NFC South Over/Unders: How Excessive Can the Atlanta Falcons Fly?

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NFL Offseason – Bryan: Whats up, and welcome again to a different season right here at Soccer Outsiders—the twentieth 12 months we’ve got been protecting the league! What began as one man’s frustration with columnists and coaches saying that teams should run the ball more has blossomed right into a mighty pool of writers and analysts … annoyed with columnists and coaches saying that teams should run the ball more. Plus ça change.

Not that every thing’s the identical, thoughts you! We’re shuffling issues round a bit and including a brand new coat of paint as we prep for 12 months 20, freshening issues up as we transfer ahead. And a kind of modifications is a distinct particular person trying to beat me as we undergo the league’s over/unders. Everybody say hello to Cale Clinton, recognized on this website for contributing to Week in Quotes, Any Given Sunday, and different options. I am gonna go straightforward on him, which can be my excuse for my horrible, horrible predictions come January.

Cale: Blissful to have the chance to offer it my all. It will possibly’t be that onerous, proper?

Bryan: To make issues just a little simpler on us, we’re beginning off with the NFC South, a division pretty clearly delineated into two good groups and two unhealthy groups, although the diploma to which every group is which stays debatable. I discover it additionally consists of two groups who know what they’re doing and two groups stumbling round a bit, however we’ll get into that as we go ahead.

It is actually thoughtless of Vegas to set all these win-loss strains so near what really would possibly occur. If they simply set all of them at both 0 or 17 wins, we would be doing a lot better. It is an oversight within the course of, I feel.

Atlanta Falcons (5)

Cale: That takes us completely into our first group. The Atlanta Falcons completed simply shy of their 2021 O/U of seven.5. The one downside? That 7-10 Falcons group additionally completed because the worst seven-win group in DVOA historical past, beating out the 1996 Arizona Cardinals with a complete DVOA of -29.4%. So shut, but so, up to now.

Bryan: I give some credit score to the Falcons workers for realizing that they weren’t pretty much as good as their file indicated, transferring on from the Matt Ryan extension that was simply changing into extra onerous because the years glided by. I might like to know if the technique was intentional, because it solely occurred after they began poking round at Deshaun Watson’s availability, however I do assume it is the proper transfer in the long term.

After all, the draw back to that’s the Falcons are taking part in this season with $63.2 million in lifeless cash, probably the most in NFL historical past. They’re principally taking part in with one arm tied behind their again from a monetary perspective. Or, to cite Douglas Adams, they’re spending the 12 months lifeless for tax causes.

Cale: I suppose it is nearly higher consuming it all of sudden versus hamstringing your self for the foreseeable future. I’m no less than considerably shocked with the expertise they’ve managed to amass (exterior the quarterback place). Cordarrelle Patterson had a profession resurgence, going from a advantageous wideout to one of the best receiving again within the league, and elected to return to Atlanta within the offseason. He now joins rookie receiver Drake London and former unicorn Kyle Pitts, together with offseason additions in Auden Tate, Bryan Edwards, and Anthony Firkser. Not world-beaters by a protracted shot, but it surely’s undoubtedly higher than the gamers Ryan was throwing to earlier than he requested out.

Bryan: And, if they will persuade their opponents to play them in basketball reasonably than soccer, they’ve one of the best receiving corps within the recreation. A land of giants lumbering on the market; Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder could have a ton of performs this season that are “throw it up there and hope your massive man can out-jump their little guys.”

I actually just like the cornerback group they’ve. AJ Terrell is a famous person, and Casey Hayward and Isaiah Oliver are a really strong two-three behind him. When you put that cornerback group on a contending group, you’d say wow, that’s undoubtedly … enough to our wants. That’s an appropriate group of gamers for a group intending to truly win soccer video games.

Cale: A contending group the Falcons aren’t. You already talked about Mariota, who had a advantageous (?) season serving as Derek Carr’s backup in Las Vegas. However the final time he began a season was a lot much less fairly. Mariota posted only one season in Tennessee with a constructive passing DVOA, with numbers trending down from a ninth-best 11.1% end in 2018. Mariota is poised to win the job, slated to begin his first recreation since being usurped by Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee.

The fellows who’re defending him aren’t nice. Kaleb McGary has 84 blown move blocks during the last three years, most over that span. Jalen Mayfield is final in snaps per blown block amongst all lineman (min. 500 snaps). Matt Hennessy’s blown blocks doubled year-over-year from 2020, main all facilities within the class in 2021. Welcome again to a beginning gig, Marcus. Hope you want operating in your life!

