Football Outsiders: Falcons to go 9-7 (whoa!) and grab a wild card

The guy on the left? He left. (John Bazemore/AP photo)

Frequenters of this space know I enjoy a good prediction. I even enjoy bad predictions. Without the question, “So who’s going to win?” there would be no sports worth following. But the predictions I track most closely are those made by Football Outsiders, which uses its data to cut through the noise. And, regarding the Atlanta Falcons, Football Outsiders has been pretty close over the years. A recap:

— In 2013, F.O. had the Falcons — who were coming off a 13-3 season and a narrow loss in the NFC Championship game — plunging to 7.6 mean wins and finishing last in the NFC South. (They were 4-12 and tied Tampa Bay for last.)

— In 2014, the site forecast a rise from the four wins of 2013 to 7.3 mean wins. (The Falcons finished 6-10.)

— In 2015, Football Outsiders had the Falcons surging from 6-10 to 10-6 and making the playoffs. (They finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs, but had to slip from 6-1 to manage that.)

— In 2016 … well, here’s one F.O. didn’t see coming. It had the Falcons going 7-9, which sounded reasonable  — a team coming off 8-8 and a bad schedule had to face the NFL’s co-toughest slate this time around. The Falcons finished 11-5 and nearly won the Super Bowl. (For the record, F.O. picked the Patriots to beat the Falcons in Houston, which looked wrong until it wound up right.)

Enough history. In 2017, Football Outsiders has the Falcons going 9-7, finishing second to Carolina in the NFC South and taking a wild card. It has the them as the NFC’s sixth-best team, behind Seattle, Green Bay, Dallas, Carolina and Arizona. That’s surely lower than most every projection you have or will read.

In a post for ESPN Insider, F.O. founder/editor Aaron Schatz writes:

“Carolina’s projection is pretty simple: a bit of rebound on both sides of the ball combined with an easy schedule. … The Panthers will have a close race with the Falcons, whose late-season defensive improvement is likely to continue in 2017. However, we’re also expecting some regression from the Atlanta offense, particularly because of the loss of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.”

As noted, I like reading Football Outsiders because I learn something every time I click on the site. Numbers-based discussions differ from the usual sports blather — “Matt Ryan: Is he elite? Kind of elite? Elite but not sweet? — in what I consider a better way. And I do think the Falcons will suffer from the loss of Shanahan, who — until those final eight minutes in NRG Stadium — had the greatest play-calling season I’ve ever witnessed.

If you ask me the single biggest reason the Falcons went from 8-8 to the Super Bowl, I wouldn’t say Ryan (although he was immense) or Julio Jones (ditto) or the improving defense (although it definitely improved). I’d say Kyle Shanahan. And he’s gone. And Steve Sarkisian, for all the latest round of Flowery Branch happy talk, isn’t Kyle Shanahan.

I believe the Falcons have built well and should be really good for a nice long while. I also believe Shanahan is irreplaceable. I do think 9-7 sounds a bit low — but not ridiculously low. Nothing Football Outsiders writes is ridiculous.

Reader Comments 0

21 comments
JB Falcon
JB Falcon

I am not, and have never been, on the Sham wagon. He had no proven winning history when he got here and now we know why. He had the brains and football knowledge but didn't know how to use them. 

Eric_C
Eric_C

As @inoto20 mentioned, Mack was the key this season.  I said all throughout the season that he was as valuable a player as anyone - see the end of the SB if you don't believe it.  Shanahan did some exciting things, but he was never irreplaceable before...why do you say that now?    

