Season In Review – Atlanta Falcons

By Dave Moore (@davieremixed)

Next up in our series is the Atlanta Falcons. I could have scheduled this for the 28th March but you know, too far to wait.


Entering The Season


It’s a strange and difficult time to be a fan of the Dirty Birds, after that turnaround in The Big Game, they managed to get back to the playoffs the following year only to be defeated in the Divisional Round by the Eagles. They seemed primed to make a run at The Big Game once again in the 2018 season only to be utterly wrecked by injuries.

The goal for this season? Get healthy, stay healthy, knock the Saints off the top of the NFC South and make the most of a favourable schedule against the unreliable AFC South and the Bizarro World that is the NFC West.


During The Season


The season did not exactly get off to a positive start with a 28-12 spanking on the road in Minnesota, the Falcons not scoring any points until there were nine minutes of the game remaining. No big deal, a get right 24-20 victory over the Eagles despite blowing a two-score lead with a three game stretch against the AFC South coming up? Could establish a spot in the wildcard spots at this rate, right?

Wrong.

Dead wrong.

TheAthletic.com

At stages against the Colts and Titans the Falcons were down 20-3 and 24-7 respectively. To compound this issue, they were blown out 53-32 by the Texans in Week 5. The return to NRG Stadium only inflamed the bad memories.

By the time the Week 9 bye rolled around, another three-game divisional stretch – this time against the NFC West – came and went the same way as the AFC South trio. Ugly, ugly defeats. A missed field goal as time expired on the road at the Cardinals, a 27-point defeat against the Rams and a loss to Seattle meant that Atlanta’s season was over before Halloween. Nevermind a spooky season, this was downright horrifying from Dan Quinn’s team.

There were more than a few whispers that Arthur Blank was going to take action against Quinn before the season was out, what a staggering fall from grace just a couple of years removed from Super Bowl LI and here was the Head Coach, 1-7 and without any apparent idea of how to stop the bleeding (31.25 PPG given up through the first eight weeks!).

Atlantafalcons.com

Meanwhile, the offensive line was just a whole heap of garbage, first round pick (31st overall) Kaleb McGary had a terrible year and it showed in not only Atlanta’s season overall with 50 sacks allowed, the fifth most in the entire league, but also in the run game which struggled so badly that not one Atlanta running back posted a triple digit game all year. How can a bad defense stay off the field when the offense can’t do anything other than pass? An impossible situation.

Spare a thought at this point for Julio Jones and Matty Ice. Two elite players who did their best whilst everything else was going to hell around them. Even Calvin Ridley chipped in as a solid WR2 and Austin Hooper was a good redzone threat. That isn’t enough, however. The season was basically over by November. What to aim for in the second half? A perfect 2nd half seals a 9-7 record that might be enough for the playoffs but with such a loaded NFC that’s a tall order.

The last thing Atlanta needed coming off the bye week then was a trip to the Superdome to face the 7-1 Saints who were on the verge of running away with the division. This could be the game that finally forced Blank’s hand to show Quinn the door.

Atlanta 26-9 New Orleans. What. The. Heck?

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

A transformed Falcons D smothered a Saints team that had scored 30+ points in five out of their first eight games. The Falcons line broke through and sacked Drew Brees six times and held the Saints to a paltry three field goals. Even Brian Hill (who?!) got in on the action with 71 scrimmage yards and a score. Was this the turning point of the season? A chance to put something together for pride, for their HC who was on the brink not long after being on the brink of winning it all?

Well they went one better against the Panthers, blowing them out 29-3, keeping them scoreless for 47 minutes. They couldn’t go on a run could they? An all-time second half of the season to sneak into the 6 seed?

Nope.

Consecutive home losses to the Bucs and the Saints saw to that, although let’s take a moment to talk about the wild end to the Thanksgiving matchup against New Orleans where the Falcons recovered THREE onside kicks in a row (the first being brought back for a penalty) in a somewhat amusing end to a comfortable revenge win for New Orleans.

3-9 going into December. Season over, time to play spoiler? On the road? Against the dominant 49ers? You betcha.

Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group

A touchdown with two seconds remaining (Julio from Matty Ice, who else?) gave the Falcons a 23-22 lead which would swell to 29-22 on a fumble return on the kick-off. How about that for a feather in your cap, Dan Quinn?!

Atlanta finished the season 7-9, going 6-2 in the second half of the season to achieve a modicum of respectability but the season was doomed after the AFC South fiasco in September.


Offseason Outlook


So where next for Atlanta? They’ve got eight draft picks to play with and need to hope that they land on better selections than 2019’s picks. An edge-rusher is something they’re in desperate need of as they finished with just 28 sacks on the year, tied for second least. If Austin Hooper isn’t to return in free agency then Tight End becomes a priority, also.

Meanwhile that 50 sack year indicates that they need to either coax more out of the O-Line they have or make it just as big of a priority.

There isn’t much room in free agency to pick up pieces either, $7.5 million to play with and not many players who can be sacrificed to make room. Devonta Freeman has arguably been ineffectual for two straight years now but his 2020 cap hit of $9.5m is offset by the fact that there’s $6m in dead money going to him this coming year.

TheFalconsWire.UsaToday.com

A lot of money is tied up in Chris Lindstrom, Jake Matthews and Grady Jarrett this year in what will be important years going forward for them as Atlanta cannot afford to take the cap hit on these guys. It could be a tricky year ahead for the Falcons, despite having a great QB and WR1-2 punch.