Bryan: The entrance seven is not a lot better. They recorded 1.1 sacks per recreation final season, fifth-worst since 1970. It is no shock they used three of the primary 100 picks within the draft on pass-rushers and introduced in a passel of gamers in free company. It seems to be like they will have simply 4 returning starters on protection, which is smart in the event you watched actually any of their protection a 12 months in the past.

I feel the underlying factor right here is that there’s potential up and down the roster, however not so much in the way in which of precise confirmed expertise. You’ll be able to image every thing going properly and younger gamers growing and 12 months 2 going nice for Arthur Smith, however that takes numerous projection. Not every thing will work out!

Cale: Yeah, the ground feels low for this group. Backside-five within the league low. There’s numerous proving for this group to do, and if the Falcons had their druthers, I might think about they’d like that to be a sluggish construct to allow them to proceed to money in on some top-end draft picks.

Bryan: The most effective-case state of affairs for the Falcons this 12 months might be being the Good Unhealthy Workforce—the group with a dropping file that’s, nonetheless, a ache to play. A barely upmarket model of final 12 months’s Lions, which discovered methods to be aggressive into the fourth quarter most of the time. I feel that is a practical aim, particularly if Desmond Ridder is, as Derrik Klassen stated earlier this offseason, the most pro-ready of this year’s rookie quarterbacks. To select a group to go 4-13 or worse requires me to assume that they don’t have any hope in any way. I do not assume that describes the Falcons this 12 months, so I’ll go along with the over. Not a super-high over, however I feel sufficient will go proper that they’re going to be respectable; or no less than respectably unhealthy.

Cale: Yeah, there’s an excessive amount of expertise on this group for them to actually backside out, in my view. The factor is, although, I do not assume they will have a alternative. I actually do not assume their Twelfth-best projected common opponent of 0.6% DVOA will assist issues. The make-up of their schedule is tough, too. Kicking the 12 months off with Saints, at Rams, at Seahawks, Cleveland, at Tampa Bay, San Francisco, and at Cincinnati could possibly be as unhealthy as a 1-6 begin. The group’s bye does not come till Week 14. Morale might fall shortly. We are able to cite potential all we wish, however I feel an underneath is completely on the desk right here.

Carolina Panthers (6.5)

Bryan: Matt Rhule, in certainly one of his first press conferences in coaching camp, stated that his job was “not to pick the starting quarterback.” Counterpoint: sure, it’s? It is his personal design! It is his personal regret, too. Maybe we will help him to resolve, if solely by exhibiting any footage of Sam Darnold’s profession at actually any level. Baker Mayfield has been an underwhelming first-round quarterback. Darnold has the second-worst DVOA in historical past for anybody with 1,500 move makes an attempt. And nonetheless, Rhule stated he isn’t making any selections but. Welcome to your life, Panthers followers; there is not any turning again.

Cale: The quantity of draft capital spent in trades and draft picks, all to finish up with a quarterback room of Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, and Matt Corral, ought to be a case research in how to not construct a soccer group.

Bryan: And it is not like ending up with Mayfield was in anybody’s finest pursuits. It is not precisely a match made in heaven. It is a group and participant left alone within the bar at closing time, watching all the opposite prospects make their manner out the door one after the other. The Panthers and Mayfield had been the final ones left within the room, and each knew they simply could not return to their previous flames for one more 12 months. This isn’t the recipe for an optimistic 2022.

Cale: And even when Mayfield wins the job (which, in any case this drama, I hope he does simply to see that Week 1 Browns-Panthers matchup), this is not an incredible scenario for him. What did Baker have going for him in Cleveland? Among the best offensive strains within the league, coupled with a incredible steady of operating backs. What does he have now? Ikem Ekwonu looks like an incredible prospect and Taylor Moton improved in 2021, but it surely’s a far cry from the Nice Wall of Cleveland that protected Mayfield his first few years. Christian McCaffrey is elite when he is on the sector, however that not often occurs. Regardless of the Panthers operating the ball at a sixth-highest 43% charge within the first half and fifth-highest 69% charge in energy conditions, they nonetheless managed to rank twenty first in dashing DVOA in 2021.

That being stated, even injured 2021 Mayfield can do a greater job by means of the air than the Panthers did with the mixed efforts of Darnold, Cam Newton, and P.J. Walker final 12 months, with a -24.2% passing DVOA.

Bryan: Yeah, it doesn’t matter what your opinion is on Mayfield, he is an improve over what the Panthers selected to trot out final season. It is simply baffling that it took them till July to truly pull the set off on the commerce, reasonably than getting issues carried out throughout the draft. Congratulations, you most likely saved just a few {dollars} on the contract. And in flip, your projected QB1 missed all the offseason program.

