The Comeback has been previewing all 32 NFL teams from worst to first leading up to the start of the 2017 regular season on Thursday. Only two teams remain before Thursday night’s opener, and they happen to be the two that met in the last real NFL football game we all witnessed. Swooping in at No. 2 in our preseason rankings, the traumatized Atlanta Falcons.
2016 in a nutshell: Quarterback Matt Ryan had a career year and the offense lit up the league. Combine that with improved play from a young, but talented defense and you had the formula for a Super Bowl run. In fact, the Falcons made the big game and took a 25-point lead over the New England Patriots before it all went to hell.
What’s different: Super Bowl hangovers are real, and this could be an epic one. We’re talking about a young, vulnerable team coming off the most humiliating collapse in the history of the sport. Oh, and they’re working with new offensive and defensive coordinators.
Why they could be awesome: Ryan put together one of the best statistical seasons in NFL history last year, and he hasn’t lost any weapons. Meanwhile, the young defense should benefit from another year of maturity. That unit has also added two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Dontari Poe and tenacious first-round pass-rusher Takkarist McKinley.
— All Sport News (@All_SportNews) February 6, 2017
Why they could suck: The man who pulled the strings for that offense, Kyle Shanahan, is now the head coach for the San Francisco 49ers. Ryan and Co. could easily come back to earth after an outlier of a season, especially without Shanahan. That D also remains vulnerable, and did I mention the potential Super Bowl hangover?
Major additions: Poe, McKinley, veteran return man Andre Roberts and Shanahan’s replacement, Steve Sarkisian.
Major losses: Shanahan. And maybe veteran fullback Patrick DiMarco?
world ain’t ready for year 2 of deion jones pic.twitter.com/iTVVzp4e4R
— charles mcdonald (@FourVerts) August 27, 2017
Breakout watch: Linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal both had fantastic rookie seasons. Now the Falcons and their fans hope both will take the next step and become superstars.
Position to watch: Atlanta was vulnerable at cornerback down the stretch last season, and it doesn’t help that young stud Jalen Collins now faces a 10-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substances policy. The good news is they’re getting 2015 Pro Bowler Desmond Trufant back from injury.
Prediction: On paper, the Falcons are better than they were last year, but the game isn’t played on paper. Shanahan’s departure and that Super Bowl loss could have a huge psychological impact on the Falcons. I doubt they’re as dominant on offense as they were last year, but the D might actually be better. They’ll still win the division but I’m expecting them to be bounced early in January.
12-4, 1st place in the NFC South