This fantasy preview is part of a preseason series by FantasyLabs Editor-in-Chief Matthew Freedman. Other pieces in the series are available on our Fantasy Football Preview Dashboard.
If you need me to tell you the Falcons lost Super Bowl 51 to the Patriots after having a 28-3 lead with less than a quarter-and-a-half to go, you shouldn’t play fantasy sports for money. In light of that epic collapse, it’s sometimes hard to remember that (after Tom Brady’s four-game suspension) the Falcons were the story of the 2016 regular season. In head coach Dan Quinn’s second year they improved from 8-8 to 11-5 and joined the ranks of Peyton Manning’s Broncos (2013) and Colts (2004), Tom Brady’s Patriots (2007, 2011), Aaron Rodgers’ Packers (2011), Drew Brees’ Saints (2011), Randy Moss’ Vikings (1998), and Kurt Warner’s Rams (1999, 2000) with a top-10 all-time offense that scored 540 points. For the Falcons and reigning NFL MVP Matt Ryan, 2017 is about showing that 2016 wasn’t a fluke.
Quinn is a hard-nosed leader who made his bones coaching defensive linemen at William & Mary, Virginia Military Institute, and Hofstra before eventually moving to the NFL. After a decade of quality control and line coaching with the 49ers, Dolphins, Jets, and Seahawks, Quinn served as the defensive coordinator at Florida for two years before returning to the NFL to coordinate the Seattle unit that led the team to back-to-back Super Bowls. After the Falcons terminated the seven-year Mike Smith experiment in 2014, they brought in Quinn to steady a unit that in the previous three years had ranked 24th, 27th, and 32nd in yards allowed under Smith’s defensive ‘tutelage.’
Like his predecessor, whose offensive staffs were overseen by Mike Mularkey (2008-11) and Dirk Koetter (2012-14), Quinn hired someone with multiple years of coordinating experience to oversee the offense: Kyle Shanahan. Of course, Shanahan is the now the 49ers HC, and he’s been replaced by the collegiately well-traveled Steve Sarkisian, who (per Quinn) plans to keep Shanahan’s system in place. While the team would surely benefit if Sarkisian can succeed in running another guy’s offense — each of the last two seasons the Falcons have been top-five in yards and success rate on a per-drive basis, and last year specifically they were first in scoring, first in turnovers, second in yards, and fourth in neutral rate of play — it’s far from certain that the Sark will be able to do a successful Shanahan impersonation.
To start with, not even Shanahan would be likely to replicate the production he oversaw last year. This offense is a prime regression candidate. Additionally, Sark is not Shanny. Sark has had some success as a collegiate coach, but Shanahan has been an NFL offensive coordinator for nine straight seasons. Sark, though, is basically an NFL rookie. He has one — one! — season of NFL experience: In 2004, as a 30-year-old newbie, he ‘oversaw’ the 39-year-old Rich Gannon and 32-year-old Kerry Collins as the position coach and HC Norv Turner’s (unofficial) ball boy. On top of that, Turner ran an Air Coryell system with the Raiders, whereas Shanny runs a West Coast offense. Sark has almost no NFL experience at all and absolutely none with the system he’s apparently going to run.
What do we know about Sark? — other than that he’s on his fourth team in five years? While at Brigham Young, Sark won the 1996 Sammy Baugh Trophy as the top college quarterback in the country. In truth, he probably is something of a passing game guru. Since 2001, as a quarterback coach, coordinator, and HC, Sark has mentored the following passers:
- Carson Palmer
- Matt Cassel
- Matt Leinart
- John David Booty
- Mark Sanchez
- Jake Locker
- Cody Kessler
While most of these guys have done little in the NFL, it’s impressive that he’s overseen this many college quarterbacks who have been drafted, a number of them with premium picks.
Yet this is not to say that Sark is a pass-first play-caller. In his six full seasons as the Washington and Southern California HC, Sark’s offenses averaged a 52.5 percent run rate. In fact, each season he gave the workhorse treatment to his lead back, collectively giving Javorius Allen (2014), Bishop Sankey (2012-13), and Chris Polk (2009-11) an average of 278.5 carries per season for 1,469 yards and 12.2 touchdowns. Additionally, he peppered them with targets, as they averaged a solid 30-282.3-1 receiving line. Even though Sark is a quarterback sage, it’s very possible that he could rely on the Falcons running game in 2017, just as Shanahan did last year when the Falcons were sixth in run/pass ratio.
