As our previews of all 32 NFL teams continue, we turn our attention to the NFC South, beginning the division with the Atlanta Falcons, who finished in second place in the mediocre division last season.
The Falcons finished last season 8-8, an improvement over the prior two years but a disappointing season for a team with a strong QB-WR combo in Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. The team goes into 2016 with largely the same offense as last season, minus veteran WR Roddy White, who was released in the offseason. The team signed WR Mohamed Sanu to slot in opposite Jones in the receiving game.
In 2015, Ryan completed 66% of his passes for 4,591 yards, 21 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Jones had an impressive 136 receptions on 203 targets, for 1,871 yards and 8 touchdowns. In the running game, RB Devonta Freeman had a breakout season — getting a chance because of an early-season injury to RB Tevin Coleman — with 1,056 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns on 265 carries over 15 games, 13 starts. He added 73 receptions — second on the team behind Jones — for 578 yards and 3 receiving touhdowns. Coleman ended the season starting just three games and carrying the ball 87 times for 392 yards and 1 touchdown. The defense was right around the middle of the pack last season.
Coleman could be a key to success this season for the Falcons as the second-year back looks to stay healthy and get in a full season of action. That would take some of the load off of Freeman’s shoulders, allowing him to get by with fewer touches to stay fresh deeper into the season. Sanu replaces White as the starting wide receiver opposite Jones. He’s never had more than 56 receptions in any of his four seasons with the Bengals, but he’s never had a full workload throughout the course of a season like he is expected to have this season. If he can be productive and a strong complement to Jones, that could provide a boost to the offense.
The first difficult stretch of the Falcons’ schedule comes in Weeks 3 through 6, when they host the Panthers, then head west to face the Broncos and Seahawks. Another playoff team is on the docket in Week 8 when the Falcons host the Packers. After a Week 11 bye, the Falcons host the Cardinals and Chiefs in Weeks 12 and 13, respectively. The Falcons visit the Panthers in Week 16, then end the season with a home game against the Saints in Week 17. The Falcons are tied for the toughest schedule in the league this season, based on last year’s records, with six playoff teams on their schedule, including both teams that played in Super Bowl 50. With that schedule, I think the Falcons will take a step back, which is why I’m projecting a six-win season for he team.
Source: http://www.atlantafalcons.com, http:/www.pro-football-reference.com