The Atlanta Falcons will have wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White returning healthy with an upgraded offensive line.
2013 Season Recap
The Falcons had the worst season they could have possibly had after being considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders as they finished with a 4-12 record. This was largely due to a depleted and already poor offensive line, and quarterback Matt Ryan had to deal without wide receiver Julio Jones for most of the season while Roddy White played with a hamstring injury.
They are bound to bounce back this year though since seven of their losses were by single digits.
2014 Offseason Recap
The Falcons did not fire head coach Mike Smith despite their massive disappointment of a season, and both coordinators will return as well. Tight end Tony Gonzalez will not be with the team anymore after retiring.
The offensive line was beefed up through free agency as the Falcons signed guard Jon Asamoah, and they also signed defensive tackles Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai to improve their run defense.
In the draft, tackle Jake Matthews was selected with the sixth overall pick. He was initially expected to start at right tackle, but he will be thrown to the wolves as Ryan’s blind side protector since Sam Baker will miss the season with a torn patellar tendon.
Other key additions made through the draft were defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman and running back Devonta Freeman.
Position of strength
Wide receiver is easily the strongest position for the Falcons since they possess arguably the best starting wide receiver duo in the NFL with Julio Jones and Roddy White. They will each return healthy this season, so the Falcons should be an elite offense again. Harry Douglas is also a quality receiver, and he looked great last season with 85 receptions and 1,067 yards.
Position of weakness
Offensive line remains a concern for the Falcons, especially with Baker out for the season. The unit was one of the worst in the NFL last season, and it remains to be seen whether Matthews can produce right away at left tackle. Jon Asamoah and Justin Blalock are solid guards, but there is still a hole at center and right tackle.
Best case scenario
If White and Jones both stay healthy, it’s a foregone conclusion that Ryan will bounce back. The offensive line improving would help a great deal as well. The running game can only go up. Although Steven Jackson is battling hamstring issues, Freeman has looked promising in preseason as an all-purpose weapon.
If the defensive line can improve, the secondary will have an easier job defending against quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Cam Newton. The team bouncing back will make them competitive with the Saints again, and they may return to the playoffs.
Worst case scenario
If the Falcons offensive line does not improve, Ryan will be in for another long season even with healthy receivers. It will be even worse for him if the running game does not improve since defenses will be able to continue keying in on the passing game.
Jackson’s hamstring is not healing quickly, and he isn’t getting any younger. Freeman may need to step into a major role right away, and it will be difficult since the Falcons may have to rely on a rookie to carry the load.
All signs are pointing to the Falcons bouncing back and possibly making the playoffs, but the NFC is getting even stronger. Their schedule will not be easy since they have to play the AFC North and NFC North. Playing the Saints twice makes it even more difficult.
The Falcons have the talent to compete with the big dogs, but they will not be able to come away with a surprise NFC South title like the Panthers.
Prediction: 2nd place in NFC South, possible wild-card berth