What’s notable about Sark is that he seems to make a concerted and relentless effort to play to the strengths of his teams. In 2009 with the Huskies he used Polk and Locker heavily as runners (despite negative game script) and relied on Jermaine Kearse as the primary receiver. In 2010 he did more of the same, with Kearse actually capturing an absurd 40.6 and 63.2 percent of the team’s receiving yards and touchdowns. In 2011 he relied on Polk more than ever with Locker gone, and he also shifted some targets to redshirt freshman tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. In 2012 and 2013 Sankey carried the offense and ASJ led the team in receiving touchdowns. In 2014 at USC Max Kessler gave 61.25 percent of his targets to Nelson Agholor, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Allen. And before his exit from USC in 2015, Sark funneled 616 yards and six touchdowns to JuJu in the first five games of the season. When Sark has playmakers, he’s done his best to run the offense through them.
Regardless of whether he struggles with the transition to the NFL and Shanny’s offense, it’s clear that — if his past tendencies are any indication — he’ll do as much as he can to maximize Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, and maybe even Tevin Coleman at the expense of everyone else. Also, I have to say this: It might seem weird to spend 800-ish words on Sark, but he’s the biggest unknown in this offense. We know what these players can do in the NFL. We can’t say the same for Sarkisian. Most people probably can’t even spell his name.
With the exception of Shanny, the Falcons have lost almost no one offensively from last year’s team:
- QB: Matt Ryan
- RB: Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman
- WR: Julio Jones
- WR: Mohamed Sanu
- WR: Taylor Gabriel/Aldrick Robinson –> Taylor Gabriel
- TE: Jacob Tamme/Levine Toilolo –> Austin Hooper/Levine Toilolo
- LT: Jake Matthews
- LG: Andy Levitre
- C: Alex Mack
- RG: Chris Chester –> Wes Schweitzer
- RT: Ryan Schraeder
Although Lord Aldrick had only 32 targets last year, he did have an impressive T.Y. Hilton-esque 12.6-yard average depth of target as a deep threat. Still, the-29-year-old A-Rob has fewer than 100 targets in his NFL career. He’s replaceable. And, honestly, he might be worth more to fantasy owners with the 49ers and Shanny (his primary cheerleader) than with the Falcons. Tamme is also replaceable — especially since he missed the entire second half of 2016 with a shoulder injury. He’s still a free agent. Ironically, the man who inspired “The Tamme Index” is no longer even a replacement-level player.
Chester has retired after 11 years in the league and a final campaign in which he ranked as one of Pro Football Focus’ worst guards with a 50.5 rating. Chester struggled especially as a pass blocker, allowing an obscene 45 quarterback pressures. Schweitzer is a second-year sixth-round college tackle who redshirted his rookie season as a weekly inactive while he transitioned to guard and learned the offense. Supported by four returning starters on PFF’s No. 6 offensive line, Schweitzer probably won’t be great but almost certainly will be better than Chester. With only one new contributor, this offense should open the season in midseason form (Sark allowing).
Defensively, Quinn’s unit is also largely unchanged:
- DE: Adrian Clayborn
- DT: Grady Jarett
- DT: Jonathan Babineaux –> Dontari Poe
- DE: Dwight Freeney/Brooks Reed –> Brooks Reed/Takk McKinley
- OLB: Vic Beasley
- MLB: Deion Jones
- OLB: De’Vondre Campbell
- CB: Desmond Trufant/Jalen Collins –> Desmond Trufant
- CB: Robert Alford
- SCB: Brian Poole
- FS: Keanu Neal
- SS: Ricardo Allen
Babineaux is currently a free agent and “50-50” on retiring. He was one of PFF’s worst interior linemen last year with a 46.3 rating. The athletic Poe should represent an upgrade. Freeney is a free agent who seems to have an unofficial at-will agreement with the Falcons: Either he’s going to retire or re-sign with the team — and he’ll decide whenever he wants. In June the 37-year-old pass-rushing specialist was apparently leaning toward returning to the team. Last year Freeney had three sacks but was a source of defensive pressure, earning a solid 78.3 PFF grade. If he returns, he’ll be an ideal mentor and bridge to the first-round rookie McKinley. If Freeney doesn’t return, the competent veteran Reed will likely be forced into playing more snaps.
Perhaps the biggest overall defensive change is the return of the shutdown cornerback Trufant, who last year missed Weeks 10-17 and the playoffs with a torn pectoral but has been extended five years at $69 million and will be ready to participate in training camp. For a defensive coach, Quinn (technically new defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel) has a unit that last year allowed a lot of yards (25th) and points (27th), but this group is improved with Trufant on the field.
