Football Outsiders: Falcons worst in NFC South

Protective headgear is needed when reading a Football Outsiders projection. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Protective headgear is needed when reading a Football Outsiders projection. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Protective headgear is required when reading this projection. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

As noted, my favorite predictions — to read, if not to make — are those steeped in advanced analytics. Regarding football, the place to go for advanced analytics is Football Outsiders, which I’ve referenced many times. And it was, you might recall, Football Outsiders that sounded the loudest alarm ahead of the Atlanta Falcons’ 2013 crash.

(In its 2013 Almanac, Football Outsiders set the Falcons’ “mean projection” at 7.6 wins, the lowest of any team in the NFC South. The Falcons hadn’t won fewer than nine games in any of the previous five seasons and had just gone 13-3. Lo and behold, the smooth-running Falcons went 4-12 — way worse than even this most pessimistic of predictions — and tied Tampa Bay for last in the division.)

(A further aside: After I wrote about the Football Outsiders forecast last summer, my phone rang early the next morning. It was a member of the Falcons’ brass — you’d know the name if I told you, which I won’t — calling to suggest that such gloom and doom was misplaced.)

But now we move, as Lindsey Nelson used to say on those Notre Dame edited replays, to further action. Aaron Schatz, who’s the editor-in-chief of Football Outsiders, has offered what he terms “quick-and-dirty” NFC projections for ESPN Insiders, and those numbers see the 2014 Falcons being better than 4-12 but still last in their division. The Falcons are assigned a mean projection of 7.0 wins. New Orleans is the clear frontrunner with 10.7 mean wins; then comes Carolina at 7.9, with Tampa Bay third at 7.5.

Of the Falcons, Schatz writes:

For Atlanta, you have to figure the return of Julio Jones is offset by the retirement of Tony Gonzalez. The Falcons’ best bet for a return to the postseason is for their young defensive talent to blossom in Mike Nolan’s new 3-4 scheme. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise, but it isn’t likely enough to forecast a good defense.

Hope shouldn’t be abandoned just yet. Football Outsiders sees the Falcons going 7-9, with Carolina and Tampa Bay both finishing 8-8. That’s not a lot of difference, duh. (New Orleans is tabbed at 11-5, which is the best projected record in the conference. Yes, better than Seattle and San Francisco.) And even the most sagacious prognosticator doesn’t get everything right. But Football Outsiders is, I say again, pretty darn sagacious.

Reader Comments 1

119 comments
mjmpi
mjmpi

Wow this guy is a tool.  Anyone could predict that a team that has multiple winning seasons will eventually lose.  The Saints did the year before.  Everyone knows the Falcons had injuries and were playing with their second string most of the season.  If you look at the games they lost tthey were by very small margins.  Also, from 2008 until 2012 every team they lost to either won the Super Bowl or was in the Super Bowl. He obviously hasn't done much research on the new players.  

How smart are you that you still work for a newspaper? 

JackClemens
JackClemens

I thought the Falcons intended to get meaner, so all their wins will be mean wins.

BRAVES2143
BRAVES2143

Of all the major sports the NFL is the hardest when it comes to making predictions.  Every year there are a couple of teams that come out of nowhere, usually based on a favorable early schedule, and end up making the playoffs.   Last year no one had Kansas City or San Diego making the playoffs and not many people had Chip Kelly's offense working in Philly or Carolina winning the division and getting a bye.   

Point is there are surprises every year and the Falcons have a chance to be one of those this year but the key is to get off to a good start and stay healthy.   Winning early instills confidence so if the Falcons are 6 and 2 are even 5 and 3 at the half way mark I like their chances of making the playoffs but their last 4 games could be brutal (@Green Bay, Pittsburgh, @New Orleans, Carolina) so they need to win as many early season games as they can.   On the flip side the Falcons didn’t get any breaks with their early schedule either  so if they were to go into their bye with 5 or 6 wins they definitely would be the surprise team of the league.  

