NFC South Preseason Power Rankings
No. 1: Atlanta Falcons
On paper, the Falcons are arguably the most complete team in all of football. Atlanta boasts talent all across the board, thanks to Dan Quinn and his emphasis on defense and speed.
This is one of the deepest Falcon teams that I have ever seen, as the offense is loaded with talent at the skill positions and the defense is full of young and quick developing stars. Damante Kazee has had an excellent preseason and has all but forced Dan Quinn to find a way to put the second-year safety on the field. Kazee has done nothing but make impressive plays during the preseason, so expect Dan Quinn to use a healthy amount of three safety defenses to get Kazee on the field.
Other players drafted under Quinn, such as Deion Jones, Takk McKinley, Grady Jarrett, Keanu Neal and Vic Beasley have all helped turn Atlanta’s defense into a top-ten unit in the league. Their quick development has morphed the defense into an exciting unit to watch and given the Falcons a bright future.
I expect offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to make strides in his second year, just as Kyle Shanahan did in his second year (maybe not to the same level, but still). Changing coordinators and learning new wrinkles and communications can be difficult, which was shown last year. Matt Ryan and company should have the wrinkles ironed out, and expect the offense to grow from last season. There is simply too much talent on that side of the ball to not be dominant.
The biggest concern that I have is the offensive line staying healthy. I don’t have much confidence in our depth at offensive line, as one or two lineman going down to injury could derail the season. Although it was preseason, we saw the offense sputter against Jacksonville when the offensive line fails to protect Ryan (granted, Jacksonville has one of the best defensive lines in football). Keeping Ryan protected and healthy is a big concern. Keep your eyes on that early in the season.
Atlanta should be a 10-12 win team this season, barring significant injuries. Atlanta does have some tough road tests, including traveling to the Super Bowl champion Eagles for the opener, at divisional rivals Carolina and New Orleans, and traveling to Lambeau Field in December to take on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Four of Atlanta’s first five games come against playoff teams from last year, so Dan Quinn’s squad will be tested very early. If the Falcons can come out of that stretch at 3-2 or better, consider it a win and a step towards a third consecutive playoff berth.