Originally posted on The Football Fan Spot  |  Last updated 7/22/12


The Falcons have made the playoffs in each of the last 2 seasons, but have not won a single playoff game. Matt Ryan, in fact, has not won a playoff game in his career, despite making the playoffs in 3 out of his 4 seasons in the NFL. For what it’s worth, I think too much is being made of Ryan’s inability to win a playoff game. Peyton Manning started 0-3 in his career in the playoffs and Ryan got unlucky enough to run into the eventual Super Bowl Champion in his first playoff game in his last 2 playoff appearances.

Still, the Falcons are changing things up this offseason and going with a fundamental change on offense that really started in last year’s draft. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey is gone and his conservative run first/short pass offense is gone with him. Instead, the Falcons have brought in Dirk Koetter, previously the offensive coordinator in Jacksonville.

Koetter is planning on opening things up more. Julio Jones, who the Falcons drafted after pulling off a blockbuster trade during the 2011 NFL Draft, will become more of the focal point of the offense, while an aging Roddy White will become less so, according to numerous statements from several coaches and White himself.

When the Falcons drafted Jones, it signaled the beginning of a switch in offensive philosophies. Jones was both the kind of deep threat they hadn’t had before and also represented the kind of aggressive focus on the wide receiver position that they hadn’t had before either, as they gave up two 1st round picks, a 2nd round pick, and two 4th round picks for the 6th overall pick, which they used on Jones.

The Falcons also plan on running less and passing more this year. Matt Ryan has averaged just 522 passing attempts per 16 games in his 4 year career thus far, while the Falcons have ranked in the top-11 in rushing attempts in each of the last 4 years. They won’t just be running less overall. Michael Turner, an aging player, will see a smaller percentage of the carries overall, signaling a switch from a one-back system to a multi-back system. Jacquizz Rodgers, a 5th round pick also from the aforementioned 2011 NFL Draft, will see more carries and give the offense a speed/pass catching back that it previously lacked.

The 2012 Atlanta Falcons’ offense will look foreign to many people who have followed the Falcons for years. They will take more shots downfield, pass more and run less, use multiple backs, run more screens to the backs, and run more outside the tackles than ever before. This switch could give them the offense they need to compete with the Packers, the Saints, and the Patriots of the world and lead to Matt Ryan having an Eli Manning type breakout year, with perfect timing too with the Saints dealing with off the field stuff. However, it could also have unintended negative consequences.


Matt Ryan has been very solid in his first 4 seasons, going 42-20, completing 60.9% of his passes for an average of 7.0 YPA and 95 touchdowns to 46 attempts. He’s never won a playoff game, but, as I’ve already mentioned, he’s run into some bad luck and he’s led the Falcons to the playoffs in each of the three seasons in which he played 16 games. Last season, he completed 61.3% of his passes for an average of 7.4 YPA and 29 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. His adjusted QB rating (doesn’t count drops, throw aways, hit as throwns, spikes, batted passes, or yards after catch) was 4th in the league at 92.45, behind only Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady.

He had his skeptics coming out of Boston College in 2008 because he doesn’t have great arm strength, but he’s proven to be well worth the 3rd overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. He’s run Mike Mularkey’s conservative offense very well and Mularkey did a great job of scheming to highlight Ryan’s strengths and mask his weaknesses.

However, now Mularkey is gone. Ryan will be counted on to throw downfield more often in Dirk Koetter’s offense and pass more overall and I don’t know that he’s the right quarterback for Koetter’s offense (or if Koetter is the right offensive coordinator for Matt Ryan’s skill set). Last season, including playoffs, Ryan completed just 16 of 63 passes that went 20+ yards or more through the air and was accurate (doesn’t count drops, throw aways, hit as throwns, spikes, or batted passes) on just 30.2% of those passes (2nd worst to Blaine Gabbert).

That wasn’t such a huge deal under Mularkey because only 10.4% of Ryan’s attempts went longer than 20 yards in the air last year, 24th out of 30 eligible quarterbacks, but that won’t be the case this year. Ryan’s struggles with the deep ball weren’t limited to last season. In 2010, he was accurate on 35.3% of those passes, good for 30th out of 37 eligible quarterbacks and those passes constituted just 8.5% of his attempts, good for 33rd in the league. In 2009, he was accurate on 30.0% of those passes, good for 29th out of 35 and those passes constituted just 8.9% of his attempts, 30th in the league.