Atlanta’s road schedule for 2020? Green Bay, Minnesota, Dallas, Kansas City, LA Chargers, Saints, Bucs and Panthers. Ouch. If they’re going to get out of the NFC South, it’s going to be on the back of being near-perfect at home and steal two/three wins on the road because that is an absolute stinker of a road schedule.

Where Do They Go From Here; Falcons

After our divisional season review podcasts, we are now looking to the future and asking where each franchise goes from here. We put ourselves in the chair of being GM or the owner and going over what moves we would make in order to win a Superbowl, make the playoffs or just regain some pride…

Today we take a look at the Atlanta Falcons.

Don’t forget to check out the NFC South podcast where we talked to Ben Rolfe and got his thoughts on them!

How Did Last Season Go?

With the Super Bowl in their own back yard in 2018, the owners and GM were hoping that Atlanta were in a prime position squad wise to make a deep run. But injuries on both sides of the ball ultimately cost them any chance of January football.

Decimated on defence and without star running back Devonta Freeman, the Falcons simply couldn’t cover the holes in order to make it to the postseason, despite the heroic efforts of the Matty Ice and the offence.

Talking of Matt Ryan, the Falcons QB once again ascended to the dizzy heights of his MVP year; 35 TDs to just 7 INTs, only 76 yards short of a 5000 yard passing season (and only 20 yards short from his MVP year) and just short of a 70% completion on 608 passing attempts.

Not bad for those that took him late in fantasy drafts last year when you include 3 rushing and 1 receiving touchdowns to boot.

However, he could not overcome the liability that the Falcons D were, as they ended up 25th in points allowed and ultimately proved too much for the 10th best scoring offence to overcome meaning they ended up with a 7-9 record.

Julio Jones had himself a season again, ended atop of the receiving yards mountain with a cool 1677 yards and 8TDs which saw Julio go to his 5th straight Pro Bowl. Calvin Ridley showed in flashes what he can do and will be a key piece for years to come. One player that wont be is the departing Tevin Coleman, who struggled to carry his and Devonta Freeman’s workload and has already walked out of the exit door.

Back to the season, their 5 game losing streak at being 4-4 after week 9 ultimately killed the Falcons and some may say that it was foolish to win their last 3 games in terms of their draft position.

Housekeeping

The Falcons have picks 14, 45 and 79 in the top 3 rounds and have a couple of compensatory picks in rounds 4 and 5 too.

Unfortunately at the time of the article, the Falcons have <$5m in cap, which is in the bottom 5.

Outgoings

As mentioned, Tevin Coleman exits Atlanta for pastures new in San Francisco. Steve Sarkisian also bites the bullet as OC.

Incomings

Grady Jarrett has had the franchise tag placed upon him so he will return at DT, which essentially limits the Falcons along with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones’s big contracts. However, a few offensive guards have been brought in; James Carpenter (Jets) and Jamon Brown. Other depth pieces include the re-signing of Justin Hardy and the acquisition of Kenyon Barner.

At a coaching level, former Tampa Bay HC Dirk Koetter comes in to take the OC job. If things dont go to plan, you could say he is Koet candidate (boo-ya!).

Outlook for Next Year

Despite the poor season by last season, the outlook is good for the Falcons. The division will still be like a helter-skelter and it’ll depend on when they catch their divisional rivals. New Orleans will still be the favourites for the division but if Atlanta can get a bit luckier with the amount of injuries they have, this could easily be a dark horse for a Super Bowl run. You heard it here first. Devonta Freeman will need to prove his health too if the Falcons want to play football in January. Unfortunately it won’t take much for him to miss time with his concussion history and his knees being as stable as a house of cards in a hurricane.

Prediction

I think Atlanta make a playoff appearance in 2019 and will be a dangerous wildcard team. There are enough wins to come from the NFC West and AFC South (the NFC South opponents for this year) to combine with their other opponents to get to 10 wins.

Hot take – Atlanta are a top 5 offence and a top 10 defence in 2019.

Fantasy Football

Matt Ryan – later round QB (higher than last year however) – QB1

Devonta Freeman – 3rd/4th Round pick – RB1 potential *SLEEPER ALERT*

Julio Jones – back end 1st round/ early 2nd round pick- WR1

Calvin Ridley – 6th/7th Round pick – WR 3

Austin Hooper – late round pick / undrafted – Low TE1/TE2

 

 

 

Podcast 32 – My Guys & Wise Guys

Here we go! Which players do me and Lee Wakefield love this year? Which players do we avoid in drafts?

Find out here as we each give you 1 QB, 1 RB, 1 WR, 1 TE and a Defence that we love and hate this year.

Don’t forget to join our Last Man Standing and ATS Pick’em leagues! Check out our pinned tweet @full10yards.

PS I apologise for the bad singing.

Joy Divisions – NFC East

Before the season starts, myself and good friend of the podcast Lee Wakefield (@wakefield90) will give a summary of each division, how we see it playing out over the season along with some players to target in fantasy in each.

NFC East:

A few intriguing storylines in the NFC East this year. Transition, injury and clarity and identity are the main themes. But which teams have which storyline?

TIM

Philadelphia Eagles

We start off with last years NFC Champs, the #1 seed in the NFC and (unfortunately for me), the reigning Super Bowl Champions. Even the most anti Eagles fan would be hard pressed to say that the Eagles were not the best team last year. I have no problem with it. I do have a problem however with the ominous look about the Eagles and the franchise for the next few years.