It’s technically notable that 2015-16 DC Richard Smith and defensive line coach Bryan Cox were both fired following the team’s Super Bowl collapse — but that’s not highly relevant. Quinn is the defensive schemer and was the play-caller for the second half of the season and the playoffs. He has more of an impact on the defense than the DC. Last year, the Falcons defense fielded PFF’s No. 20 front-seven unit. Naturally, Manuel was the team’s secondary coach before being elevated.
With the exception of the Shanny departure and Sark arrival, the 2017 Falcons are very much the 2016 Falcons. Still, there are some camp battles and developments to track. When the season starts, be sure to keep an eye on our NFL Matchups Dashboard as well as our NFL News feed to see how these units take shape.
Almost every skill position player on this offense is worth discussing — except for Justin Hardy and Toilolo. Get your Hardy and ToiLOLo #hottaeks somewhere else.
Matt Ryan, QB
This year, regression is spelled “R-Y-A-N.” Although Ryan has been an undervalued passer for the last half-decade — he and Drew Brees are the only quarterbacks with five 4,500-yard campaigns in that time — Ryan is probably not an elite player. Last year, we was simply fortunate to be playing at the height of his ability at a time when his knowledge of the offensive system was firm, his supporting teammates were relatively healthy, and his play-caller was on fire. Ryan set career-high marks with a 69.9 percent completion rate, 7.1 percent touchdown rate, 10.1 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A), 83.3 Total QBR, and 21 Approximate Value (AV, Pro Football Reference), leading the league with most of those numbers.
Prior to last year, his career highs were a 68.6 percent completion rate (-1.3), a 5.2 percent touchdown rate (-1.9), a 7.7 AY/A (-2.4), a 73.5 QBR (-9.8), and an 18 AV (-3) — and not all of those marks were set in the same season. What are the odds that Ryan will duplicate last year’s production while naturally regressing, adapting to Sark’s version of the Shanny offense, dealing with more injuries to teammates, and running plays called by someone with no experience of calling plays in the NFL? The odds are not good. That said, the Falcons offense last year was 26th in both total and passing plays. Despite his impending regression, Ryan could be a high-end fantasy passer in 2017 if the team runs more plays and passes more frequently and his efficiency marks don’t drop all the way down to his career averages.
Although Ryan’s unlikely to repeat last year’s performance — he was the best daily fantasy quarterback on account of his combination of Plus/Minus, Consistency Rating, Upside Rating, and ownership rate in large-field guaranteed prize pools (per our Trends tool) — he’s still likely to finish the year as a top-10 fantasy quarterback, which he’s been five of the last seven years. That doesn’t mean he should be selected at his 63.5 averaged draft position (ADP) in DRAFT best ball leagues, but he deserves respect: Last year he was second and third in the NFL with completion rates of 48.5 and 42.0 percent on deep balls and against pressure.
Intriguingly, Ryan is only +1,600 in the prop markets to finish 2017 as the NFL MVP. I don’t prefer him to Brady (+500) or Rodgers (+600), but there’s little that makes Derek Carr (+800), Ben Roethlisberger (+900), and Dak Prescott (+1,200) significantly likelier than Ryan to be named MVP. While players rarely win the award two years in a row — all-time greats in Manning (2008-09, 2003-04), Brett Favre (1996-97, 1995-96), Joe Montana (1989-90), and Jim Brown (1957-58) are the players to do so — Ryan probably has a better chance of repeating than the 6.25 percent implied odds he’s currently being given. These numbers might not mean anything, but of the 63 prior award winners 9.52 percent have repeated as MVP the following year. Of the 41 previous quarterbacks, 12.20 percent have enjoyed back-to-back repeats.
At +1,000, Ryan doesn’t seem especially likely to finish the regular season with the most passing yards: Brees is currently +300 and has won the passing title in seven of the last 11 years. That said, over the last half-decade Ryan has played in every game and averaged 293.3 yards per game — which is more than Brady (284.3) and Rodgers (266.6) can say for themselves at +600 and +800. Meanwhile, Carr’s at +800, and he’s yet to pass for more than 4,000 yards in a season. No quarterback over the last five years has more yards passing than Ryan except for Brees. Ryan is discounted.
Just to show I’m not totally in love with Ryan: I’m not touching him at +700 to finish with the most passing touchdowns. If he didn’t lead the league last year when he had an NFL-high 7.1 percent touchdown rate, he’s extremely unlikely to do so this year.
