Where the Atlanta Falcons are concerned, Football Outsiders is on a roll. The erudite web site was correct in predicting that the Falcons would plunge from the 13-3 of 2012 to the bottom of the NFC South in 2013, correct again in suggesting that last year’s team would do better than the 4-12 of 2013 without quite being good. (Sure enough, the 2014 Falcons finished 6-10.)
Comes now, in the form of an ESPN Insider post, the latest forecast from Football Outsiders, and it’s a sunny one for the local eleven (or the local 53, if you insist on accuracy). The Falcons are projected to go 10-6, which would be a four-game improvement over last season and would, according to F.O., leave them tied atop the NFC South with New Orleans.
Having the NFL’s softest schedule will have something to do with it, but not everything. Writes Aaron Schatz, Football Outsiders’ editor-in-chief:
(An) important element of our NFC South forecast is the fact that offense tends to be more consistent than defense from year to year. Atlanta and New Orleans were strong on offense and terrible on defense a year ago. Those defenses are more likely to improve than the offenses are to decline.
Even though the F.O. numbers have the Falcons and Saints tied, Schatz seems higher on the former, writing:
Atlanta’s offense should be better based on improved health (30th in offensive adjusted games lost in 2014) and the maturation of a top young offensive tackle (Jake Matthews). Even these numbers may be underestimating the importance of the players the Saints lost due to salary-cap issues, or the addition in Atlanta of our top projected rookie edge rusher, Vic Beasley.
In a pre-draft ESPN Insider post, Football Outsiders indeed earmarked Beasley as the top sacking prospect of this class. Wrote Nathan Forster: “Beasley gives you almost everything you want in an edge-rusher prospect.” The F.O. projection for Beasley — 34.1 sacks through Year 5, which would be an average of 6.82, which the Falcons would take in a heartbeat. (Though Beasley wouldn’t; on Draft Night, he called himself “a double-digit sack guy.”)