They have the coaching staff (despite the exits of OC Frank Reich and QB Coach John DeFilippo), they have the depth at most positions and they have the talent but more importantly, the mentality. I could only dream of the Dallas Cowboys coaches and players having the same determination and focus to do what Philadelphia do.  The differences are night and day.

Changes from last year are very little and the main issues surrounding the Eagles in 2018 are getting all the players back and healthy for week 1 and trying to adjust slightly to the new coaches at Quarterback and obviously the Offensive Co-ordinator.

Carson Wentz, Alshon Jeffrey, Darren Sproles, Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks to name but a few players that have all either had long term injuries or surgery last season of in the offseason so will be interesting to see how patched up the Eagles are come week 1.

Key Storyline: Can the Eagles go again or will their injuries cause them to start slow?

Dallas Cowboys

My ‘Boys. If you want a further look into my thoughts on the Cowboys season, I did a quick Q and A for GiveMeSport and can be found here.

Despite all the goings on last year with the Elliot court case, the injuries to Tyron Smith and Sean Lee on both sides of the ball, Dallas still managed to finish 9-7 and were 1 game away from the Playoffs.

The losses to the teams around them hurt them (Philadelphia, Atlanta, Green Bay, Los Angeles Rams and Seattle in the NFC along with crushing defeats to Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos from the AFC) including the 3 game losing stretch which effectively took it out of our hands.

The offseason saw a fair bit of change; around 50% of the 2017 targets walked out the door in Dez Bryant and Jason Witten and were replaced by Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson in Free Agency and Michael Gallup/Cedric Wilson in the draft. A lack of Tight End replacement (compounded by the “trolling” by Philadelphia in the draft by David Akers) I think has irked Dallas fans the most and given the fans a bad taste going in to the season.

The one thing wont change from season to season is the importance of injuries to our key players. Sean Lee needs to stay healthy on defence in order for them to compete there and certainly the depth on the offensive line is better and should be able to cope with an injury or two.

The season will hinge on Dak’s decision making and his accuracy and will be interesting to see if he learned from November last year. I like him as a late round QB and I like the value of the WRs Hurns and Gallup. Zeke is a monster and will likely get the most rush yards this season. 16-0 here we come…

Key Storyline: Which Cowboys do we get this season? 

Washington Redskins

The Redskins were absolutely decimated by injuries last season on both sides of the ball and unfortunately the trends seem to be continuing in to this season.

Jordan Reed is continuing to Jordan Reed (not quite Tyler Eifert stages yet) and it’s anyone guess as to how many games he plays. The big one though, is Derrius Guice. Guice tore his ACL and is gone for the season, leaving last years combination of Rob Kelley, Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson (who also has injury concerns) in the backfield and don’t forget about Kapri Bibbs. This immediately puts me off the Redskins and it’s possible their season is already a write-off.

Kirk Cousins has gone and is replaced by Alex Smith at Quarterback, Paul Richardson is the big money signing at Wide Receiver to join the ranks of Crowder and Doctson and who knows which one ends up as their main producer in both real life or fantasy.

The defence was bolstered in the draft with DaRon Payne joining Ziggy Hood and Jon Allen. Again, the key is health to help the defence better their performance last season (were the worse in terms of rush yards given up in 2017).

Key Storyline: Can the Redskins shake the injury curse of 2017?

New York Giants

New York on offence could be really scary this year. Unless you were on an expedition to the moon this year, you’ll know all about Saquon Barkley. He could finally solve the issues at the running back position for Big Blue, a void that they haven’t really filled since Tiki Barber.

To help matters, Nate Solder has been signed from the Patriots in Free Agency along with 2nd round draft pick Will Hernandez one of the steals of the whole draft. A much needed upgrade on a particularly poor offensive line in 2017 should help the offence in general and so should the returns of Odell Beckham Jr and Sterling Shepard (Brandon Marshall who doesnt return was also injured for the most part of last year).

Evan Engram took the Giants on his back last season after the injuries hit and because of that, it showed all his skills and is leading to his high draft price in fantasy this season. Don’t fall in to the trap of thinking he will replicate the numbers from last year. There are a lot of mouths to feed in New York and Engram, despite his great first season at Tight End (contrary to historic trends), will see a likely downtick in production. Not something you want from a round 5 draft pick.

Eli Manning is in the final year or 2 of his career and who can forget the abomination of Ben McAdoo’s coaching and his decision to break the Manning streak of 210 consecutive starts last year for Geno Smith in Week 13. He should benefit from an improved line and a running back so he could be a sneaky DFS play in some weeks, especially due to the comfort of Barkley in his pass catching.

New York could be anything this year. If the line stays intact and gels, they could be a playoff team. If not, they could be a top 10 pick in the 2019 draft.

Key Storyline: How good will this offence be in 2018?

Summary:

The East is generally a good watch and is a division that is prone to a last to first type of finishing from year to year. Could be again this year with the intrigue in New York and as always, the divisional games will be hard fought and may throw up a few surprises. If the Eagles are good to go, they’ll win the division again but Dallas certainly have something to prove, especially Zeke, and New York have the firepower to mount a challenge. I think the Guice injury has put to Washington’s hopes of a division title and possibly even a playoff spot. Fantasy wise, the Eagles should put up a lot of points but it’s not easy to pick out who will lead the way. Dallas is all about Zeke it seems and you are paying a early 1st round price for him obviously. New York could be an offence you want a piece of and I love Sterling Shepard this year. Washington’s WR are a shot in the dark and if you pick one, good luck to you.