It might not be coming throughout, however I actually do not belief Rhule’s means to steer this group. He’s the one coach within the NFL who has missed the playoffs within the final two seasons, and we’ve got but to see actually something from him that justifies his spot within the league. His groups come out lackluster, they underperform their expertise ranges, he makes baffling personnel and in-game selections. I am undecided he is the worst coach within the league; there are many individuals we have not seen sufficient of but. However he’s the coach with the most well liked of scorching seats by a big margin.

By that metric, the Mayfield transfer makes a ton of sense—it raises the ground for the group. And if McCaffrey is wholesome, that is an enormous enhance for any quarterback. And so they obtained DJ Moore locked as much as a contract simply earlier than the receiver market exploded, so there is a good personnel transfer. However I simply do not perceive the Panthers’ long-term plan in any respect; it appears like we’re all simply ready for the following regime to come back in at this level.

Cale: With all that being stated, I … just like the defensive aspect of the ball? At the very least among the items concerned. I am a extremely massive fan of Brian Burns, and he has actually emerged as probably the greatest younger edge rushers within the league over the previous few seasons. Jeremy Chinn has been incredible and versatile, and the group will get Jaycee Horn again from damage as properly. Shaq Thompson matured so much as a participant in 2021, enhancing as a linebacker in protection and higher recognized performs as a linebacker than he did in 2020. Donte Jackson can also be strong as properly when not banged up. I do not know if they will be capable of pull all of it collectively, however numerous the items are there for me.

Bryan: Every little thing you are saying is true, however even on the protection, I can discover holes. Changing Haason Reddick is a troublesome process; Burns wants operating mates. Can Yetur Gross-Matos fill these footwear? We noticed Horn for 3 video games and need to hope that initiatives for a whole 12 months. Our projections have the protection regressing some from final 12 months, though I feel the youth does give room for optimism as gamers proceed to develop. And it is good that there is optimism there on the defensive aspect of the ball, as I actually cannot discover it wherever else on the roster.

I feel the Panthers can be just a little bit higher than the Falcons for 2022, and that is all that issues for over/unders. However Carolina has a full 1.5 video games extra of wriggle room for the underneath, which issues so much. And in the long run, I can not stand Rhule’s indecision, married along with his lack of imaginative and prescient. I am going for the underneath right here, and better of luck to the following Panthers head coach and quarterback, neither of whom are at the moment on the roster.

Cale: There is a small a part of me that feels just like the Panthers bungle their methods to seven wins, by some means doing sufficient to maintain Rhule within the constructing, and so they simply lengthen this circus just a little longer. However you are proper, these 1.5 additional wins are a giant bounce to get by means of. In addition they get a late bye—Week 13—and so they need to tackle some stiff competitors earlier than they get there. I like among the items in place, however I would like no a part of this Panthers group in 2022. Below for me as properly.

New Orleans Saints (8)

Bryan: Our projections actually, actually love the Saints this season. That made writing their chapter within the Almanac just a little dicey, as a result of I am not absolutely on board with them as at the moment constructed. We now have them as one of the best protection in soccer, which I suppose is not an enormous stretch; they had been third last year, in any case. A top-20 offense appears reachable, however I’ve far much less confidence in Jameis Winston and firm than the Projection Laptop appears to have. I feel dropping Sean Payton goes to be a much bigger blow than the projections are accounting for.

Cale: Am I loopy for considering the expertise added—particularly at receiver—might assist to mitigate a few of that loss? When you slide the minimal play rely all the way in which right down to 200, RBSDM.com has Winston ending second in EPA/Play behind solely MVP Aaron Freakin’ Rodgers. And he did that whereas throwing to the likes of Marquez Callaway, Deonte Harty (née Harris), and Tre’Quan Smith. Now Michael Thomas is slated to return, Chris Olave joins the fold, and Jarvis Landry is available in as a high quality third piece.

I additionally assume (learn: hope) Alvin Kamara is primed for a bounce-back 12 months. Even when posting a career-worst and league-worst -95 rushing DYAR, he nonetheless managed to complete with 102 receiving DYAR, eleventh finest amongst operating backs. Hopefully, he has healed up after his hamstring and knee accidents that nagged all season, however simply the pure workload placed on Kamara as a rusher ought to be alleviated barely by having Mark Ingram II in because the second again. Kamara doesn’t have his success as a bellcow again, and he cleared his earlier dashing makes an attempt whole by nearly 50 regardless of taking part in in a career-low 13 video games.

