Can the Falcons go from worst to first in one year in the NFC South?

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The Falcons are looking to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017 when they lost in the divisional round against the Eagles. According to PFF, Atlanta has the second-best chance among the eight last-place teams to do so behind only the San Francisco 49ers.

The Falcons weren’t as bad this year as their fourth overall selection indicates. They actually finished the year at 18th in PFF’s ELO Power Ratings. The Panthers are without a starting quarterback, and now that Matthew Stafford is off the board, the only hope Carolina has of finishing higher than Atlanta is if they somehow land Deshaun Watson.

The long-time perennial powerhouse in the division — the New Orleans Saints — will certainly have the most turnover in the division as they are in the worst standing with the salary cap around the league paired with Drew Brees likely retiring.

The Buccanneers have many key pieces in place for the 2021 season, namely Tom Brady, but Atlanta is hopeful new head coach Arthur Smith is able to bring over some of the magic he worked in Tennessee. Only the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers have recorded more expected points added per play than Tennessee since Smith took over as the offensive coordinator in 2019.

The Falcons have the most important position cemented, unlike half of the division. Matt Ryan showed last season he can still play well. His grade — 83.1 according to PFF — ranked 12th at his position. Combine that with the talent at receiver and a young, improving offensive line, and the Falcons offense will keep them in games regardless of the defense. The main reason for that, though, isn’t Matty Ice but Arthur Smith.

Smith showed how effective his offense can be, even with only above-average talent. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley are all superior to Ryan Tannehill, AJ Brown, and Corey Davis. The offensive lines are about equal in terms of production, so expect Smith’s offense in Atlanta to surpass how his offense performed in his first year as offensive coordinator.

However unlikely, it is entirely possible the Falcons will knock off the defending Super Bowl champions and win the division. The Bucs will surely reload and be the heavy favorites to take the NFC South. The battle will likely be between the Saints, Panthers, and Falcons for second place, but Atlanta played Tampa Bay well at home and showed they could hang. The Falcons failed to capitalize on a few things last season like Todd Gurley‘s touchdown or the infamous onside kick, but those are errors the new regime will eliminate. It isn’t crazy to think Atlanta could make the playoffs as a wildcard, but it might be far-fetched to think they’ll complete the worst-to-first swing in 2021.




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