The Atlanta Falcons finished the 2018 season with a 7-9 record and missed the playoffs. In 2019, the team is hoping to regain the playoff form they found in 2016 and 2017. While they did not make any significant changes to the roster, they did regain the services of Deion Jones and Keanu Neal; both players were injured early last season.
Coming into the 2019 season, the Falcons have been subjected to a fair bit of criticism. Here is a look at whether or not that criticism is valid.
#1: Julio Jones is overrated because he doesn’t score touchdowns.
As a whole, touchdowns are a poor way of comparing player to player. Touchdowns are very much a product of game context and situation. If a team is in the red zone more often than another team they will tend to score more touchdowns. Similarly, players who have high goal-line usage will score more touchdowns than those two do not have high goal-line usage.
In terms of Julio Jones, the man is an exceptional wide receiver between the 20-yard lines. However, when he gets into the red zone, teams will generally send a double and/or triple-team to cover the Alabama product. According to RotoWire’s 2018 NFL Red Zone Stats, Matt Ryan targets Jones in the red zone less than most other quarterbacks look for their number one receiver in that area. Because of this, Jones cannot be blamed for his lack of production in the end zone. Defenses make Ryan force the ball to Calvin Ridley or Mohamed Sanu, and Julio soaks up the extra coverage to give his teammates more space and success.
#2: Matt Ryan is overrated.
Despite his lack of playoff success, Matt Ryan has been generally considered as one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. He has been consistently putting up high levels of stats since he joined the NFL in 2008. According to Pro Football Reference, he has the seventh-highest passer rating among active quarterbacks. Last season, Matt Ryan had his second-best season, just falling short of his MVP campaign in 2016. Ryan is not overrated; he did win MVP once, to begin with. If anything, he is underrated– he is one of the most consistent and reliable quarterbacks in the league.
#3: The Falcons will be better in 2019.
While this is not necessarily a criticism of the Falcons, it is a viewpoint which is shared by a significant portion of Falcons fans as well as a decent portion of the other 31 fanbases. The Falcons have all the tools to return to the playoffs, and, barring injury, this unit should be a 10-win caliber team. The Falcons should contend for the division crown.
In 2019, the Falcons should be healthier than they were in 2018. By getting the likes of Deion Jones and Keanu Neal back, the defense should be better and less like a sieve. Moving forward, the Falcons could win 10 or 11 games and potentially win the NFC South crown, but they will need another solid year from Matt Ryan as well as another true superstar season from Julio Jones. If their defense can stay healthy, that would certainly not hurt them. While strong performances in the run game will help, the passing game will be what makes or breaks the season.
Verdict: 11 wins and a division title