In his career, he’s completed just 69 of 216 attempts that went 20+ yards in the attempt, good for a career completion percentage of 31.9%. For comparison, he’s 1163 of 1806 (64.4%) on passes that go shorter than 20 yards in the air. He may throw for a career high in yards this season (his previous career high is 4177) because he’ll have more attempts and take more shots, but his completion percentage could be below 60% for just the 2nd time in his 5 year career and he could definitely exceed his career high 14 interceptions.

The Falcons have been very good at limiting turnovers in the last 4 years, turning the ball over 21 times in 2008, 25 times in 2009, 17 times in 2010, and 21 times last year. That number could be closer to 30 this year and either cancel out the good done by the added explosion in their offense and have a negative overall affect on a Falcons’ offense that ranked 10th in scoring in 2008, 13th in 2009, 5th in 2010, and 7th last year.

Grade: B+

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Of course, a larger offense lean on Julio Jones over Roddy White might make the Falcons offense more efficient. Julio Jones is an absolute beast. Despite dealing with leg injuries last season and despite being a rookie coming off of a lockout, Jones managed 54 catches for 959 yards and 8 touchdowns in 13 games.

With the exception of him and AJ Green, 1st round pick wide receivers have averaged 37 catches for 524 yards and 3 touchdowns since 2005. His 959 yards were 3rd among 24 receivers taken in the 1st round since 2005 behind only Green and Dwayne Bowe. And he did that in 13 games, coming off a lockout, and despite dealing with injuries. Including playoffs, he had 31 catches for 525 yards and 6 touchdowns and in his last 6 games last season. He looks due for a huge breakout season. Even Jerry Rice thinks so. He’s like AJ Green with a better quarterback.

Roddy White, meanwhile, just ripped off his 5th straight season of 80+ catches and 1200+ yards by catching 100 passes for 1296 yards and 8 touchdowns. On the surface, that looks very impressive. However, a closer look shows that he was not nearly as good last year as he had been in the past and that was his mostly just a volume receiver. Including playoffs, White caught 105 passes, but he did so on 186 targets (2nd behind Wes Welker, who went all the way to the Super Bowl), meaning he caught just 56.5% of his targets. Including playoffs, he also dropped a league leading 17 passes. He had the 4th highest drop rate in the NFL. Heading into his age 31 season, White is on the decline.

In theory, an offensive switch from White to Jones as the focal point makes their offense more efficient. On White’s 186 targets, he had 1348 yards, good for 7.2 YPA, actually on the lower end of the league. Jones, meanwhile, had 1023 receiving yards on 99 attempts, good for 10.3 YPA, on the higher end of the league. Jones also had 7.5 YAC per catch, 3rd in the league, while White’s 3.4 YAC per catch was 84th. When throwing to Jones, Ryan had a QB rating of 115.0, while he had a QB rating of 78.0 throwing to White. Whether this will cancel out Ryan’s inability to complete deep passes remains to be seen, however.

Harry Douglas, meanwhile, will line up in the slot. He’s a decent player, but he’ll once again have trouble getting targets behind Jones and White. He got a mere 62 targets last year, including playoffs, and turned them into a solid 40 catches for 505 yards and a score. Meanwhile, Tony Gonzalez will be the tight end. Gonzalez had a very good year last year with 84 catches for 919 yards and 7 touchdowns, including playoffs.

However, heading into his age 36 season, he’s one of the league’s oldest players and it’s unrealistic that he can continue this much longer. This year is expected to be his last in the NFL and the Falcons don’t really have another tight end that can step up if Gonzalez struggles. He’s also a terrible run blocker, ranking 3rd worst on ProFootballFocus at his position in that aspect. The Falcons do have Michael Palmer to specialize in that, but he’s not a good pass catcher.

Grade: A-

Running Backs

The other major fundamental change for the Falcons on offense is, of course, that they will run on a smaller percentage of their plays and that Michael Turner will receive a smaller percentage of the carries, according to numerous statements made by the coaching staff and by Turners himself. Turner, who was reportedly almost cut this offseason, is now 30 years old and has had 300+ carries in 3 of the last 4 seasons, which take their toll, especially for a running back who had 954 yards after contact, including playoffs, most in the league.

