In a piece expanding on Week 1 buzz, a couple of ESPN analysts gave their under-the-radar team that could make the playoffs, and if given the opportunity, it’s clear that Jeremy Fowler and Dan Graziano would’ve both selected the Falcons.
Graziano went first and picked the Falcons, detailing the extremely weak schedule, wide open division, and the bevy of offensive weapons surrounding Desmond Ridder for his reasoning.
Graziano: I got the Atlanta Falcons. I think the Saints are the favorites to win the NFC South, but (a) that’s no guarantee, and (b) the division’s team schedules look soft enough on paper that it’s possible it sends more than one team to the playoffs. It’s about time for the high-end draft picks the Falcons have been making on offense to click. And while a lot of this depends on quarterback Desmond Ridder being as good as Atlanta seems to believe he is, there is a fair bit of offensive talent on that roster around him. If nothing else, the Falcons should be fun to watch.
What’s interesting is before Fowler could expand on his selection of the Commanders, he prefaced his pick by acknowledging Graziano’s, noting the improved roster and weak division.
Fowler: Good call, Dan. Coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot aggressively improved the roster through free agency and the trade market, and the NFC South is open to just about anybody.
The Saints aren’t overwhelming favorites to win the NFC South, so I don’t know how ‘under the radar’ the Falcons really are, but I digress.
New Orleans features by far the best quarterback in the division, and that should go a long way. The defense still features elite talent at all three levels — Cam Jordan, Demario Davis, Marshon Lattimore, and Tyrann Mathieu. However, what made the Saints tick and dominate the Falcons was the trench play.
Yes, Jordan still looks to be in his prime, but there’s not a lot of proven talent around him like there was in past seasons. Moreover, the depth of the defensive front is the worst it’s been in years. On the other side of the line of scrimmage, the Saints are hoping for a major jump in the development of Trevor Penning, but the same group didn’t look good last year.
New Orleans quarterbacks were sacked 38 times and the team was just 19th in rushing, with their average of 4.3 per carry ranking 22nd. The unit did deal with injuries, but Saints fans would be lying to themselves if they don’t think this group is a significant step back from those elite lines that protected Drew Brees.
That’s why I think the Falcons take the division, the edge in the trenches — depth and top-end talent.
Photographer: Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire