Falcons Preview Capsule
ATLANTA FALCONS (11-7)
Strengths: Falcons were highest-scoring team in league two seasons ago, but struggled to middle-of-pack showing in first year under offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. With plenty of weapons surrounding QB Matt Ryan — most notably WR Julio Jones — and Fusco bulking up interior of line, Atlanta is expecting significant improvement in Year 2 under Sarkisian. He’ll likely be calling plays from field, where he’s most comfortable, now that Knapp is on board to watch things from booth. Defense is rapidly emerging as team’s strength: young, quick and molded in vision of coach Dan Quinn, who oversaw one of league’s great units when he was coordinator at Seattle.
Weaknesses: K Matt Bryant has been one of team’s most reliable players, but he’s 43 years old and battled nagging injuries during preseason. Falcons sparked more concern when they signed former Raiders K Giorgio Tavecchio before final preseason game, though Quinn insisted Bryant was good to go. Offense struggled in red zone last season and must find more ways to score touchdowns instead of settling for field goals. Jones had only three TD catches, the second-lowest total of career even though he otherwise had another big year with 88 receptions for 1,444 yards.
Fantasy Players To Watch: If RB Devonta Freeman can stay healthy, he has potential to provide big numbers in several areas. He has twice rushed for more than 1,000 yards in four-year career and caught 73 passes out of backfield in 2015. While RB Tevin Coleman can also expect to get extensive playing time as part of dynamic 1-2 punch, that arrangement should only help Freeman stay fresh and productive.
Vegas Says: Super Bowl 20-1. Over/under wins 9.5.
Expectations: Time is now for Atlanta, especially on offensive side. Ryan is 33, Jones is 29, Freeman is coming off injury-plagued season, and Coleman could be free agent after season. Clearly, window is narrowing for franchise that is still scarred by blowing 25-point lead in Super Bowl two seasons ago. If offense can recapture high-scoring form and talented young defense can make progress, this team has potential to finally win its first NFL championship. Anything less than 10 wins and third straight postseason appearance would be huge disappointment.