Bug
Bug

I have read every ones comments. and they are all true.....nice to see comments from people who know football.

inoto20
inoto20

No the biggest reason is alex mack. I mean the play calling is pretty simple. Either you hand the ball off or pass. If you run, need blockers and a good rb. We have that. If you pass, need protection and for the receivers to get open and a qb who can pass. We had that last year. No reason it should be different this year as long as off line protects, and players are healthy.  Yeah passing the ball at the 20 on 2nd and 3rd down late in the game with an 8 point lead also wouldn't be wise. A 6 year old could tell you that. Why you would credit this idiot is beyond me.

inoto20
inoto20

Shanihan is the reason they lost the sb so saying we lost him isn't such a bad thing

SnoopyJenkins
SnoopyJenkins

Simple......we win the Superbowl (if)


-- Our center was not  injured

-- Kyle calls (2) consecutive running plays and kicks field goal after Julio big catch for 1st down (Yeah...I am still butt hurt about it)

kevkat
kevkat

And Matt throwing the ball away instead of taking a sack!

chrisallenprice
chrisallenprice

The kicker on this is on defense, not offense.  Count on the same level for Matt and company.  Add an improved defense, especially pressure on opposing QBs.  Another 11-5 season gets them to playoffs.  This time they go all the way.  Bet on it.

1331ronnie
1331ronnie

I think we are a different team and adifferant organization, more along the consistency of New England and Seattle. I think this because of many great qualities that Dan Quinn has, but perhaps most importantly; the ability to plug in new players and new coaches to keep the winning consitency!

Robert Karma
Robert Karma

9-7 sounds about right. Historically the Falcons have taken a step back after having a superb season. I don't think the drop-off will be dramatic but they will slump a bit. Tampa Bay will be improved and Carolina will get back on track. New Orleans is an enigma. So the division will be very competitive and a Wild Card for the Dirty Birds is a reasonable prediction. 

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Robert Karma: "Historically the Falcons have taken a step back after having a superb season."

______________

True that--although "superb seasons" for the Falcons represent a pretty small sample size.

AMFILMSHD
AMFILMSHD

i see it differently.  we go 13-3.  the rise of the curve is upward.  this team is not falling backwards, they haven't hit their peak.  

jlrhoya
jlrhoya

We are talking about the Kyle Shanahan that this team had too much of in 2015 and that only after Matt Ryan was given a little more freedom from Shanahan's grip in 2016 (no-huddle offense) did we improve offensively.

Terrell86
Terrell86

@jlrhoya  Bingo! It's funny how people forget that. Let's not forget that Ryan even said himself there were some plays that he could not audible out of due to the personnel that was on the field.

JeffreyEav
JeffreyEav

DQ had em ready last year. He'll have em ready this year. Injuries are the only thing that stop us. Go Falcons.

green machine
green machine

i don't want to see that win total but it's definitely not a crazy prediction.  everyone knows the nfl is an up and down league.  last year--everything went right for atlanta.  we got hot at the right time, had a low amount of injuries, won the division, played every playoff game at home and even got the chance to play the super bowl in a dome--and last but not least--had a 25 point lead late in the big game.  i don't see how these things will ever line-up in our favor again.  however, i truly feel like this team is going to be a really strong team barring any serious injuries.  the offense should be able to make up for the loss of shanny.  while last year shanny might have been at his best--the previous year i was never thinking about how great a play-caller he was!  as for the defense--it should keep getting better!  gotta keep getting off the field on 3rd downs and avoid stupid penalties.  special teams might be down a little--kicker is getting older but seems to be rock-steady.  punter is pretty good and hopefully our return games will improve.  i'm not in love with the special teams coach although people in and around the nfl talk about how great he is all of the time--i don't see it and i've watched every game this franchise has played since 1977.


i do remember after losing the sb in 98 how i thought the falcons would be representing the nfc in the 99 bowl in the georgia dome....haha we all know how that turned out!  one of my worst seasons to follow the falcons ever.  hopefully this year ends a lot better--but this game is soooooo crazy--one call, one injury, one bad bounce of the ball can do a lot of things.  i'm hoping for home field advantage in the playoffs and another return to the super bowl and this time--bringing home a win!  but as good as we look right now--who knows what happens come september.


go falcons!!! 

Savdon
Savdon

You're killing me Mark.  You're killing me I tell ya.  Well, not You.  You know what I mean. Kill the messenger.