Predictions:

  1. Philadelphia Eagles
  2. Dallas Cowboys
  3. New York Giants
  4. Washington Redskins

LEE

NFC East today let’s start with the champion Eagles.

The Eagles are still in great shape, their team is still stacked in every area on both sides of the ball. They excel in the trenches on both sides of the ball; they have one of the strongest offensive lines in the league and they won the Superbowl partly because of their deep rotation along the defensive line.

Picture an defensive line of; Michael Bennett, Haloti Ngata, Chris Long and Josh Sweat… pretty strong right? That group is the second unit for the Eagles. That group would start for a few teams.

The offense is equally deep; the skill positions are all full of talent and diversity, and the offensive scheme suits QB, Carson Wentz down to the ground. All of this allows the Eagles to great mismatches all over the field, including with Wentz’s physicality and rushing ability. Although you question the wisdom of that since it cost Wentz the back end of his season.

Bottom line is that the Eagles are here to stay, I have them to take the division again and their Superbowl window in still wide open.

Fantasy wise the Eagles have a lot of good players but you have to think of how many touches they’re all going to take off each other. Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz and Carson Wentz are can’t miss players, if they fall to you, then go and get them. Outside of that you’ll find some nice role players for your roster.

After the Eagles the division is going to be a little bit of a battle between the other three teams. Personally at this moment in time, I don’t see a natural hierarchy in the East, so it’s going to be really interesting to see how it all shakes out.

Let’s talk about America’s team.

This Dallas team still feels a few players away from being a threat to the top dogs in the league.

In offense; they have Zeke and a fantastic offensive line, which could be really successful again if they go back to the 2016 formula when Elliott lead the league in rushing. The problem is replacing the target share of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. I don’t see where the production is going to come from; I’m not saying it won’t happen, I’m saying the answer is not obvious. Dalton Schultz is predominantly a blocking tight end so will need to show some growth and it’s going to make a sizable leap from Blake Jarwin too. At receiver, my money would be on Allen Hurns backed up by Michael Gallup but again that’s no sure bet.

However, this could suit Dak Prescott as he could be allowed to just be the point guard and distribute the ball to a number a pass catchers, rather than force feed the big names.

On defense the heart and soul is Sean Lee and it almost wholly depends on his health. Can DeMarcus Lawrence ensure he gets paid next year and show he’s not a one season wonder? Will the young secondary step up and grow into a top unit? At the moment the defense has more questions than answers and it makes me unsure of where to place the Cowboys at the minute.

Ok, so I’m not going to lie… upon reading the news about Derrius Guice and his torn ACL, I had to rewrite the next section on Washington. I feel like it’s a huge blow for the ‘Skins as I had Guice down as a strong rookie of the year candidate due to the strong offensive line and offensive scheme. As a sports fan, I hate injuries in general and as someone who loves the NFL draft and college football, I hate when injuries make us wait to see prospects that so many were excited about… so here goes, take 2.

I feel like the Redskins are built in a similar way to the Cowboys in the way that they have a dink and dunk QB, a top offensive line and a strong running game. As i said above, I thought Guice was about to go off but a back field of Chris Thompson ft. “fat” Rob Kelley & Samaje Perine should be serviceable. With Guice I’d have Washington above the Cowboys is because Alex Smith is a better version of Prescott, Jordan Reed is a great weapon when he’s on the field and with the running scheme that Jay Gruden runs, Derrius Guice would have been a rookie of the year candidate. Right now though I think it’s cigarette paper close since Ezekiel Elliott is probably the best player from either team and as we saw in 2016, he has broad enough shoulders to carry his team to a lot of wins.

On defense I feel the ‘Skins have built themselves a really nice rotation on the defensive line via the past couple of drafts. I like the Da’Ron Payne pick, even if everyone knows that they really wanted Vita Vea. It means that Payne links up again with his former Crimson Tide running mate, John Allen. Those two with Matt Ioannidis, with Ziggy Hood and Tim Settle as back ups form a good rotation up front.

Ryan Kerrigan and Josh Norman add some star quality to the linebacking and secondary levels too, something which other teams in the division lack, outside of Philadelphia.

Finally, the New York Giants.

I expect the Giants to be a pretty exciting team to watch this season, mainly because I think they look fantastic on paper on the offensive side of the ball but on defense it’s much less pretty.

When we look at the skill positions for the Giants, it’s an all star cast; Odell Beckham Jr., second overall pick Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard in the slot and Evan Engram at tight end. All very explosive, all great options for both you in your fantasy league and Eli Manning. The only issue comes with Eli Manning, his age and loss of arm strength. Does that hinder the Giants too much? As we saw last season, Big Blue fans don’t want him benched and the front office were never in the market for a QB early in the draft to replace him, so it doesn’t look like Eli is on his way out anytime soon.

Maybe the hire of Pat Shurmur had a little to do with what he did last year with Case Keenum, a QB who is not known for his arm strength but is known to be savvy and intelligent. One thing Eli Manning is, is intelligent.

If it all falls apart at quarterback again in New York, then the progress of Davis Webb and/or Kyle Lauletta could be accelerated because the Giants can’t waste time with what is a potentially very explosive offense.

Another quick note of the offense; I really like the pick of Will Hernandez in the second round since he should be able to help to open up holes for Barkley in the run game.