He was terrible down the stretch last year, averaging 3.6 YPC or less in 6 of his last 7 games, including playoffs. The one exception was a game against Tampa Bay, who might as well have not had a defense last season. This is nothing new as he averaged 3.8 YPC in the 2nd half in 2010, after 4.5 YPC in the 1st half of the season. He also fits like a square peg in a round hole in their new offense, which will feature more outside runs and screen passes to the running backs. Turner is purely a between the tackles power runner, especially at this point in his career, and he’s caught a combined 40 passes in the last 4 seasons.

Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers will see more snaps this season, especially Rodgers. Snelling is a solid pass catcher, but Rodgers has the explosiveness they want in a back and, while Snelling is a veteran heading into his age 29 season, Rodgers is a 2011 5th round pick that the coaching staff loves and views as a huge part of their offense going forward into the future. He could be a breakout player for the Falcons this year offensively.

Grade: B

Offensive Line

In 2010, the Falcons’ offensive line was a major strength. In 2011, that was not so much the case. They weren’t bad, but they ranked 10th on ProFootballFocus in pass blocking efficiency and 19th as run blockers. Matt Ryan was only sacked 26 times because he only took a sack on 15.2% of his pressured snaps, good for 8th best in the NFL among eligible quarterbacks. Those 26 sacks were the 6th lowest number in the NFL. Even the Giants’ ferocious pass rush only got to Ryan twice in the Falcons’ playoff loss to the Giants.

The biggest difference from the 2010 Falcons to the 2011 Falcons was the loss of Harvey Dahl. Dahl, a talented right guard, jumped ship and signed with the Rams last offseason and the Falcons struggled to replace him. Garrett Reynolds got the first crack at the starting job, but struggled mightily. His -13.8 rating finished 59th among 76 guards on ProFootballFocus. Joe Hawley then took over. His -5.2 rating was better, but still not great.

It was certainly better than the -9.4 rating that Hawley posted in 4 starts at center early in the season, which was the 56th worst rating out of 65 players who played a snap at center last year. Hawley started at center in place of an injured Todd McClure for those first 4 games. McClure actually played really well once he returned as his 10.5 rating ranked 6th at his position. He’s heading into his age 35 season though, so I don’t know how much longer he can keep this up, though interior offensive linemen do have a pretty long shelf life.

Three players, McClure, Hawley, and rookie Peter Konz will compete for 2 spots at center and right guard. Konz, a steal in the 2nd round, deserves to be the week 1 starter at guard over Hawley, who struggled last year and McClure should remain the center until his play actually declines, leaving Hawley as a utility interior offensive lineman. However, it’s a pretty open competition right now and both Hawley and Konz have the ability to play both guard and center, while McClure is primarily a center.

The opposite guard is left guard Justin Blalock. Blalock has always been great in pass protection, but last year his run blocking abilities took a steep decline. In fact, he ranked 68th at his position out of 76 on ProFootballFocus in that aspect. Maybe he can bounce back in 2012. In 2010, he ranked 11th at guard overall and was an equally good pass protector and run blocker.

The worst offender on the Falcons’ offensive line both in 2010 and 2011 has been left tackle Sam Baker. The 2008 1st round pick has been a bust to this point in his career. In 2010, he ranked 71st out of 76 at his position with a -26.7 rating. He allowed 10 sacks, 7 quarterback hits, and 33 quarterback pressures, while committing 8 penalties and graded out as the 2nd worst run blocker at his position. In 2011, he dealt with injuries and only made 6 starts, but still managed to allow 6 sacks, 7 quarterback hits, and 17 quarterback pressures, while committing 2 penalties and struggling some as a run blocker.

In his absence, Will Svitek was the left tackle, but he wasn’t much better. He graded out well below average with a -9.6 rating, struggled as a run blocker and pass protector, and allowed 3 sacks, 8 quarterback hits, and 20 quarterback pressures in part time duty, while committing 5 penalties. He was the lesser of two evils at left tackle for the Falcons last season, but he was still not very good. With this in mind, the Falcons used a 3rd round pick on Lamar Holmes, but he’s just a raw rookie. The trio will compete for the starting job in Training Camp in a competition that will have no winners.

Opposite him, however, right tackle Tyson Clabo is the Falcons’ best offensive lineman. His 12.6 rating ranked 8th at his position last year and he allowed just 4 sacks, 10 quarterback hits, and 16 quarterback pressures, while committing 8 penalties, run blocking well and not missing a snap. The Falcons could move him to left tackle and then play either Baker, Svitek, or Holmes at right tackle, but they’re hesitant to do that because he’s so comfortable at right tackle, which is definitely a valid concern.

