Recent appraisals of the Atlanta Falcons haven’t been kind. Pro Football Focus rated theirs the 30th-best roster in the 32-team NFL. In its yearbook, Sporting News ranked them third in the four-team NFC South and 24th in the whole wide NFL. But today we offer glad tidings from an improbable source.
A year ago, Football Outsiders sounded the earliest alarm that the 2013 season wouldn’t be kind to the Falcons, rating their “mean projection” at an NFC South-worst 7.6 wins, which sounded mighty low for a team that had just gone 13-3. (As it turned out, even Football Outsiders overclubbed. The Falcons went 4-12.) Earlier this year, Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders wrote, in a post for ESPN Insider, that the Falcons again have the lowest “mean projection” — 7.0 wins this time — among teams in the NFC South.
But wait! In another post for ESPN Insider, Vince Verhei of Football Outsiders offers this ray of hope: He lists the Falcons as one of three NFC teams — Tampa Bay and Washington are the others — that could surprise, and not in a bad way. If a numbers-based site that has never been high on the Falcons foresees a bounceback, shouldn’t this be cause for celebration in the red-brick building at 4400 Falcon Parkway?
The Falcons lost seven games by eight points or less in 2013 and played without Julio Jones, their best player, for two-thirds of the season. With a depleted offense, Matt Ryan and Co. went up against one of the 10 most difficult defensive schedules in the past 25 years … With Jones back and first-round draft pick Jake Matthews solidifying the offensive line, Ryan — who is criminally underrated, by the way — should be able to lead the Falcons back into contention.
Not that I’m a numbers-cruncher, and not that I know much of anything about anything, but that’s essentially the basis for my belief that the 2014 Falcons will win 10 games and claim a wild card. As bad as the Falcons looked last season — and the November loss to a bad Tampa Bay team was truly wretched — we must remember that the season was done after the first five games, all of which were decided by eight points or fewer, four of which the Falcons lost.
I’ve talked to enough numbers-crunchers (not just in football) to know they put great stock in luck, and the evening-out thereof. Teams that win a bunch of close games one season aren’t apt to do it again. That’s one reason Football Outsiders was so leery of the Falcons in the first place: They’d gone an outrageous 29-12 in one-score games with Ryan as their quarterback.
Such a run wasn’t going to last forever, and it didn’t. But the Falcons probably aren’t going to go 4-7 in one-score games again this season. I don’t consider this a Super Bowl team, and without Sean Weatherspoon — already lost to injury — I’m thinking that I might dial my 10-6 forecast back to 9-7. But I don’t see the Falcons having another losing season. I do see them being in the playoff hunt. And Football Outsiders would seem to agree.