Bryan: You are not loopy, however the phrase “if” is doing numerous work all through the Saints offense. It is incredible information that Thomas has gotten cleared for follow, however we principally have not seen a wholesome Thomas in two years; we do not know if he’ll be something near the identical participant who was arguably one of the best receiver in soccer on the tail finish of the Drew Brees period. Olave is a rookie, so we’re speaking potential greater than something in follow; I’ve considerations about him being bullied off the ball by bodily corners. Our numbers have by no means liked Landry, although I’ll acknowledge that I just like the potential of Olave because the deep man, Thomas because the intermediate man, and Landry because the quick man. Kamara is coming off of his worst season by a major margin, and he struggled regardless of who was underneath middle. And he is obtained his personal lingering authorized points to take care of, so who is aware of how a lot he’ll really see the sector. The offensive line goes to overlook Terron Armstead.

After which that brings us again round to Winston. Winston’s 13.6% passing DVOA would have been the second-best results of his profession if he had racked up sufficient makes an attempt to qualify, and he was by no means as unhealthy as his 30-interception season would have you ever imagine. However simply as Winston was unfortunate to throw 30 interceptions in Tampa Bay, he was lucky to be as efficient as he was final season. It is not like he utterly modified his model round and have become a Brees-esque recreation supervisor; he really set a profession low in on-target passes, per SIS charting. His play-by-play charting does not again up the type of enchancment his DVOA outcomes present, and I worry with out Payton he’ll take a step or two backwards.

Cale: Yeah, this isn’t the offensive line of previous, taking massive bets on Cesar Ruiz and Trevor Penning with the lack of Armstead. I feel there’s just a bit voice inside me rooting for the W-eating, crutch-dancing quarterback, hoping the primary six years of established historical past is all written away by a seven-game pre-injury pattern dimension that is actually boosted by that Week 1 anomaly towards the Packers.

Bryan: I do wish to be clear that my pessimism relies on our 10.0-win projection from the Almanac versus a “the Saints are going to be unhealthy this 12 months” sense. And likewise with a “you could have mortgaged the long run to maintain this group collectively?” standpoint, which does not matter in any respect for 2022. And that protection? Whereas I may not subjectively put them No. 1, have a look at that secondary and inform me that it does not strike worry into the hearts of opposing quarterbacks. Tyrann Mathieu, Marcus Maye, Marshon Lattimore, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, after which Paulson Adebo is there as properly. They’ve an argument for one of the best secondary within the league, and that is earlier than you throw within the move dashing of Cam Jordan or the underrated Demario Davis within the center. It is nonetheless bizarre to think about the Saints as being a defense-led group, however that is the world we stay in now.

Cale: It is loopy for a group to lose gamers corresponding to Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Williams however arguably improve with Mathieu and Maye. It is a group that already boasted the third-most protection sacks within the league, in keeping with SIS. A entrance seven of Jordan and Davis, together with small progressions from Marcus Davenport and a flash from David Onyemata obscured by damage, makes this protection very formidable. League-best may be a stretch for our mannequin, however something beneath a top-10 end is certainly disappointing.

I am assured sufficient to take the over on New Orleans. I feel they’ve an outdoor probability to take the NFC South, on the very least securing a wild-card berth. It is the NFC, so you could possibly feasibly get there even simply successful eight, however this group was capable of safe a 9-8 file with Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian, and Ian Guide all getting rides on the quarterback carousel. This protection holding water and the offense getting a giant enhance in talent place gamers offers me sufficient to disregard the foremost blow of dropping a pacesetter like Payton.

Bryan: Yeah, this group has robust 10-7, wild-card, first-round loss to Dallas vibes to me. They had been a wild-card group till the closing minutes of Week 18 final 12 months; I do not see any actual cause why they would not be no less than within the dialog as soon as once more this 12 months. It is the simplest choose for me within the division, a transparent over at eight wins. I might see it pushing, probably, however barring utter disaster, it is subsequent to unimaginable for me to see this group racking up double-digit losses for the primary time since 2005.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11.5)

Bryan: 20 years in the past, when Soccer Outsiders was born, the writers had been speaking about whether or not Tom Brady may lead his group to a second Tremendous Bowl win. Man, 2003 was such a loopy time.

Cale: We had been so near this being the primary 12 months in FO historical past with out writing up Brady. A fast 40-day break and a pump-faked retirement later, and right here we’re once more. The Brady-led Bucs lead the NFC in our common win projection and sit simply behind Buffalo in our odds to win the Tremendous Bowl. Identical because it ever was.

