In a loaded NFC South, the Falcons have been pronounced favorites by a number of prominent personalities in the sports world. Colin Cowherd recently released his predictions for next season and had the Falcons on top of the division with an 11-5 record followed by the Saints at 10-6, a reversal of last season. Then Nate Davis of USA Today not only picked the Falcons to win the NFC South, but even find redemption in their own building, capturing Super Bowl LIII. Atlanta certainly has all the reason in the world to be optimistic with the majority of the starters and all of their key pieces returning on both sides of the ball. But in a league full of parody like the NFL, nothing can be taken for granted. The NFC South might be the toughest division in football again in 2018. There will be plenty of obstacles the Falcons will have to overcome for these predictions to come to fruition. Let’s take a look at four things that could potentially knock the Falcons off their course of reaching the playoffs for a third year in a row.
I am never one that likes to judge a schedule prior to the season getting underway because so many things change on a year to year basis. However, on paper, Atlanta looks to be in store for a sixteen week grind, starting with a week one visit to the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles.
The Falcons already have to play six games versus the NFC South, none of which will be a cake walk. Atlanta would be fortunate to go 4-2 in those matchups. Outside the division, Atlanta will have to face a vigorous NFC East on paper and an AFC North that should be much improved in 2018. Oh, and I almost forgot, a December trip to the frozen Tundra in Green Bay. The Falcons will find themselves in numerous dog fights throughout the season
3. Steve Sarkisian
This is not an indictment of Steve Sarkisian, not yet at least. The Falcons took a huge step back offensively last year in Sarkisian’s first season as offensive coordinator. As a first year guy, Sarkisian received the benefit of the doubt and a host of excuses were laid out for him. In year two, it is time to see what he is made of.
His offensive line will all return healthy with the addition of Brandon Fusco. Fusco should provide a nice upgrade over Wes Schweitzer at the guard spot. Atlanta also spent their first-round pick giving Matt Ryan another toy in Calvin Ridley. The Falcons offense should be explosive in 2018, but many thought the same way before 2017. It will be interesting to see how Sarkisian responds, and if the offense experiences a similar jump like it did in Kyle Shanahan’s second season as offensive coordinator. I am not as optimistic for the latter.
2. Poor interior defensive line play
Of the few players that did not return to Atlanta, two of them were on the defensive line. Dontari Poe is now wearing Panther blue and Adrian Clayborn ventured north to New England.
If there was one Achilles heel on the Atlanta defense last season, it was their ability to defend against the run. It is what killed them in the Divisional round against the Eagles, and could be a huge problem again this season. That is if third-round pick Deadrin Senat and Jack Crawford can not step up this season and be major players. There is potential for the Atlanta defense to be among the best in the NFL, but a weak interior defensive line could prevent the unit from reaching it’s full potential.
1. The New Orleans Saints
As any modern day Falcon fan would say, I absolutely despise the New Orleans Saints. Their last second defeat against the Minnesota Vikings was the only thing that got me through a gut-wrenching loss at the goal line to the Eagles. That is why giving them a little bit of credit here makes me queasy.
However, there is no denying how talented this team is, and it all starts with one of the best quarterbacks in the history of football Drew Brees. Beyond him though, New Orleans has done a fantastic job in accumulating young talent. Marcus Lattimore and Michael Thomas are rising stars at their respective positions. Cameron Jordan might be the best pass rusher in the NFC. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara are the best one-two punch in the NFL. This is a hungry team that knows their window for success is not very large considering Brees’s age and are coming off one of the most brutal losses in playoff history. They are going to be a threat to win not only the NFC South next year, but the whole damn thing.