Flipping over to defense it’s less impressive. Don’t get me wrong, the Giants have some good players but so does every team.

Landon Collins will probably be the highlight as he continues to grow into one of the best safeties in the NFL.

The Giants are the toughest to predict here since it depends so much on Eli and the defense. If both fail then the Giants will be picking in the top 5 again, if Eli manages the games well and gives the explosive guys enough opportunities and the defense can keep pace, the Giants could be in the hunt for a postseason spot. I think it’ll be somewhere in between and I think there will be a few high scoring games involving Big Blue in 2018.

So that wraps it up and brings me to probably my most difficult prediction yet, I’m going to go for:

  1. Eagles
  2. Redskins
  3. Cowboys
  4. Giants

I’ll probably be completely wrong on this one as I expect the records of everyone besides Philly to have a pretty similar record.

 

Joy Divisions – NFC South

Before the season starts, myself and good friend of the podcast Lee Wakefield (@wakefield90) will give a summary of each division, how we see it playing out over the season along with some players to target in fantasy in each.

NFC South:

This could be the best division in football. Don’t be surprised if both wildcards come from this division again. If you fancy this division to produce a Super Bowl winner this year, you can get some good value. Which ones do we fancy?

TIM

New Orleans Saints

Saints were 1 play away from the championship game and last season would’ve left a bad taste in the mouth of Sean Payton and Drew Brees. A lot of people may have felt that last year was the last chance for Brees to get ring no.2 but if they play to the same levels this year, I don’t see why they dont get another crack at the Championship game this year.

Alvin Kamara was the name on everybody’s lips towards the end of the season and it seems like decades ago we had the Adrian Peterson experiment here. Mark Ingram is suspended this year for the 1st 4 games and you can certainly see him sign with another team next seasonbecause I think the Saints have never been too sold on him, despite the former 2009 Heisman Trophy winner and 2011 1st round draft pick being more than productive in his stint in the NFL (career 4.5yards per carry and 48 Total Touchdowns).

At Wide Receiver, Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr are still there but have signed Cameron Meredith in Free Agency and have brought back Benjamin Watson at Tight End. Meredith missed the whole of last season due to injury sustained in the preseason with Chiacgo and he is a sleeper pick. Ben Watson is a sneaky last round dart throw in redraft leagues as he is a great target in the redzone and has previous with the Saints and Drew Brees, having his first stint in 2013-2015 (2015, when Jimmy Graham left, Watson had 74 receptions, 825 yards and 6TDs).

The defence was a major improvement for the Saints last season from previous years of bottom 5 finishes in terms of yards and points allowed (thank Rob Ryan for that mostly and i guess a hint of high scoring offence). The majority of pieces are still there and added to it, the 1st round pick of Marcus Davenport, whom the Saints traded up to go get for their 1st round pick next year.

Big gamble, will it pay off?

Key Storyline: Can the Saints repeat last seasons performances and make amends after the Miracle of Minnesota?

Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta were never quite going to hit the heights of their 2016 year, but I doubt many thought that they would have regressed as much as they did.

I say that, but the Falcons still returned to the playoffs, losing to the Eagles after taking down the Rams. 2017 saw a new Offensive Co-ordinator Steve Sarkisian come in after the dynamic Kyle Shanahan leave for San Francisco, move in to a new stadium so to actually achieve what they did I think is overlooked. Their main struggle was getting the ball in the endzone which Julio Jones owners and Matt Ryan owners can attest to (and Matt Bryant owners too – tied 3rd in kicker scoring).

The yards and the offence still moved and still was productive, just the sscoring wasn’t quite there. I think this year you will have the old adage of positive regression, where the scoring will go up in terms of touchdowns.

Calvin Ridley is the big signing from the draft and should immediately be able to come in an get receptions, Julio Jones has agreed to end his stay away and that can only help the franchise. Tevin Coleman is in a contract year so expect him to get volume before leaving next season and Devonta Freeman is usually overlooked in 1st round of drafts but provides first round value in this offence.

Don’t forget that the Falcons team struggled in year 1 under Kyle Shanahan in 2015 before their blistering season the year after so I would expect a similar trend here.

Their defence is a sneaky play too in fantasy. Watch out for Takk McKinley.

I think that the Falcons think they are very close to a reappearance in the Super Bowl…and I agree.

Key Storyline: Can the Falcons turn the FGs in to TDs?

Carolina Panthers

Carolina are a team that peoples opinion are split on, mainly because of their QB Cam Newton (one of the most inaccurate Quarterbacks ever, if you listen to former Wide Receiver Kelvin Benjamin).

The Christian McCaffrey breakout took a little longer than people expected and Greg Olsen was lost for the majority of the season due to a broken foot. Olsen tinkered with the idea of going to the broadcast booth in the offseason, but was beaten to it by Jason Witten. Though he has come out since and said he is still committed, you have to have that nagging doubt in the back of your mind when you are taking him in the mid rounds of drafts. Although they aren’t the force of old, Carolina were a top 10 defence last season and should be again this season. The opener vs Dallas will tell us a lot about both teams for the season and although it’s only week 1, it could go a long way in deciding wildcard teams.

