Fantasy Football

Can The Atlanta Falcons Go From Worst to First?

Bijan Robinson

The race for first in the NFC South is all that matters in 2023. The Atlanta Falcons finished last season 7-10, which was a three-way tie for last in the division, but with everything that’s happened in the offseason, could the Falcons be a sleeper team that no one saw coming?

2022 nfc east

The Falcons’ team statistics tell a story:

The Falcons depended on the run game last season. The Falcons were second in rushing attempts per game, 32.9, and second in rushing play percentage, 55.29% last season. They were also fourth in yards per carry, 4.9.

Tyler Allgeier led the team with 1035 rushing yards on 210 carries. And the 1035 rushing yards were the second-most for rookie running backs last season. Remember, he didn’t get his first start until Week 5.

From Week 15, Allgeier had 79 carries, two touchdowns, and 431 rushing yards. He also added six receptions for 52 yards. Allgeier excelled in these final two games when Desmond Ridder was under center. This is good news, as Ridder is expected to be the starting quarterback for the Falcons this season.

Ridder entered the conversation last season in Week 13. The Falcons benched quarterback Marcus Mariota and decided to go with their fifth-round selection.

Ridder finished his shortened season with a 63.5 completion percentage while attempting 115 passes. His 708 passing yards included two touchdowns and zero interceptions. The quarterback rushing game took a step backward. Mariota was averaging 5.2 yards per run on 85 carries. Ridder averaged 4.0 yards per run on 16 carries. But Ridder’s zero interceptions to Mariota’s nine interceptions is a good trade-off. And before we argue the sample size, four of Mariota’s interceptions came in his first four games.

In an offense that devalued the passing game, Drake London managed 866 receiving yards on 117 targets and 72 receptions. He also added four receiving touchdowns.

Kyle Pitts was the most disappointing in an Arthur Smith offense that generally favors the tight end position. Pitts only played in 10 games due to injury. So, his 59 targets, 28 receptions, and 356 receiving yards have a built-in excuse. But what may be more worrisome is that his two touchdowns doubled the number of his touchdowns the previous season. Three touchdowns in 27 games is abysmal for the 6’6¬† “, 245-pound, fourth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

 

Last Year’s Defensive Stats

  • Ranked 27th in total defense, 362.1 yards per game allowed.
  • Ranked 25th in pass defense, 231.9 yards per game allowed.
  • Ranked 23rd in run defense, 130.2 rushing yards per game allowed.
  • Ranked 23rd in scoring defense, 22.7 points per game allowed.
  • Ranked 31st in sacks, 21.

The defense also finished with the lowest pressure rate, 14.6%. They also ranked 29th in EPA and 30th in weighted DVOA.

Help Is On The Way

The Falcons were extremely active in the 2023 free-agency period. Their acquisitions and resigning’s include:

  • Kaleb McGary, offensive tackle
  • Germain Ifedi, offensive tackle
  • Taylor Heinicke, quarterback
  • Mack Hollins, wide receiver
  • Keith Smith, fullback
  • Jessie Bates III, safety
  • Tre Flowers, cornerback
  • Mike Hughes, cornerback
  • Cornell Armstrong, cornerback
  • Calais Campbell, defensive line
  • David Onyemata, defensive tackle
  • Lorenzo Carter, defensive end
  • Bud Dupree, Edge
  • Tae Davis, linebacker
  • Kaden Elliss, linebacker
  • Bradley, Pinion, punter

The Falcons’ 2023 NFL Draft

  • Round 1, Pick 8: Bijan Robinson, running back
  • Round 2, Pick 38: Matthew Bergeron, offensive tackle
  • Round 3, Pick 75: Zach Harrison, edge
  • Round 4, Pick 113: Clark Philips, cornerback
  • Round 7, Pick 224: DeMarcco Hellams, safety
  • Round 7, Pick 225: Jovaughn Gwyn, guard

2023 Schedule

Per ESPN, the Falcons have the easiest strength of schedule in the NFL. In week 1, the Falcons play the Carolina Panthers and Bryce Young. In Week 2, they play the Green Bay Packers and Jordan Love. Until their Week 3 road game against the Detroit Lions, they will not face a quarterback who has played more than a season in the NFL.

The Falcons only play four teams that made the playoffs in 2022. At .417, they have the easiest strength of schedule. As cbssports.com reports, over the past seven years, at least one team playing one of the two easiest schedules (the New Orleans Saints have the second easiest schedule) has made the postseason.

NFC South

The NFC South was Tom Brady and Tampa Bay Buccaneers division. Each team in this division will start a new quarterback under center. Ridder in Atlanta has the most experience with his team starting four games last season. This will be his first full season.

Derek Carr in New Orleans has the most seniority. But his nine seasons were with another team. This will be his first season with the Saints.

Baker Mayfield appears to be the starter in Tampa Bay. But this will be his first season in Tampa. And rookie Young will be taking his first NFL snaps in Carolina.

Betting Odds

Currently, the Saints are the favorite +125 to win the division. The Buccaneers are the long shot at +500. The Falcons are +260, and the Panthers are +350.

Why The Falcons?

It is more than being in one of the worst divisions in the league. Last year an 8-9 record was good enough for first place. That record was with Brady under center.

The Falcons’ defense improved in the second half of the season. In their last nine games, they gave up 19.7 points per game and 314 yards per game. Defensively they also got stronger with their free-agent acquisitions.

Their run-first offense will also play well in this division. Last season Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 15th against the run (allowing 121.1), the Carolina Panthers finished 18th against the run (allowing 122.6), and the New Orleans Saints finished 24th against the run (allowing 130.5).

The rest of the Falcons’ opponents in the 2023 season include only three teams in the top half statistically against the run. Here are the teams the Falcons will play and their rank and average against the run in 2022.

  • Tennessee Titans ranked 1st, allowing 76.9 rushing yards/game.
  • Washington ranked 11th, allowing 113.3 rushing yards/game.
  • Arizona Cardinals ranked 14th, allowing 118.6 rushing yards/game.
  • New York Jets ranked 17th, allowing 121.6 rushing yards/game.
  • Indianapolis Colts ranked 20th, allowing 124.1 rushing yards/game.
  • Minnesota Vikings ranked 21st, allowing 124.2 rushing yards/game.
  • Green Bay Packers ranked 26th, allowing 139.5 rushing yards/game.
  • Detroit Lions ranked 29th, allowing 146.5 rushing yards/game.
  • Chicago Bears ranked 31st, allowing 157.3 rushing yards/game.

The Falcons added improvements on both sides of the ball. They added Campbell, Dupree, and Bates on the defensive side. And on a run-first offense, they added the “best running back prospect since Saquon Barkley” to their offense.

It is all falling the Falcons’ way. They go from worst to first in the NFC South if they play to their strengths.

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