Nobody expects the Falcons to be playoff contenders outside the organization, but nobody within the organization believes they’ll be slotted in 2022 where they were in the 2021 NFL draft. In all likelihood, it’ll be somewhere in the middle. Pro Football Focus recently simulated the 2021 season for each team to give theoretical outcomes and gave a best-case — 90th-percentile — and worst-case — 10th-percentile — scenario for each. This essentially means that 80% of all outcomes simulated fall somewhere between these two records.
The Falcons were at worst 6-11 and at best 12-5, but again, more than likely, it’ll fall somewhere between those two. In the fourth episode of SportsTalkATL’s podcast, Talkin’ Birdy, the trio of hosts made their season predictions. Disclaimer: these were prior to the Julio Jones trade, and I assume each host would adjust accordingly. Matt Karoly predicted an 11-6 finish; Jake Gordon predicted a 10-7 record, and I predicted an 8-9 final record. This made me think, what things would have to go right for the Falcons to finish near 12 wins, and what would have to go wrong for Atlanta to finish near six wins.
3 reasons why the Falcons will make the playoffs in 2021
1. Arthur Smith and Matt Ryan hit the ground running
Everyone and their mother knows this team’s strength lies on the offensive side of the ball. Smith took the job in Atlanta partly due to Ryan, a consistent veteran who could execute his offense. But for this team to challenge for a trip to the playoffs, this offense cannot sputter early on in the season; it will have to hit the ground running.
2. Dean Pees turns water into wine
There have been team, positional, and other rankings that have consistently placed the Falcons’ defense — individually and as a whole — at the bottom. There’s a reason for that, too; the defensive personnel is just subpar. Pees is great at disguising coverages and blitzes, which can cover up individual deficiencies. He’s also outspoken on fitting his scheme to his players’ strengths, so for this team to reach the playoffs in 2021, Pees will have to turn lemons into lemonade.
3. Unexpected contributions
This can come from any number of players on the roster, but multiple positions need players to separate themselves from the group. These can be rookies, second-year players, or even veterans. The Falcons need to manufacturer a pass rush somehow, and hopefully, Pees will help with that. Still, Dante Fowler and Barkevious Mingo must contribute the most out of the edge rushers. The cornerback group needs someone to establish themselves on the boundary opposite of A.J. Terrell. The offensive line needs a couple of second- and third-year leaps, namely from Matt Hennessy and Kaleb McGary. If these players can make a few unexpected contributions, the Falcons will have a supporting cast to go along with their lonely stars.
3 reasons why the Falcons won’t make the playoffs in 2021
1. Offensive line shortcomings
Matt Ryan will eventually get on the same page with Arthur Smith, but this offense won’t move the football if the offensive line isn’t solidified. Offensive line play has been the cause for the success of Smith’s past offenses and the failures of Atlanta’s. Ryan is aging and needs protecting; if the offensive line can establish itself as an effective run-blocking group, it’ll be easier to protect their quarterback in pass sets.
2. Difficult rookie transitions
The Falcons will undoubtedly be relying on a few rookies from the 2021 rookie class. Kyle Pitts is the future star of this offense, but it is historically difficult for rookie tight ends to contribute meaningful production. Richie Grant has the luxury of having two veterans who can play if he struggles, but Grant is the only member of the safety group that can be a difference-maker. Jalen Mayfield could potentially start at left guard, but if he shows no growth in training camp, the Falcons could be forced to start Josh Andrews. For the Falcons to make the playoffs, this most recent draft class will have to grow up fast.
3. Bad injury luck
This is something that can go either way for any team. Super Bowl champions have good injury luck most of the time, while some disappointing seasons can be attributed to bad fortune in the injury department. Obvoiusly if any of Matt Ryan, Jake Matthews, Grady Jarrett, Calvin Ridley, etc suffer long-term injuries, Atlanta’s chances of making the playoffs are slim to none.
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