Devonta Freeman, RB
Freeman is the only back with both 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground over the last two years, during which time he has two of the top 12 running back campaigns:
- 2015: Fifth, 16.23 fantasy points per game (PPG)
- 2016: 11th, 14.38 PPG
Last year he was PFF’s No. 8 back as both a runner and receiver as well as a top-10 back in PlayerProfiler’s breakaway run and evaded tackle metrics. No other back has more than his 619 touches over the last two years. The only backs with more than his 162 targets in that time are David Johnson (177) and Theo Riddick (166). The only backs with more than his 492 carries are Frank Gore (523) and Todd Gurley (507). Even though he’s lost 256 opportunities to Coleman since 2015, Freeman has still been a workhorse. Last year he tied for third in the NFL with 27 carries inside the 10-yard line. With 18.19 DraftKings PPG, a +4.16 Plus/Minus, 62.5 and 18.0 percent Consistency and Upside Ratings, and a 10.0 percent ownership rate in GPPs, Freeman was one of the most valuable daily fantasy backs last year.
This year he has two potential obstacles to overcome:
As mentioned earlier, it’s likely Sark will work to get Freeman the ball, but we have no way of knowing if he’ll be able to execute Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme. Last year the Falcons offensive line was first and second with 3.55 and 2.11 yards before contact in man- and outside zone-blocking schemes (PFF) and third and 10th with 1.20 and 4.09 open field and adjusted line yards yards (Football Outsiders). If Sark can’t channel his inner Shanny, offensive line performance will likely suffer, which will hinder Freeman, who before last year’s 4.75 yards-per-carry (YPC) average had a substandard career mark of 3.95 YPC.
And then there’s Coleman, who last year siphoned significant snaps from Freeman. Although he never played even 50 percent of the snaps in a regular season game, he also saw fewer than 40 percent of the snaps in only three games played (excluding his injury-impacted Week 7 outing). As a result, the only games all season in which Freeman played more than 60 percent of the snaps were in Weeks 7-10, when Coleman was injured. In comparison to the snap percentages of Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon, and LeSean McCoy, Freeman’s 50-60 percent is meager.
Freeman is expected to sign an extension with the team relatively soon. It’s possible the Falcons will attempt not to overuse someone they view as a long-term asset — especially when they have the best backup running back in the league. As of writing, Freeman is +2,200 to lead the league in rushing yards. This is a guy who plays not even 60 percent of his team’s offensive snaps and is yet to hit even 1,100 yards rushing in a season. Thank you, but no.
Tevin Coleman, RB
An argument can be made that Coleman is better than Freeman — and I’m making that argument. Although Freeman had more carries and targets, Coleman was significantly more efficient, turning 118 carries and 40 targets into 941 yards and 11 touchdowns in 13 games. Additionally, on a per-carry and per-target basis, Coleman has been more efficient than Freeman over the last two years:
- Coleman: 4.4 YPC, 8.5 yards per target (YPT)
- Freeman: 4.3 YPC, 6.4 YPT
Last year in particular Coleman shined. While Freeman was seventh and eighth with 1.59 yards per route run (YPRR) and a 37.5 percent big-play yardage rate, Coleman was first and fifth with 2.58 YPRR and 40.5 percent (PFF). While Freeman was fifth, 17th, and 19th with 0.47 fantasy points per snap (PPS), 0.98 points per opportunity (PPO), and a +15.1 Production Premium (PlayerProfiler’s situation-adjusted efficiency metric), Coleman was second, seventh, and first with 0.54 PPS, 1.21 PPO, and a +50.9 Production Premium.
While efficiency is fleeting and never a be-all and end-all — Coleman will almost certainly not have a 6.96 percent touchdown rate in 2017 — it’s not surprising that Coleman is more efficient and explosive than Freeman. Coleman rushed for 2,000 yards as a true junior at Indiana, and he had a 4.39-second 40 time at 207 lbs. in his pre-draft workout. He’s not a freak like Tyreek Hill, but Coleman is a volatile big-play weapon. If Freeman suffers an injury, Coleman has top-three upside. If Coleman stays in his current role, he’ll still be an ideal best ball option with his weekly double-digit touches and scoring potential. At the same time, he’s priced near his ceiling at his 61.6 ADP in DRAFT leagues.
