Pro Football Focus analysis of best- and worst-case scenario for Falcons 2021 season

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Pro Football Focused used a large number of simulations of the 2021 season to highlight the best- and worst-case scenarios for each team while attempting to give reason to each theoretical outcome. PFF notes that win-loss records aren’t truly extremes; 10th- and 90th-percentile outcomes mean that 80% of the team’s simulation results fall somewhere between those two records. This means there will be instances where teams fall outside, either better or worse, those parameters in 2021.

Beginning with the 10th-percentile outcome, the folks over at PFF simulated a 6-11 record, citing the defensive woes as the catalyst.

10th percentile outcome: 6-11

How they get there: One of the worst defenses in the league on paper has no tricks up its sleeve. Dante Fowler Jr. and Marlon Davidson don’t add much of a spark along the defensive front, leaving Grady Jarrett as a one-man army once again. Jarrett’s 57 pressures in 2020 were more than double any other defender on the team.

The disappointing play from Atlanta’s recent investments in the cornerback position — Isaiah OliverKendall Sheffield and A.J. Terrell — only makes the lack of pass rush more apparent. Arthur Smith’s new offense, sans Julio Jones, isn’t enough to overcome those defensive woes.     

This makes sense in a vacuum because the Falcons defense lacks talent at nearly every level of the defense. Even if Arthur Smith’s offense is great, if Dean Pees can’t field even an average defense, the team will fail to win many games. I believe this is less likely than the 90th-percentile outcome because Pees has been capable in his past to bring the best out of his defenses. Though the defenses in Baltimore improved when he left, the units in Tennessee fell completely off. Just because I believe 6-11 is less likely than 12-5 — the 90th-percentile outcome — doesn’t mean the latter is possible either.

90th percentile outcome: 12-5

How they get there: The offense is one of the best in the NFL, even after the Jones trade. Arthur Smith’s scheme, which helped lead the Tennessee Titans to a fourth-place finish in EPA per play over the last two seasons, draws the best out of Matt RyanKyle Pitts quickly finds himself in the upper tier of tight ends as a rookie, capable of winning as a receiver in-line, from the slot and out wide. And Calvin Ridley steps forward as a true No. 1 option, as he did when Julio missed time in 2020. Ridley’s 2.44 receiving yards per route run last year was over a half-yard more than his previous career high.

Unfortunately, 12-5 is just a pipe dream. The exact reason that could potentially cause the Falcons to go 6-11 wasn’t addressed at all in PFF’s explanation of a 12-5 season — defense. The offense may sputter a bit in the beginning parts of the season, but I believe Matt Ryan is too experienced not to eventually execute Arthur Smith’s system. The questions remain on the defensive side of the ball, and for this 12-5 season to come to fruition, Pees’ unit will have to perform at least averagely.

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