What are realistic expectations for the Falcons in 2021?

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Expectations for the Falcons vary depending on who you ask. Terry Fontenot has reiterated many times the team isn’t rebuilding; they’re here to win now.

Some diehard fans believe Arthur Smith and Dean Pees will turn water into wine with the personnel and make the playoffs winning 11 games. There are analysts and fans in between who like to think optimistically but remain skeptical for obvious reasons, believing the team will finish around .500. Then… there are those pessimistic analysts and fans that have either been hurt too many times to count or have some vendetta against Atlanta, who believe this is a five-win team.

So what are realistic expectations for the Falcons in 2021? This is obviously an opinion piece, and like most things, the answer likely lies somewhere in the middle of two extremes. There are scenarios where I could see the Falcons win 11 games and reach the playoffs, and their are scenarios where I see them only win a game or two more than last year.

For the first scenario to occur, Arthur Smith’s offense would have to hit the ground running and be a top-ten unit in the league, while Dean Pees’ philosophy improves the defense to a better-than-average group. In the other scenario, the offensive line becomes a major issue and can’t create any push in the run game, which results in defenses teeing off on Matt Ryan. Meanwhile, Pees cannot re-create the magic he has in the past with such limited personnel at edge rusher and cornerback.

Likely, both units find success at some point but also experience struggles. The logical mind would point towards Ryan, Smith, and the offense as the group to be more consistently successful due to superior personnel. In reality, though, the offense will have more difficult matchups than the defense.

Based on 2020 points surrendered, the Falcons will face six of the top ten defensive units — two being division rivals in Tampa Bay and New Orleans, making that eight games against top-ten scoring defenses from a season ago. On the other hand, Dean Pees faces a not-so-impressive list of quarterbacks.

The only real threats week in and week out, regardless of his personnel, are Tom Brady and Josh Allen. So it wouldn’t be ridiculous to say the offense looks worse than they actually are, and the defense looks better than they actually are. A realistic expectation would be for a similar amount of success, leading to the Falcons ending somewhere around .500.

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