As someone who criticized the Atlanta Falcons rather heavily after their opening loss to Tampa Bay, fairness compels me to mention that Football Outsiders now gives them a 42.9 percent chance of making the playoffs, which is slightly better odds than FO hands the Carolina Panthers, who’ll visit the doomed Dome this weekend. Indeed, the Falcons are now the favorite to win the NFC South.
Which goes to show: In the NFL, things can change really fast. After the Week 1 loss, the same Football Outsiders assessed the Falcons’ chance of qualifying for postseason as 2.4 percent while handing them a 7.1 percent chance of picking No. 1 in the 2017. And if you’d asked me in the days after Tampa Bay if I expected the Falcons to be 2-1 headed to October, I’d have said, “Heck, no.” As mentioned then, they didn’t figure to be favored in any game until the Chargers come here on Oct. 23.
Sure enough, they haven’t been favored since the Tampa Bay loss and aren’t favored this week and surely won’t be when they head to Denver and then Seattle. Still, they’re 2-1, which is as good as you can do after starting 0-1, and they’re leading the South and they have the NFL’s best offense. Kyle Shanahan for president!
But here’s the thing: The Falcons also have the league’s 30th-ranked (of 32) defense, and the only teams more pliant are two the Falcons just beat. Stats can be weird, but these are really odd: The Falcons, Raiders and Saints — who’ve just had their own little round-robin — are Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in total offense and Nos. 30, 31 and 32 in total defense.
Maybe that means those three are so irresistible no defense can stop them. Maybe it means their defenses are so bad they can’t stop anybody. (Tampa Bay, the Falcons’ other opponent to date, ranks No. 9 in offense and No. 19 in defense.)
The Falcons haven’t yet gained fewer than 374 yards in a game; they also haven’t yielded fewer than 371. At such a moment, Football Outsiders’ DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) ratings are usually a help, but here they tell us what the raw numbers suggest: Through three games, DVOA rates the Falcons as having the NFL’s second-best offense — and the best special teams — and the absolute worst defense.
Perhaps that will change when the Panthers arrive. (They have DVOA’s No. 18 offense and No. 6 defense.) Perhaps not. But the way the Falcons have started indicates that they’ll need to win shootouts if they’re to win at all, and for that to happen we must take on faith than Shanahan’s offense will keep scoring touchdowns (nine in the past two games after two versus Tampa Bay) and that the absence of a defense will be no deterrent to winning.
And then we might ask: Wasn’t Dan Quinn supposed to be a defensive coach?