Coleman also makes a great GPP play. With a 31-421-3 receiving line last year he was a sneaky stacking partner with Ryan — creating stacks is easy with our Lineup Builder — and he was especially strong when the Falcons were underdogs, outproducing Freeman on a raw and salary-adjusted basis in all our metrics at just a 2.6 percent ownership rate. This year FantasyLabs users can review ownership trends across GPPs of various buy-in levels with our DFS Ownership Dashboard, which alone is reason enough to subscribe to FantasyLabs. It’s possible the sharp players could be on Coleman throughout the season, especially when he’s an underdog. Be sure to monitor our Vegas Dashboard to see how the market views the Falcons each week.
Julio Jones, WR
As I said in my piece on the Top 100 NFL players, over the last half-decade Julio has averaged an unbelievable 100.8 yards receiving per game. If he caught more touchdowns and weren’t regularly hobbled, he’d be the clear top receiver in the league. Given that Sark’s top college wide receivers have all been scorers, it’s likely that he will actively scheme to get Julio the ball near the goal line. Last year (in a gross misuse of resources) Hardy had nine targets inside the 10-yard line while Julio had only six — the same as Tamme and only one more than Freeman and Sanu. Sark has already said of Julio that he wants to “maximize his opportunities” in the red zone. If that happens, Julio has an outlier chance of joining Moss and Calvin Johnson in the 1,600-16 club.
Of course, that’s assuming he plays a full 16 games at close to full health, which can’t be taken for granted. Across his six-year career, Julio has missed an average of 2.8 games per season — and he’s currently recovering from his third left-foot surgery. He’s fully expected to be ready for training camp and the surgery was reportedly only to remove a bunion, but health can never be assumed for Julio. When healthy, he’s a top-three talent. When injured . . . he’s still a top-three talent. Dealing with a variety of knee, shoulder, and toe issues throughout the season, Julio finished 2016 as PFF’s No. 1 wide receiver with a 96.5 overall grade. He was also first in the league with a 3.12 YPRR as well as third, fourth, and seventh with 0.37 PPS, a 90.9 percent contested catch rate, and a +24.5 Production Premium. He’s fair value at his 5.4 ADP in DRAFT leagues. If someone wanted to use him as a pivot play to Antonio Brown, I wouldn’t argue.
Right now Julio and Antonio are both +400 to finish 2017 as the regular season leader in receiving yardage. I don’t think there’s a huge edge in this prop, but over the last three years Julio leads the league with 4,873 yards receiving; Antonio is second with 4,816. Of course, Julio got his yardage in two fewer games with 33 fewer targets. If the Falcons regress and need to throw the ball more, Julio’s target total could spike. Last year he was second with 1,409 yards in 14 games. In 2015 he was first with 1,871 yards. In 2014 he was third with 1,593 yards in 15 games. His three-year average of 1624.3 yards per season would’ve been first — by a staggering 176.3 yards — just last year. Of the two studs, I’m leaning toward Julio.
Mohamed Sanu, WR
Yet to have 60 receptions, 800 receiving yards, or six touchdowns in any season, Sanu is a run-of-the-mill good-sized (6’2″ and 211 lbs.) and slow-footed (4.67-second 40) supplementary veteran. The most exciting fact about Sanu is that he has two rushing and two passing touchdowns on his résumé — so if Ryan ever is injured in a game and backup Matt Schaub throws a pick six on his first pass and is benched and third-stringer Matt Simms is inactive . . . then Sanu will make a great emergency quarterback with his ability to throw bombs and scramble (unhurriedly) for extra yards.
For the Falcons and fantasy players, Sanu is little more than Julio insurance. From 2012 to 2015, Sanu was at his per-game best for the Bengals when A.J. Green was out:
- With Green: 49 games, 4.37 targets, 28.78 yards, 0.18 touchdowns
- Without Green: 4 games, 9.0 targets, 95.75 yards, 0.5 touchdowns
There’s no guarantee that Sanu will experience elevated production in a Julio-less Falcons offense, but he’s probably worth rostering at his 153.0 DRAFT ADP on the chance that Julio misses more than a few games.
Taylor Gabriel, WR
Gabriel was both lucky and unlucky last year. Claimed off waivers by the Falcons at the beginning of the season after being cut by the Browns, the former undrafted free agent was fortunate to be reunited with Shanahan, the OC for whom two years earlier he had 621 yards and a solid 8.63 YPT as a rookie. Gabriel was unfortunate, however, to be on a team that gave 54.86 and 31.18 percent of the offensive snaps to Toilet-lo and fullback Patrick DiMarco. (Also, I maybe should’ve mentioned in the “2017 Roster” section that DiMarco is now with the Bills — but I don’t highlight fullbacks; that’s where I draw the line, Zach Line.) All in, the Falcons committed 54.5 percent of their offensive snaps to 2-1, 1-2, 1-3, 2-2, and 2-3 personnel groupings — which meant that the Falcons ran a lot of plays with no more than two wideouts on the field.
