Head coach: Dan Quinn (fifth year)
Last year’s record: 7-9
First game: Sept. 8 at Minnesota Vikings
Win total: Over/Under 8.5 (Over 8.5 -135, Under 8.5 +115)
Super Bowl odds: +3200
Luck just wasn’t on the side of the Atlanta Falcons in 2018. The team suffered injuries early in the year and lost much of its starting defense, along with star running back Devonta Freeman, who played just two games before being placed on injured reserve in October. Atlanta tried its best to power through, but found itself on the losing end of almost every close game and dropped five in a row in the second half of the season.
In the midst of disaster, Matt Ryan still managed to throw for 4,924 yards, third-most in the league, and Julio Jones led the NFL in receiving yards (1,677). Changes clearly needed to be made to improve the team’s chances of making a playoff push and redeeming 2016’s Super Bowl meltdown against the New England Patriots.
Who’s in and who’s out
Starting from the top, the Falcons let go of offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and convinced former OC Dirk Koetter to return to his old job. Koetter coached in Atlanta from 2012-14 before he left to take the same position at Tampa Bay in 2015. He then took over as Bucs head coach from 2016-18.
Koetter should transition seamlessly into an offense he helped lead to the NFC Championship Game in 2012. His chances for success this time around will be even better with Atlanta’s improved offensive line. In free agency the Falcons signed guards Jamon Brown and James Carpenter and drafted another in Chris Lindstrom of Boston College.
The line should give Ryan even more time to throw and help Freeman snap back as a dominant force in the run game. Freeman will carry the load this season (if he can stay healthy), with Tevin Coleman shipped off to San Francisco, but Ito Smith could see more action after a strong showing during his rookie season (315 yards, four touchdowns).
As for the defense, Atlanta ranked 31st in defensive efficiency last season, mainly because of the injuries. In 2019 linebacker Deion Jones will be back at full strength, as will Keanu Neal, who tore his ACL in Week 1 last season. The one area the Falcons still need to address is the defensive line. Atlanta re-signed defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who played for the Patriots in 2018 after a stint in Atlanta from 2015-17.
In the draft the Falcons selected offensive tackle Kaleb McGary of Washington in the first round, along with Lindstrom with the 14th overall pick. Atlanta also drafted Ohio State cornerback Kendall Sheffield and defensive end John Cominsky of Charleston in the fourth round, running backs Qadree Ollison of Pittsburgh and Jordan Miller in the fifth round, and receiver Marcus Green of Louisiana-Monroe in the sixth round.
First game of the season, Sept. 8, 1 p.m. ET, U.S. Bank Stadium
Atlanta Falcons (+165) at Minnesota Vikings (-200)
Spread: Falcons +4.5 (-110)
Over/Under: Over 47.5 (-105), Under 47.5 (-105)
Atlanta should have the better offense, but the home team has the proven defense. The game is certainly winnable for the Falcons, but look for the Vikings to pull out a three-point victory in U.S. Bank Stadium.
Over/Under win total: 8.5
Schedule (bold font indicates home game): Vikings, Eagles, Colts, Titans, Texans, Cardinals, Rams, Seahawks, BYE, Saints, Panthers, Buccaneers, Saints, Panthers, 49ers, Jaguars, Buccaneers
The Falcons face one of the most difficult schedules in the league and could easily be without a win after the first three games of the season. Road games in Houston, New Orleans, Carolina and San Francisco will be difficult, as well. Banking on Atlanta to stay healthy all year is not too wise, especially considering Freeman has played just one full season in the last four. If Atlanta does improve on last year’s 7-9 record, it’ll be by one game. Take the under.
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