The Falcons offensive line should be fine in 2012. It might not be as good as it was in 2010, but it’ll be better than in 2011 most likely, especially if Peter Konz, a 2nd round steal, can have an impact as a rookie. The bigger question is if they have the right personnel to run the new offense they’re going to, specifically quarterback Matt Ryan. They could turn the ball over more often than any Matt Ryan led team ever before thanks to the departure of offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. They’ve always been a good offensive team doing what they had been doing and it might be a case of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

Grade: B+


Defense is what’s broken for the Falcons, if anything. They ranked 18th in the league with 21.9 points per game allowed last year. Credit the Falcons for trying to fix it. On one hand, they brought in Mike Nolan to be their defensive coordinator and, while he’s a terrible Head Coach, he’s always been a good defensive coordinator who has made things better defensively everywhere he’s gone. They also brought in Asante Samuel to shore up a hole at cornerback.

On the other hand, Curtis Lofton, one of their top defenders, is gone, signing with hated division rival New Orleans this offseason. Their top pass rusher, John Abraham, is now 34 and any decline from him would weaken what is already a poor pass rush and has been for years (151 sacks combined in the last 5 seasons, including 33 last season). On top of that, they don’t have the personnel for a 3-4 defense, which Mike Nolan normally runs. Nolan will not be running that style of defense this year, a smart move, but he’s always had his most success with a 3-4, so you have to wonder how he’ll do with a 4-3.

Defensive Line

I already mentioned how poor the Falcons’ pass rush is and has been for years. Last year, they managed just 33 sacks (35 including playoffs). John Abraham was a one man show last year, with 11 sacks, 8 quarterback hits, and 40 quarterback pressures on 394 pass rush snaps, good for a rate of 15.0%, one of the best in the league. With a 37.8 rating, he was ProFootballFocus’ 4th ranked defensive end, and their 2nd ranked pass rushing defensive end. He is, however, 34, so it’s fair to question how much longer he can do this. Even last year, they had to rotate him out of the game often to keep him fresh. No one else on the team had more than 4 sacks. They’ll need someone else to step up.

One candidate to do so is Ray Edwards. Edwards was given a fairly significant contract last offseason, but struggled in his first season away from Minnesota, where he had the benefit of lining up opposite Jared Allen. You’d think being able to line up opposite Abraham, the active leader in sacks, would help him continue his strong play, but it didn’t. He run stuffed well, but had just 4 sacks, 5 quarterback hits, and 26 quarterback pressures on 438 pass rush snaps, good for a pretty mediocre 8.0% rate.

The Falcons love to rotate their defensive linemen so Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury also saw significant snaps at defensive end. Biermann struggled mightily in all aspects of the game, struggling against the run and managing just 3 sacks, 8 quarterback hits, and 16 quarterback pressures on 345 pass rush snaps (for some reason, only 49 fewer than Abraham), good for a rate of 7.8%. Sidbury, meanwhile, was better in more limited action with 3 sacks, 2 quarterback hits, and 12 quarterback pressures on 129 pass rush snaps (13.2%).

The Falcons love rotation on the defensive line, but if you only have one good pass rusher, all rotation does is take your only pass rusher off the field too often. With Abraham aging, they’ll probably have to continue to do that to keep him fresh and he could easily decline anyway, especially considering how good he was last year. That’s a tough rate to match regardless of your age.

They need another pass rusher to step up like Edwards, Biermann, Sidbury, or even 5th round rookie Jonathan Massaquoi or 2011 7th round pick Cliff Matthews. The Falcons haven’t spent a high pick on a defensive end since drafting eventual bust Jamaal Anderson 8th overall in 2007. However, true to their quantity over quality form, they have used a 4th round pick or lower on an end in 4 of the last 5 drafts (Biermann, 5th round in 2008, Sidbury, 4th round in 2009, Matthews 7th round in 2011, Massaquoi 5th round in 2012.)

The Falcons also love rotation at defensive tackle with 4 players getting between 369 and 669 snaps there last season. Those 4 players were, in order of snaps played, Corey Peters, Jonathan Babineaux, Vance Walker, and Peria Jerry. That figures to be the case again in 2012. Babineaux was once again the best of the bunch in 2012, ranking 13th at his position with a 14.3 rate. He was good as a run stuffer and pass rusher and had 1 sack, 7 quarterback hits, and 20 quarterback pressures on 367 pass rush snaps, good for a rate of 7.6%, very good for his position.