Intruder
Intruder

None of the coaches on the Falcons schedule have a losing record in the NFL, although three of them have no record at all. Now we have the gold plated Mike Smith with his 18-18 NFC South record, his 10-25 record vs playoff teams, and his one playoff win in six years, (a miracle at that). It won't be easy making the playoffs, but Smith could be highly motivated after Blank's "we're not tough enough" speech, clearly indicating that he is not satisfied with the past results. If Football Outsiders is right, 7-9 could be his swan song.

TreeRollins
TreeRollins

Good arguments - I don't buy it but good enthusiasm! Almost nothing is improved since last year.

TreeRollins
TreeRollins

Team looks bad again coming into this year! 7-9 would probably be a treat we should appreciate. Let Arthur go down to the locker room and sniff some jock straps and forget about it. 1 good pickup in the offseason, Jake Mathews, is not enough to turn a 4 win team around!

EricEllis
EricEllis

Sorry but injuries more than anything were the major contributor to last seasons melt down.  The Falcons simply lost way too many key starters on both sides of the ball to be competitive, especially with their copious lack of depth which is TD's fault at the end of the day.  The starters are fantastic but the backups are really terrible and that can be seen every year with how badly the team does in preseason.  If everybody remains healthy this year, the additions they've made on the lines will give them a dynamic they haven't had in a while which is a tough team in the trenches.  Add to that the fact that their all rookie CB tandem last year will have matured and hopefully become much better.  Matt Ryan will have more time and be under less pressure up front as well and even though TG is gone, they have plenty of receiving weapons for him to dice apart any defense like he did in 2012.  I think the Falcons will easily be the best team in the NFC South this season provided that they stay healthy.  If not they will have the same kind of season as last year as they still have little talent after the starters (though we will see how these new draft picks do in preseason)...

Dasdguy
Dasdguy

@EricEllis

I agree. we're thin on the bench. But , like you say I think if they stay healthy, they can have a great season.

GeorgeJetsen
GeorgeJetsen

These guys are right on. Falcons were largely assisted by a weak schedule in 2012 and would not have made it to NFC title game in a normal competitive year. Getting 8-9 wins this year would be a solid year for these guys.

WhopperDawg
WhopperDawg

Too many maybes for the Falcons -


The surest new Falcon is Matthews (surprise) he will definitely be an immediate upgrade.


The rest are maybes, I do think the loss of TG offsets Jones.


But maybe this is a Baker good year, maybe Konz/Hawley can play center when they couldn't before, maybe the DT from Minn will be good, maybe the new DL are the sliced bread, maybe our linebackers are now the strength of the team and Biermann transforms into a pass rusher, maybe ANYBODY transforms into a pass rusher, maybe a safety arises from the streets, maybe Jackson stays healthy, maybe the switch to the 3 4 is the cure all (reminds me of when Koetter said he was introducing the screen pass to our offense and everyone acted like that is a game changer) - hey folks the 3 4 ain't nothing new.


I think they have it about right.

alpharettadude
alpharettadude

Praise heaven that we are finally drafting linemen (especially offensive).  Enough with the skinny, fast guys and other so-called "skill" players, including pass rushing defensive ends.  The battle is won or lost in the trenches.  Stack the line and we can run the ball down your throat and the receiving threats are a bonus.  


We don't need 10 defensive end / OLBs.  Still waiting for somebody to  cover Jermichael Finley.  Pick the best and then load up on the line.  We will finally beat the Saints. 

drewK
drewK

What!!!!!

Atlanta has a football team???

Who knew....

Princess_Leia
Princess_Leia

Someone remind me why 're spending a billion dollars on a new stadium for a team of overpaid losers.

EdStone28
EdStone28

This is what happens when you give all your cap money to an average greedy quarterback. When you release half of your defense because you can't pay them this is the result.

Blasingame
Blasingame

The Falcons are still suffering from the Julio effect.  This past draft was far too little too late to save this next year.  If they finish at .500, they will be very lucky.

BRAVES2143
BRAVES2143

@Blasingame  You make a good point and I for one was happy the Falcons did not repeat history and make the same mistake this year by wreaking next years draft just for one player.   