As a result, Gabriel played on only 33.49 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. In only two games all year did he have a snap rate higher than 60 percent. Nevertheless, Gabriel was a regular member of the offense by the end of October, playing 28-35 snaps in six of his final eight games, during which time the small (5’8″ and 167 lbs.) and fast (4.40-second 40) all-around weapon did his best Tyreek impression by turning 40 targets and four carries into 523 scrimmage yards and seven scores. While Gabriel’s touchdown rate is unsustainable, his big-play upside (evidenced by his elite 11.58 YPT) is undeniable. Without Shanny around to feed him a strategically planned five targets per game, Gabriel might take a step back as an overall producer, but with his volatility he’s more of a best ball and GPP option anyway. In his six career games with a touchdown, he’s averaged 18.08 PPG in a points-per-reception format.
Austin Hooper, TE
Despite getting only 27 targets, the third-round rookie Hooper became a regular contributor last year after the Tamme injury, playing on 65.5 percent of the offensive snaps in his final seven games. Although he’s not as promising as the second-year Hunter Henry or the 2017 rookie class of tight ends, Hooper has some hidden upside. As a top-12 PPF tight end in both run and pass blocking, he gives himself an excellent chance of playing more snaps in 2017, and when targeted he’s produced. The sample is small, but as a rookie Hooper was fourth at the position with 2.37 PPT, 10.0 YPT, and a +33.0 Production Premium. Of all the late-round tight ends I hope not to need to roster, he’s the one I most want.
In the futures market the Falcons currently have a 2017 win total of 9.5 games with a -130 over and even under. They’re also -150 to make the playoffs and +120 not to. When Dan Quinn has overseen a defense and someone else has overseen the offense, his teams have done well:
- Seahawks (2013): 13-3, first in division, playoffs, won Super Bowl
- Seahawks (2014): 12-4, first, playoffs, lost Super Bowl
- Falcons (2015): 8-8, second
- Falcons (2016): 11-5, first, playoffs, lost Super Bowl
Quinn is 19-13 as a coach, and if his defense takes shape in his third year in Atlanta then the Falcons might win the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 52. With the team’s first two picks in each of the last three drafts, General Manager Thomas Dimitroff and Assistant GM Scott Pioli have drafted players (Beasley, Collins, Neal, Jones, McKinley, and Duke Riley) with Quinn’s defense in mind. As long as Sark doesn’t destroy the offense, the Falcons should be a team with double-digit wins even though Warren Sharp has given them the fifth-hardest schedule of the year.
The Falcons are currently +1,600 to win the Super Bowl and +600 to win the NFC. Intriguingly, the Seahawks are +1,200 to win the Super Bowl but only +600 to win the NFC. Essentially the market is saying that the Falcons and Seahawks are equally likely to make the Super Bowl but that once there the Falcons aren’t as likely to win as the Seahawks are — perhaps because the Seahawks have won a Super Bowl within the last five years and the Falcons choked away a Super Bowl earlier this year. That’s nonsense. Given their odds to win the NFC, the Falcons are discounted at +1,600 to win a championship.
The Falcons are favored at +170 to win the NFC South. The Panthers are second at +250. It should be kept in mind that Cam Newton and the Panthers won the division for three straight seasons before their regressively down and injury-impacted 6-10 campaign last year. Plus Brees seems capable of one more big run with the Saints and Jameis Winston and the Bucs are ascending. I’m staying away from this division of top-12 quarterbacks.
Something to keep in mind: Last year oddsmakers never adjusted to the high-scoring implications of the Falcons offense, which juiced their overall totals. In 19 games (including playoffs), they and their opponents combined to hit the over 16 times. If Sark proves himself to be Shanny’s equal and the Falcons offense stays hot, the team’s over/under performance will be worth monitoring closely.
In researching for this piece I consulted Evan Silva’s excellent Falcons Fantasy Preview at Rotoworld and relied on data from Pro Football Reference, Pro Football Focus, Football Outsiders, Football Perspective, PlayerProfiler, Team Rankings, The Power Rank, NCAA Savant, NFL.com, and the apps at RotoViz as well as the FantasyLabs Tools and Models.
Ian Hartitz contributed research to this article.