Bryan: The Buccaneers are the strongest division favorites within the league (-250 at DraftKings as we write this), in addition to the group with one of the best odds to make the playoffs in some capability (-650). There are questions, for certain—and extra now that it seems to be like Ryan Jensen goes to overlook severe time with a knee damage—however they’re largely “how will these issues have an effect on them in January?” points versus “can one thing derail the season?” points. Like, how lengthy will it take Chris Godwin to get again to full type? Nicely, that issues much less with the additions of Russell Gage and Julio Jones. How will the inside line maintain up with out Jensen, Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa? Nicely, Shaq Mason’s most likely an improve over Cappa, and there are strong choices elsewhere with Aaron Stinnie and Luke Goedeke. I’ve no vital worries for the Buccaneers offensively, except that is lastly the 12 months Brady turns right into a pumpkin.

Cale: I’ve zero considerations with the offense. Brady has carried out much more with so much much less to work with. Having Ke’Shawn Vaughn as RB2 and Giovani Bernard as a pass-catching again are respectable contingency plans if Leonard Fournette’s pre-camp weight considerations really change into a problem. I’m genuinely anxious concerning the lack of Jensen, however getting Mason within the fold ought to immediate a league investigation for collusion, particularly on the worth they obtained him.

The place I do have considerations, nevertheless, is the protection. I feel the lack of Jordan Whitehead is de facto being undersold. He was incredible towards the run amongst defensive backs and a extremely essential participant on this passing protection in 2021. They added Logan Ryan to fill the entire, however I do not assume that can be sufficient to disregard Whitehead’s loss. The defensive entrance additionally will get so much much less formidable with out Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul. Positive, each gamers are getting up there in age, however that is 8.5 mixed sacks and 33 mixed hurries left to fill from 2021. Pierre-Paul additionally completed as probably the greatest edge rushers towards the run in 2021, completed fourth in run cease charge and eighth in dashing yards per try allowed.

Bryan: On the identical time, JPP’s 22 pressures and 6.5% stress charge had been each profession lows, and Suh’s 70% run cease charge was his worst since arriving in Tampa Bay. I do not assume the pair of first-round abilities in Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Logan Corridor are going to match what the previous lions did throughout the 2020 Tremendous Bowl run, however I feel there have been sufficient cracks in Suh and Pierre-Paul for the newbies to have a strong probability of emulating their 2021 manufacturing. You are proper in that the Bucs actually haven’t got a one-to-one alternative for Whitehead, and I’ve questions concerning the secondary elsewhere; they had been actually challenged final season attributable to damage and did not make a lot of an effort to truly enhance there.

However finally, I feel the aim for the Buccaneers protection is “do not be unhealthy sufficient to derail issues,” and I feel they will clear that bar with flying colours.

Cale: Does it concern you in any respect simply how robust that entrance finish of the schedule is? First two weeks on the street towards Dallas and New Orleans (who has at all times given Brady suits, granted with Payton on the helm), then internet hosting Inexperienced Bay and Kansas Metropolis. I’ve little doubt this group could make a giant playoff run, however attending to 11.5 wins could possibly be an uphill battle if they do not get off to a great begin towards a extremely robust open.

Bryan: “Concern” may be a stretch, however I might see the Bucs beginning 0-2, or failing to hit .500 all through September; it’s a brutal stretch to begin the season. However on the entire, the schedule is not that robust, it is simply front-loaded. 4 video games towards Atlanta and Carolina ought to assist considerably and pad that win whole. I am going to admit that 11.5 is a troublesome bar to clear, and I am nowhere close to as assured right here as I used to be with New Orleans or Atlanta, however I am nonetheless taking the over. I’ve been burned too badly by Brady prior to now, and I might reasonably be a 12 months late predicting his demise at this level.

Cale: I feel they clear the over by the pores and skin of their tooth, reducing it as shut as 12-5. I am in the identical place as you—I can not guess towards Brady, the receiving corps is powerful, and I do not assume the defensive losses will maintain this group again an excessive amount of, however the losses are beginning to add up for me. No Godwin early, probably no Jensen for the 12 months, a slower Fournette, together with every thing we’ve got already talked about, it is actually getting tight for me. If the NFC as a complete wasn’t so tender, I might most likely hammer the underneath, and even then I’d change my thoughts in the event you gave me just a few extra days to consider it.

Bryan: It is good to see we’re sticking with custom, matching our picks in three out of 4 groups. The extra issues change, the extra issues keep the identical.

Cale: It would not be a preseason betting information with out me second-guessing my intestine and following the knowledge of the gang!


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