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    Atlanta Falcons: Meet the NFL’s biggest boom or bust team in 2019

    The Atlanta Falcons might not be considered heavy favorites for Super Bowl LIV, but don't be shocked when you see them in Miami come February.

    The 2019 NFL season has yet to begin and somehow, we already have Super Bowl favorites. Sure, it’s no surprise to see the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams on the list since both of them will be just seven months removed from the Mercedes-Benz Stadium (home of the Atlanta Falcons) where they battled it out for the Lombardi Trophy.

    The New Orleans Saints should be favorites since they were just a quality referee away from possibly representing the NFC down in the Peach City. You probably should consider the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles and even the Chicago Bears heading into the season.

    Yes, the Bears are contenders. We’re not kicking them down just yet like Cody Parkey.

    Teams in a transition phase

    Then comes that weird transition of teams who could be playoff poppers or postseason surprises thanks to an offseason. Sure the Cleveland Browns haven’t been to the postseason since 2002, but they got Odell Beckham Jr. and turned the city back into Believeland right?

    You can never count out the Pittsburgh Steelers, even if their offense will be limited since their top two weapons are now elsewhere. Throw the Dallas Cowboys in there as well since they’re pretty much Steelers of the NFC: strong history with multiple hidden problems.

    Listen, talk all you want about the Eagles and banged up Carson Wentz. Mention Baker Mayfield and the fun-loving Browns. They still have to prove they’re not a reincarnation of the 2011 “Dream Team” Eagles. Even throw in Seattle with the $140 million wonder-man Russell Wilson under center.

    In the end, it shouldn’t be a surprise when the Atlanta Falcons are sitting comfy in Miami come February. They’re too good to be horrible in back to back seasons.

    Why the Atlanta Falcons?

    “I’m feeling very good about what (general manager) Thomas (Dimitroff) and (coach) Dan (Quinn) have done this offseason,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We have some key guys getting healthy again, the draft picks are getting up to speed, the new coordinators are meshing well and I’m confident we’re going to be ready to go for a very competitive training camp. I like where we’re going.”

    Hopefully Blank is onto something with his thoughts because it’s impossible for the Falcons to be as disappointing again. Atlanta has gone 18-17 ever since giving up a 24 point lead in Houston to New England with under 17 minutes left in Super Bowl 53.

    Ok, 28-3 joke made, it won’t happen again.

    Giving the Atlanta Falcons credit where it’s due

    Let’s give credit to the Falcons where credit is due, injuries plagued the Dirty Birds from the start of the season. Star safety Keanu Neal played just three-quarters last season before tearing his ACL and miss the season. Linebacker Deion Jones played in only six games after dealing with a nagging foot injury.

    Devonta Freeman offered nothing more than just moral support after suffering multiple lower-body injuries early in the year. He rushed for a career-low 68 yards and allowed Tevin Coleman to step into the spotlight.

    Add in the losses for Ricardo Allen, Andy Levitre, Brandon Fusco; it’s easy to see why the Falcons struggled to pick up wins in 2018. As a result, Atlanta dropped five of their last eight game and finished below .500 for the first time since 2014.

    Injuries will always play a big part in a team’s success, but that can’t be a deciding factor in throwing in the towel. Take a look at both the Rams and Chiefs, who finished 13-3 and 12-4 respectively with multiple injuries on both squads. Both went to their championship games and saw their seasons end to thanks to the Patriots dynasty that will outlive everyone.

    An offense ready to explode

    The Falcons were still one of the top-ranked offenses in the NFL during their down season. Finishing 4th in passing and 6th overall, Atlanta’s wide receiver trio might become the team’s bread and butter moving forward. Matt Ryan is just two years removed from an MVP season and finished 3rd in passing with nearly 5,000 yards.

    Julio Jones still is the standard of what all receivers should be judged when considered elite. The 6-3 wideout has finished the last five season with over 1,400 yards in each of the past five seasons. Last year, he topped all receivers with 1,677 yards.

    Mohamed Sanu has been one of the league’s most consistent No.2 receivers in the league. He set a personal best last season with 838 yards. Atlanta surprised the NFL Draft community by selecting Calvin Ridley 26th overall but he turned out to be a massive upgrade in the slot. The former Alabama product led all rookie wideouts with 821 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.

    Austin Hooper finished fourth among tight ends with 71 receptions and collected four touchdowns. Add that all together and the Falcons’ passing offense should continue to be the key to their success. While Coleman’s loss will sting, Ito Smith averaged 5.6 yards per catch out of the backfield. He could be a nice compliment out of the backfield behind a healthy Freeman.

    It’s time for some consistency and stability

    Perhaps the biggest reason for the fans to believe in the Falcons is a future of consistency. Last season, Atlanta was able to drive the ball down the field but never could punch it in the end zone under the direction of Steve Sarkisian. It’s actually more of an art form how inconsistent the offense was last season.

    Atlanta scored just 12 points in Week 1, over 30 in their next three appearances before scoring just 17 in Week 5. They then scored 21 or more for three straight weeks before failing to put up less than 20 points in their final three games before the halfway mark. To top it off, the Falcons finished their seasons off averaging 29.5 points per game during their final four games of the season.

    Sarkisian is now headed back to the college in Tuscaloosa while Atlanta brought Dirk Koetter back for a second stint with the Dirty Birds. During Koetter’s first stint as play-caller, the Falcons finished with a top 10 unit in two of the three seasons. (2012, 2014).

    How about the defense?

    The defense will answer the biggest questions on if Atlanta is a legitimate contender. After  three key losses, the Falcons finished 28th in total defense after being a year removed from a top 10 squad. Vic Beasley took another step back after leading the league with 15.5 sacks in 2016 while Takk McKinley led the team with just seven.

    If there was any consolation prize on defense last season, it comes in the secondary. Third-year defensive back Damontae Kazee led the league with seven interceptions last season and shined in coverage. He should care out a role in the team’s nickel and dime formation with Allen’s return.

    Meanwhile, former second-round cornerback Isaiah Oliver should continue his late-season success heading into his sophomore season. The Colorado defensive back has the size and strength (6’0″, 210 pounds) to win on the outside against larger receivers. His role should also expand with Robert Alford and Brian Poole now on different rosters.

    Atlanta will still has issues on defense heading into their season. Neal hasn’t played a snap in nearly a year while Beasley, McKinley and Duke Riley should all be in make-or-break seasons. The problem has never been talent but rather personnel calling the shots. With Sarkisian out and Koetter in, Atlanta should be in better hands when inside the red zone.

    Is it enough for the Atlanta Falcons to make it to the Super Bowl?

    The Falcons have a Super Bowl-caliber roster. They also have enough talent on both sides of the ball to finish near the top of every statistical ranking. The biggest win of all; health is on their side for a new season. Still, everything will rely on the play-calling under Quinn and his staff. Should the team fail to make the postseason, Atlanta could be in for a front office overhaul.

    All 32 clubs have a chance into a new season to make their run to Miami. No one should be shocked the Atlanta Falcons are still playing late in January with a push to make an appearance in Miami. With so much talent on both sides, Atlanta should be more than just your average contender heading into 2019.

    If they are, it’ll be the end of an era that truly never was. The highlight of their run? At least we got the most played out joke in NFL history.

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