Vance Walker and Corey Peters were both pretty average, with ratings of -0.3 and 1.0 respectively, but Peria Jerry was awful. He originally began the season as the starter, but lost his starting job to Peters and barely played down the stretch. He should once again play the least of the 4 this season, even though the coaching staff expressed their loyalty to the 2009 1st round pick. He’s been a bust thus far in his career, thanks to injuries and I don’t see it turning around. Last season, he struggled as both a run stuffer and a pass rusher and his -9.3 rating ranked 80th out of 89 defensive tackles on ProFootballFocus.

Grade: B-


The Falcons lost one of their best defensive players, linebacker Curtis Lofton, this offseason and, even worse, he left to sign with the Saints. He played very well for them for years, including last year when he ranked 17th overall at his position with a 12.3 rating and 11th against the run. He wasn’t great in coverage, but he got the job done in that aspect and played all 3 downs.

Fortunately, the Falcons still have Sean Weatherspoon, who actually played better than Lofton did last season. Weatherspoon’s superior 20.4 rating ranked 5th among outside linebackers. He too stuffed the run well, but he also added something as a blitzer with 4 sacks, 4 quarterback hits, and 10 quarterback pressures on 89 pass rush snaps (20.2%). He wasn’t much in coverage either, but he’s a very good player and the 2010 1st round pick could make his first Pro Bowl in 2012, his 3rd season in the league, once he starts getting recognition.

Weatherspoon will start next to either Akeem Dent or Lofa Tatupu. Those two are competing for Lofton’s old job at middle linebacker. Dent is a 2011 3rd round pick, who played just 12 snaps last year, while Tatupu is a 3-time Pro-Bowler (2005, 2006, 2007), who has had his career derailed by injuries. He was out of the league completely last year. The Falcons appeared to have the intention of playing Tatupu as a run stuffer and rotating in Dent in sub packages, but a pectoral injury suffered by Tatupu in the late offseason may have ruined those plans. Even though he’s only heading into his age 30 season, I don’t trust him to stay healthy.

The 3rd linebacker will be Stephen Nicholas, a mediocre player who missed most of last season with injuries. Nicholas will only need to be a two down run stuffer as he’ll come out when the Falcons go to base packages and only use 2 linebackers, so he should be okay in that role. However, they don’t have any depth behind him. In fact, depth is a major issue in the Falcons’ linebacking corps, with Nicholas and Tatupu coming off injuries and Dent being unproven. Weatherspoon saves the group from being atrocious, but this is not a good bunch.

Grade: C+




The Falcons’ secondary is their strongest bunch. They ranked just 17th with 7.2 YPA allowed last year, but that was mostly because they had no pass rush, starter Dunta Robinson struggled, and they had no depth. The Falcons brought in Asante Samuel this offseason, so that will solve at least one of those problems, as Samuel takes Robinson’s old starting spot and moves him to the slot, where he might be able to provide solid depth.

Samuel played very well last season in Philadelphia. He allowed 29 completions on 61 attempts (47.5%) for 296 yards (4.9 YPA), 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, while deflecting 6 passes and committing 2 penalties. His 52.4 QB rating allowed was 3rd at his position among eligible players (50% of their team’s snaps). I know Philadelphia was trying to cut payroll, but the fact that he was able to be had for a 7th round pick this past April was highway robbery.

Samuel will start opposite Brent Grimes, who ranked 7th among eligible players in QB rating allowed last year. He allowed 25 completions on 56 attempts (44.6%) for 258 yards (4.6 YPA), 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception, while deflecting 12 passes and only committing 1 penalty. On paper, this duo would appear incredibly deadly and dominant as both allowed completion percentages in the 40s, but injury and age are issues. Grimes has been an injury prone player to this point in his career, part of the reason why the Falcons only franchised him and did not sign him long term this offseason. Samuel, meanwhile, is heading into his age 31 season and would actually be 32 in early January.

Dunta Robinson, meanwhile, was terrible last year. His -11.6 rating ranked 90th out of 98 cornerbacks on ProFootballFocus and he was even worse, 96th, if we’re talking pure coverage rating. He has not been nearly worth the ridiculous 6 year, 57 million dollar deal the Falcons gave him 2 years ago. Moving him to the slot might help, but it might not.