DawgNole
DawgNole

@BRAVES2143 @Blasingame  

Incredibly, the Falcons actually spent considerable time determining whether or not to do the same thing for Clowney. Fortunately, they came to their senses at the last minute.

lvg
lvg

It will all change for the better when they get in that new stadium as long as the players don't stand where those churches used to be.

slydawg
slydawg

If the Falcons finish 7-9, that's OK, because this team still has many weaknesses. I guess it depends on how bad 7-9 looks: either awful like last season or close like they were in 7 games in 2013. We can't forget that Julio, Spoon, and Baker have never stayed healthy for a full 16 games, whether they started or not. The defense is very young and just above average in raw talent. Special Teams should be better, on paper. Freeman is a younger Jacquizz Rodgers: i.e. not Darren Sproles. Sorry folks. Sproles was a beast in college, not some upside scrub ( I mean no offense). Roddy is 31+ with a soft hammy and now has other things in his mind. Can Douglas effectively replace Tony G. on the inside routes? IMHO.... the Falcons will be better, look better, but still will not be in contention for anything until 2015 and beyond. And yes, Smith should keep his job. Just like Richt, Smith and Dimitroff are learning on the job. They better hope the owner and the Falcons fan base are as patient as UGA's.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@slydawg  

7-9 is "OK"? See what I mean about too many Falcons fans accepting losing?

". . . either awful like last season or close like they were in 7 games in 2013 . . . ." Uh, can you help us understand the difference between "last season" and "2013"?

notPlanB
notPlanB

Not having a good receiving TE like TG may add more pass protection using the TE as a blocker most of the time. That with an improved OL may make a difference. Next years draft should include a TE and safety in 1st & 2nd round. Still don't understand why we didn't keep Coffman for no more money than we were paying. Is he still available as a FA?

Mo'sMule
Mo'sMule

arthur wants a super bowl title soon--thomas and mike better produce or he'll send them packing

Esquire
Esquire

So Mark, how do you think they will finish?

RangeRover
RangeRover

Frankly, when you finish 4-12, have your QB pounded more than anyone else, and never touch the opposing QB, a 7-9 record following 4-12 season would be considered good improvement.

The first 3-4 games of the season will dictate this team's upcoming season.  Go 3-1 in those games and I think you're looking at a team that will finish 11-5 or so and prove 2013 was truly an aberration; however, go 1-3 and you will validate that 2013 was truly the beginning of the end of their previous 5 year window having passed and it's time to continue to build the lines and linebackers for 2015.



supertilt
supertilt

The trenches were the biggest weaknesses last season, and the most heavily addressed, but they were not the only weaknesses. The secondary is still very thin. Yes Trufant and Alford played extremely well, but McClain struggled in nickle coverages last year and the depth behind those three is very suspect. Safety depth and starting FS position is even more so. The offensive line should be better at protecting Matty and opening running lanes for Jackson and Freeman (sorry Jaquizz), but only if Sam Baker can live up to the massive contract he was given. If he goes down, which at this point is nearly automatic, Matthews moves over to LT and we're right back to pressures from the right side. Better than last year with Asamoah, but still just an average line. 

Defensive line is going to be much improved at stopping the run, which will make teams one dimensional against us, but it will still be a fire fight because we don't have a single 10+ sack player on the roster. The line will keep the LBs clean so they can make some plays in the backfield, but blitzing every other play is not going to win the war of attrition these games often turn out to be. With 'Spoon, Julio, and Baker always a question mark, and the lack of a pass rush until proven otherwise (Hageman was the biggest boom or bust player in the draft) it is hard for me to say that they will have double digit wins this year. If their star players can't stay healthy and Hageman and Southward turn out to be busts, we are a 6-10 team. If they can stay healthy and they hit on Hageman and Southward, they are a 10-6 team. If they get the pass rush, disguise the D as well as they did in the 2012 season, and most importantly **STAY HEALTHY**, this is a wildcard team.