DJ Moore brings a great route running, reliable wide receiver that will finally fill the boots of Steve Sith (as claimed by the man himself). The 1st round pick for the Panthers will be an intriguing watch this season and could a piece that opens up the passing game for not only himself and Cam, but Devin Funchess, Greg Olsen too. CJ Anderson is an upgrade on Jonathon Stewart as the grinder in the backfield, whilst you can expect 2nd year RB Christian McCaffrey to see a slight up tick in production and receptions in the Danny Woodhead type role. Carolina’s fate will be in their own hands come December – playing the Falcons and Saints twice in their last 3 games. If they are around the 8 win range come week 15, it could get really fiesty, just last last season. I think the Panthers are a slight tier below the previous 2 teams, but certainly have Wildcard eligibility if Cam Newton steps up a touch from his erratic passing last year. For Fantasy, Cam has top 3 QB finish potential, but also has a floor of a QB worse than 12. He’ll go in a wide varying set of rounds in drafts but usually goes around the 5th….your choice.

Key Storyline: Can Cam Newton be more consistent this year and cut out the errors?

Tampa Bay

I was ready to be all in on Tampa Bay as the dark horse this year.

Improved depth and talent on defence in both Free Agency (Jason Pierre-Paul, VInny Curry) and draft (Vita Vea), Jameis Winston on fire towards the back end of last season and a new shiny running back in Ronald Jones.

Since the draft, Winston has been suspended, uncertainty over the starting running back and the depth chart has seemed to take the wind out of my Buccaneer sails.

The division is so tough that you cannot go in to the season like the Bucs are. Dirk Koetter not committing to having Winston as their QB and you have to wonder if he is done with the franchise, nor committing to a starting RB. Jones, Rodgers, Barber and Sims all in this cloudy backfield and could end up being a hot hand approach here…not something you wanna hear when you are taking Ronald Jones in the 5th and 6th Rounds. Whilst he is by far the best back, it could take a little while before we see that replicated in the backfield touches.

At WR, pretty much all the same as last year. I expect DeSean Jackson to fend off Chris Godwin for the first part of the year in 2 WR sets. Jackson could provide value in drafts, after everyone giving him a seal of disapproval from last year. A few plays here or there and we could’ve been seeing Jackson going in the 8-10th round. Godwin will no doubt breakthrough at somepoint because of his talents, but Adam Humphries is there too still, as are Tight Ends Cameron Brate (signed a massive multi year deal in the offseason) and OJ Howard. There are a lot of mouths to feed here and for the first four weeks its Fitzmagic once again.

No thanks.

Key Storyline: Jameis Winston done with the Bucs?

Summary:

This will no doubt come down to the wire and I would be shocked if no wildcard places are picked up by this division come January. The Saints set the standard on last years performance but the Falcons could leapfrog them if the same improvement is seen in year 2 under Steve Sarkisian as they witnessed under Kyle Shanahan. Carolina will continue to be hot and cold and could play party poopers for the Saints and Falcons in week 16 and 17. Tampa can be expected to prop up the division again this season. As an outright bet, I’ll take the Falcons to put things right in 2018.Fantasy wise, give me Matt Ryan at QB, CJ Anderson as a later round RB, Julio Jones at WR (if early 2nd round pick) and Ben Watson at TE.

Predictions:

  1. Atlanta Falcons
  2. New Orleans Saints
  3. Carolina Panthers
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

LEE

Another day, another great division! Talking football is all about opinions so some may disagree with the ordering but the NFC South along with the NFC North and AFC South make up the top three divisions in the game, in my opinion.

I’ll kick this off with the Saints, whose season ended in heart breaking circumstances last year, with a Marcus Williams missed tackle leading to the Miracle in Minnesota.

Had the tackle been made it could have been a lot different because the offense lead by Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara was electric last year. That’s right, Drew Brees took a little bit of a back seat and the offense flowed through the two backs. However the Saints may have to revert back to their norm this year, due to Ingram having been suspended for the first four games of the season. The team have also said that this won’t mean an increase in snaps for Kamara and they will fill the void with other players.

This could be good news for Brees and Michael Thomas as the Saints will look to do more damage through the air. Thomas is actually one of my favourite receivers in the league and after this season I feel like he’s going to be talked about as an elite wide receiver.

The moral of the last couple of paragraphs for your fantasy teams are; don’t over draft Kamara but get Thomas early if you can! Brees will also be a solid QB as usual in fantasy.

On defense, the biggest talking point is that the Saints traded up to select pass rusher Marcus Davenport in the spring. I feel like giving up next year’s first round pick was a really risky move by New Orleans and puts the front office and an extremely raw player under pressure to perform immediately. Obviously hindsight is a wonderful thing but the Saints could have just waited, kept next year’s first and got Harold Landry, who went in the second round and ended up with a player who is more complete as of this moment.

Whether Davenport works out or not, the Saints still have enough to be there or thereabouts come the business end of the season.

Another team who will be there or thereabouts is the Atlanta Falcons.

If you look through the Falcons depth chart, you will see it’s a very deep and pretty complete roster with high end players at each level of the defense and in every unit on offense.

One of the big reasons for that is that the Falcons have drafted well for a few years in a row now which has given them a strong nucleus of young talent, most of whom are still on rookie contracts. Which should allow them to extend Julio Jones next season and keep their star man in town.

At this point, when it comes to draft night, the Falcons can sit back and take luxury players, which is exactly what they did in the first round with Calvin Ridley. Atlanta already has Jones and a very capable number two in Mohamed Sanu but they went out and got Ridley anyway and built strength on strength.

Ridley has the quickness and route running abilities to be a success in the league for a long time. Definitely someone to target late on in the fantasy drafts, as are all the starters for Atlanta. You can’t go wrong with Jones, Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman. Austin Hooper is also an up and comer who could be in with a shout to be a good sleeper pick.

