers were healthy all season, how much better could his numbers have been?
Jones, White and Jackson are all expected to be healthy entering the season, but the retirement of TE Tony Gonzalez takes away a valuable target for Ryan to throw to. The signing of WR Devin Hester, a prolific special-teams player as well, could help make up for some of the missing production of Gonzalez. All told, you should expect an improved record for the Falcons, but in a division with the Saints and the expected-to-improve Buccaneers, it’ll be hard for the Falcons to win the division. A 10-win season isn’t out of the question, but eight or nine wins looks more likely, with some tough road games against the Bengals, Ravens and Packers on the schedule, along with home games against the Bears and Steelers.
Source: http://www.atlantafalcons.com, http:/www.pro-football-reference.com