slydawg
slydawg

If this teams upside depends on Hageman and Southward, they are in trouble. If they are not busts, 8-8 is still the ceiling. Southward is a project at best in 2014. Hageman is a plus pick. Soliai and T. Jackson 's health are the key to a possible wild card.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

The Falcons best offensive and defensive players are banged up and will miss large chunks of off-season activity. A lot depends on their health and others because there still is not much depth in key positions (certainly not wide receiver and linebacker). So, it's easy to project they will be better than 4-12, but not so easy to envision the playoffs in 2014. Simply: Prove it on the field. If they go 0-for-preseason again, regardless of how much Jones and Weatherspoon play, they won't figure to win many games.

slydawg
slydawg

The Falcons went 0-4 and went 4-12. This team does not have the history or tradition like the Patriots, Steelers, 49ers, etc. to just brush off a poor preseason.

JSSN
JSSN

@supertilt

Context, the 0-4 2008 Patriots were never manhandled in their preseason. On the other hand, they missed the playoffs that season at 11-5 without Tom Brady. That is in itself is a direct reflection of the development, coaching, and preparation done by them in their preseason, OTAs, and evaluation process.  It was the 2007 Patriots that went to the Super Bowl. That team went 2-2 in the preseason.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@slydawg  

EVERY game counts--that's why they keep score. All ATL pro teams--and too many of their fans--have a "tradition" of accepting losing. The result: ONE championship in 159 seasons of competition. Losing breeds losing.

supertilt
supertilt

@DawgDadII Pre-season doesn't mean much of anything. Look at the 2008 Patriots. 11-5 and went to the super bowl after going 0-4 in the preseason.

Mo'sMule
Mo'sMule

new orleans and carolina will not be that good this year---with some breaks, atl can pull the upset and get 9 wins to win this weak division.

warfalcon
warfalcon

Negative people go wipe your @$$ so you want smell your self, that`s the problem you stink.


10-6 LETS 11-5 GO 12-4 FALCONS 13-3!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mr. Negative
Mr. Negative

Whooohooo...last place AGAIN. It's all part of the LEGACY. The Legacy Hall of Fame will have special exhibits including....Danny White's jersey, Pat Peppler's playbook , Harmon Wages spoon, Aundrey Bruce's draft day #1 jersey, Eugene Robinson's vice-squad citation, Bobby Petrino's sooowhee pig video and a Mike Vick dog leash. I'll be outside grilling steaks at the grand opening

TheBystander
TheBystander

It will be interesting to see how the new D scheme play out. I was thinking one more solid draft to make a run at the superbowl. 9-7 seems about right

Sidslid
Sidslid

Nice reference to the Sunday morning Notre Dame show (TiVo before TiVo).  That Hanratty always has the ball in his hands.

dawgfacedboy
dawgfacedboy

SOunds about right. They are a team that plays in the state of Ga so I'm not expecting much.

Earhardnt_Fan
Earhardnt_Fan

Fist U all have 2 realise that Witherspoon and Juliet Jones are far form 100% percent. Whne they R they are injruy prone 2 so we cant count on them 2 hlep out N E at all. 

Earhardnt_Fan
Earhardnt_Fan

See this is waht hapen win U dont pix Johnny Fottball. 

slydawg
slydawg

He started OTA's with the 3rd string....

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Barves_Loss_Agian  

Shut up, liar! You said you'd stop posting if they didn't pick him, and here you still are. Fool.

BooBooBear
BooBooBear

Well, darn.  The season is over before it begins.  No need to play any games.  Besides, people might get hurt ... like Drew Brees ... or Cam Newton.  Maybe another hurricane will destroy New Orleans and playing in San Antonio will make them lose, without all those black and gold umbrellas to root them to victory?  Did the sagacious Football Outsiders predict Hurricane Katrina?  I can't remember.  They probably did.  Yes, it is best they cancel the Falcons season because the wise have spoken.  

slydawg
slydawg

We know Julio, Spoon, and Baker will get hurt. That's not a prediction....lmao

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