Just to touch on the defense quickly, it’s just as strong on the offense. Deion Jones is one of my favourite players in the league, the new breed of linebacker/safety hybrid that’s becoming in vogue all over the league. Finally a quick mention to one of the best but least talked about cornerback tandems in the league; Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant. Those guys are awesome and should get more recognition.

What does this all boil down to? Atlanta are winning 10 or more games.

Just a tick behind the two teams I’ve already spoken about are the Carolina Panthers.

Carolina are a tough one to work out in all honesty. They are a good team and they are in that second tier around the league below the teams who are complete and have expectations to go far in the playoffs. Carolina probably have hopes to go far. That’s the difference.

The thing is, they don’t truly excite me because you look through their roster and they have some serious holes; the offensive line in general, who is catching the ball for them on a consistent basis? Why is Julius Peppers still their best pass rusher at the age of 38? Don’t get me wrong, Peppers is great and still productive but he was drafted in 2002.

Each side of the ball is essentially pinned to the form and fitness of Cam Newton or Luke Kuechly. Both players are potential superstars on each side of the ball and elevate the team and the players around them and can both make game changing or even game winning plays.

I just don’t know if they have enough around them or behind them in the event of an injury, which as I said earlier, really stops me getting really excited about. I struggle to see the potential in a lot of players that the Panthers have.

I know Cam is Superman but I just don’t know about the rest.

Fantasy wise; McCaffrey is going to be a PPR monster, Cam is always a top fantasy QB due to his rushing prowess and first round pick D.J Moore could be a nice late round pick/dynasty pick too. Otherwise, I won’t be shopping in Carolina on my draft nights.

Last but by no means least in this division are the Bucs. They’re probably the “worst” team in this division but talent wise I find then way more exciting than the Panthers in all honesty.

I also find them exciting because they’re another team who killed the draft this spring! Vita Vea, Ronald Jones, M.J Stewart, Carlton Davis, Alex Cappa and to a degree, Jack Cichy, have the potential to be solid starters or better in the NFL. If that’s how it pans out, then that’s a fantastic draft haul for Tampa!

I also like what Tampa did in free agency and trades in recognising that they had to beef up their defensive line and pass rush after finishing 32nd in run defense and not registering nearly enough sacks last year. The additions of Vinny Curry, Beau Allen and Jason Pierre-Paul should help this when added to the likes of Gerald McCoy, William Gholston and the now much larger, Noah Spence.

Spence is actually my one to watch for the Bucs. He had a bit of bumpy road to even get to the league and hasn’t really set it alight in first two years but this past offseason, by all accounts, he has gained 35 pounds through an eating regime which has him eating 9 meals a day coming to a total of around 9,000 calories. That is a simply mind blowing amount to me. Some of it will be through protein shakes and other drinks but still, it’s a lot for anyone’s body to go through. What makes it interesting time though, isn’t only the sheer volume of calories but the fact that Spence came into the league as a speed rusher. Will he be able to maintain that speed at a much heavier weight, especially when the weight has been gained over such a short period of time. I think it’ll literally be the making or breaking of his career in the league.

The other storyline surrounding Tampa Bay is that Jameis Winston is suspended and that coupled with their hellish opening schedule means that the Bucs could be playing from behind the 8 ball once their starting QB is allowed back on the field.

No bueno.

Fantasy wise, RoJo and Mike Evans are going to be great and I also really like O.J Howard and Cameron Brate but how much are they going to hurt each other in fantasy land?

 

Prediction time:

  1. Falcons
  2. Saints
  3. Panthers
  4. Buccaneers

 

Note: This division could have three play off teams or they could take enough wins off each other that they screw each other other and it could end up with just one. So tough to call! I really want to have the Bucs higher and I do think they’ll show encouraging signs this year.

 

It’s coming Dome!

Myth or fact: You should seek out making your compilation of fantasy football rosters with players that play more inside domes?

You would have no doubt heard the following claims in fantasy chats:

“I’ll take this kicker because he plays in domes and therefore no weather conditions can restrict their scoring”

“Quarterbacks that play in domes throw for more yardage” etc, etc…

This quick article will take a look at whether or not players that play in domes more regularly score more fantasy points. The positions this really applies to is the Quarterback and Kickers.

First off Quarterbacks;

There are 8 teams that play in domes – New Orleans, Atlanta, Houston, Indianapolis, Arizona, Dallas, Minnesota and Detroit. Many of these teams end up playing over 10 games in a dome for the season. The question is – does it help the signal callers?

Using some statistics (which aren’t my own), based on the current top 15 QBS in terms of starts, we can have the following overall outlook:

QBStats

(Taken from “u/d1dOnly” at https://www.reddit.com/r/nfl/comments/8d6q5z/dome_sweet_dome_indoor_vs_outdoor_qb_stats/&#8217;)

The 3 on the list above that have a home dome are Brees, Ryan and Stafford. All 3 of these are usually involved in pass heavy offences over the years. Let’s break down those 3 into dome and away splits:

Drew Brees has played 121 games outside of a dome, winning 65 of them, a 54% win rate. He has a 65% completion rate on  4263 attempts, over 30,000 yards and a near 2:1 TD to INT ratio with an overall QB rating of 90.9

Inside the dome, Drew Brees has a 77-52 record, a 68% win rate. Playing only 8 games more over his career inside a dome, has racked up over 10,000 more passing yards, a 2.5:1 TD:INT ratio and has over 10 points more on his quarterback rating. Further more his Touchdowns in a dome per game are 2.23 where as outside it’s 1.65. Clearly, Brees loves his dome comforts.

