It would be incorrect to say that Football Outsiders has nailed every recent Atlanta Falcons prediction. (It would be wrong to say that anyone in the history of humankind has nailed every prediction. Even Nostradamus had the Colts over the Jets.) That said, the erudite website has come mighty close. A recap:
In 2013, Football Outsiders projected the Falcons to slide from 13-3 to last in the NFC South. (They actually tied for last with Tampa Bay.) In 2014, it forecast a rise from 4-12 to mediocrity. (The Falcons finished 6-10. Close enough.) Last season, Football Outsiders picked the Men of Blank to win 10 games and make the playoffs. (And they should’ve, given that they started 6-1. Alas, they finished 8-8.)
This time around, Football Outsiders sees … slippage, at least record-wise.
In a post for ESPN Insider, F.O. editor/creator Aaron Schatz tabs the Falcons to go 7-9 and be the third-best team in their division (behind Carolina and New Orleans) and 10th-best in the NFC. Technically, Schatz’ numbers have both the Falcons going 7-9, and the Panthers going only 9-7. (From years of observation, I can report that data-based predictions tend to bunch toward the middle. This year F.O. sees no team in either conference winning or losing more than 12 games.)
Schatz on the Falcons: “Atlanta was a bit lucky last year, going 8-8 despite ranking just 26th in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average, which is F.O.’s proprietary measuring tool). Our forecast essentially says the Falcons are likely to have a worse record despite being a better team. The defense still won’t be very good, but the offense should rebound to a level closer to past years — slightly above average.”
Not for the first time with a Football Outsiders projection, I say: Sounds about right. The Falcons should be improved in Year 2 under Dan Quinn than in Year 1. (If they’re not, something is amiss.) Their schedule, however, is a bear — tied with San Francisco as the NFL’s worst. They’d have to be really stout just to break .500.
Last year the Falcons, who wound up playing the league’s second-softest schedule, weren’t as good as their record. This year they figure to be better than their record. Maybe in 2017 amid the opulence of Mercedes-Benz Stadium will the twain meet.