At the very least, he’ll probably be better depth than Dominique Franks and Kelvin Hayden were last year. Franks had to step into the lineup when Grimes was hurt and allowed 19 completions on 28 attempts (67.9%) for 364 yards (13.0 YPA), 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, while deflecting 3 passes and committing a penalty. Hayden, who played primarily on the slot, allowed 21 completions on 28 attempts (75.0%) for 239 yards (8.5 YPA), 0 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, while deflecting 1 pass and committing 2 penalties. Hayden is gone, while Franks will compete with Chris Owens, who also struggled in limited action last year, for the 4th cornerback job. The cornerback position will be a strength of the Falcons’ the season.

At safety, the Falcons have William Moore and Thomas DeCoud. Moore played well last season with a 5.7 rating that ranked 10th at his position, but he missed significant time with injury and, in his absence, James Sanders played poorly. Sanders is gone, but the Falcons signed mediocre veteran Chris Hope from the Titans just in case. DeCoud, meanwhile, is an average player who plays the run well, but struggles in coverage.

Overall, while the Falcons clearly tried to fix their defense by bringing in Mike Nolan and Asante Samuel, they will still be an average defense next year. They lost Curtis Lofton, which left their linebacking corps weak and thin, and they probably will once again not have a good pass rush. Mike Nolan could help, but he’s not working with a 3-4, his area of expertise, so he might not help much. They allowed 21.9 points per game last year, 18th in the league, and ranked 17th against the pass, allowing 7.2 YPA, and 15th against the run, allowing 4.2 YPC. This year, they could be a little better against the pass and overall, but this is still an average unit.

Grade: A-

Head Coach

He’s got the league’s most nondescript name and he might be the league’s most nondescript coach, but Mike Smith is actually a solid Head Coach. He took over a 4-12 team and has gone 43-21 in the 4 years since, though 0-3 in the playoffs. Mike Mularkey definitely helped and I don’t know about Dirk Koetter’s new offense, but Mike Nolan is a good defensive coordinator, so he’ll help, even if he can’t run a 3-4.

Grade: B+


The Falcons’ offensive switch could go either way. It could make them a much more explosive offense, with Julio Jones becoming more of a focal point, or it could cause them to struggle and turn the ball over more, hurting their offense overall, as Matt Ryan does not appear to be a good fit for the system. I lean towards the latter for two reasons.

The first one is Dirk Koetter. They aren’t only switching schemes, but they’re switching schemes from Mike Mularkey, an accomplished offensive mind, to Koetter, who has spent the last 5 years in Jacksonville, who is not exactly known for their offensive prowess. In his 5 seasons, the Jaguars ranked 6th (25.7 points per game in 2007), 24th (18.9 points per game in 2008), 24th (18.1 points per game in 2009), 18th (22.1 points per game in 2010), and tied for 28th (15.2 points per game in 2011).

The other reason is that the Falcons have lost their offensive identity. For years, they were the strong conservative offense that would control the ball, run the football down your throat behind an excellent offensive line, pass well when they needed to, and play solid defense. Now what are they? There’s not one thing that this team is great at. You need an identity to win in the NFL.

If this team were in the AFC, I would have them winning 10 or 11 games and making the playoffs, but the NFC is a much tougher conference and the Falcons play in a very tough division. In fact, they’re division is so tough that I could see every team except New Orleans cancelling each other out and finishing around .500 and out of the playoffs in a tough conference. They’ll be a playoff contender, but I don’t have them in it (though they were one of the toughest “outs” I had when putting together my previews).

I have them going 3-3 or so in their division, as they face New Orleans, Carolina, and Tampa Bay twice. Outside of the division, they host Denver, Oakland, Dallas, Arizona, and the Giants. They’re a good home team and that’s not that tough of a schedule so they could go 4-1 or so in those 5 games, but they’re not a good road team and they have to travel to Kansas City, San Diego, Washington, Philadelphia, and Detroit. The first two won’t be hard, especially since San Diego sucks early in the season, but the other 3 are tougher games. I’d say 8 or 9 wins is what it works out to be for them. They’ll be just on the outside of the playoffs and though I have them at 8-8, I wouldn’t be surprised if they went 11-5, but I’d be shocked if they 5-11. This is just kind of how it worked out for them.

Projection: 8-8 2nd in NFC South


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