Moving on to Matt Ryan, the figures are relatively similar.

Playing inside, Matt Ryan boasts a 66% win rate in 98 games, completing 66% of his passes and a 2:1 TD:INT rate. When playing in conditions, Ryan drops 5pts on his QB rating to just over 90, his win rate scrapes above 50% but his TD:INT rate stays at around 2:1 but the numbers drop significantly if stretching his 60 game outside total to match the 98 games inside.

Finally, Matthew Stafford. Stafford has played pretty much 2 out of every 3 games indoors and you can tell by the numbers that it is lucky his home field is a dome.

Inside, Stafford has 82 games under his belt, winning 42 (51%). Outside, he has only won 18/43 games, a measly 42%.

Similar to Ryan, his QB rating drops down by 5pts when outside but it’s his TD:INT ratio that is polarising. Indoors, Stafford has thrown 148 touchdowns and 76 interceptions which for arguments sake we shall make 2:1. Outside however, Stafford has thrown just 68 touchdowns in those 43 games (1.6 TD per game) and thrown 42 interceptions (1 per game), giving him a ratio of 1.5:1.

So you can certainly see that QBs that play at home certainly struggle when they venture outside. But what about QBs that visit domes infrequently?

Looking at Aaron Rodgers, arguably the greatest, there are some interesting results.

Whilst his win ratio inside a dome is 15/29 (52%), his TDs (64) and Interception (13) ratio are 2.2:0.45 with a QB rating of 110.3. His win ratio outside of domes, obviously a bigger sample size, is 68% but his TD:INT ratio also falls to 2.1:0.55. Whilst this is only a small change the ratio, its a change indicating that Rodgers performs better indoors too.

A player who seems to prefer outside is Philip Rivers. Luckily for him he plays in a division that all play outside. Rivers over his career has only play 12 games in a dome, which pretty much correlates to 1 a year.

Rivers has a 6-6 record indoors over those 12 games and has only thrown 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions at a ratio of 1.4:0.8 and has a completion rate of 63% along with a 91.8 Rating.

Outdoors, where he has played a total of 185 games, has a win-loss record of 103-82-0. has a better QB rating of 95.1 and a TD:INT rate of 1.8:0.8.

Below are the Dome/Outside splits for those 15 Quarterbacks:

Dome Stats (NB – Games with a retractable roof are deemed closed):

2018-07-21-2.png

(Taken from “u/d1dOnly” at https://www.reddit.com/r/nfl/comments/8d6q5z/dome_sweet_dome_indoor_vs_outdoor_qb_stats/&#8217;)

Playing outside:

2018-07-21-1-e1532189613154.png

(Taken from “u/d1dOnly” at https://www.reddit.com/r/nfl/comments/8d6q5z/dome_sweet_dome_indoor_vs_outdoor_qb_stats/&#8217;)

For perspective, here are how Tony Romo and Peyton Manning fared:

2018-07-21-3.png

(Taken from “u/d1dOnly” at https://www.reddit.com/r/nfl/comments/8d6q5z/dome_sweet_dome_indoor_vs_outdoor_qb_stats/&#8217;)

KICKERS

Unfortunately, there isn’t a great deal of data out there for more recent times, but up until the 2014-2015 season, kickers did not have an advantage when playing inside a dome. Taken from FantasyIndex.com, here is a breakdown of a decade stretching between 2005-2014.

DOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE?
Year Dome Outdoor
2005 106.2 108.6
2006 109.6 106.2
2007 106.4 112.5
2008 115.1 116.0
2009 102.6 108.8
2010 114.5 111.2
2011 112.8 117.2
2012 122.1 117.0
2013 116.6 121.6
2014 118.1 115.3
Total 112.4 113.4
(Taken from https://www.fantasyindex.com/2015/07/07/factoid/kickers-in-domes)

Now whilst there are of course less teams that have played in domes over this stretch and therefore a smaller data size to compare, figures seems to suggest that there is little edge in kicking in a dome.

Scott Barrett from Pro Football Focus suggests that points from kickers are completely random, last year Kickers in domes scored 1 point per game more on average with 8.7 (article can be found at https://www.profootballfocus.com/news/fantasy-football-metrics-that-matter-kickers).

He reports that Greg Zuerlein was the highest scoring kicker last year with a score higher than all Tight Ends and in fact was the 3rd highest in points for a kicker in a season over the past decade whilst only playing 14 games.

So there is no edge in domes for kickers, what about higher scoring teams?

The top scoring teams last year were: Rams, Patriots, Eagles, Saints and Jags

The points scored from kicking (not taking in to account extra points for longer distanced field goals) for the Rams and the Patriots were also top 2 with the Saints kicker also finishing 4th. Higher scoring teams doesnt necessarily mean more kicker points because you’d need 3 PAT to equal a standard ranged field goal. You’d need to predict ahead of the season, which teams will attempt more field goals and be a high scoring team, something which even the most advanced model would find it hard to predict.

Overall, the scoring for kickers can’t really be predicted or projected and seemingly there is no edge to picking kickers that play in domes. Either get rid of the position or stream them. One piece of advice I would give is never draft a kicker if you don’t have to. Draft a player in the last round that could provide value and a trade piece.