Wondering if and how your NFL team can make the playoffs in the coming season? Adam Rank and Marc Sessler have you covered in this ongoing series, as they provide five reasons why each of the league's 32 teams will make an appearance in the 2018 postseason. Today, Sessler examines the Atlanta Falcons.
1) Matt Ryan remains a badass
Matt Ryan's 2017 season boils down to one's point of view. Dan Hanzus of "The Around the NFL Podcast" still feels burned by Ryan's up-and-down performance as the quarterback of Zeus' ultimately doomed fantasy team. Undoubtedly, Ryan's 20-touchdown, 12-pick campaign was a far cry from his 38 scores and seven interceptions during a rousing MVP showing the season before.
That glorious 2016 run was galvanized by a coordinator in Kyle Shanahan who today looks like one of the game's brightest young coaches. The switch to Steve Sarkisian -- a beat-the-dead-horse talking point last offseason -- generated expected growing pains. After scoring a league-best 33.8 points per game in 2016, Atlanta squeezed out 22.1 points per tilt last season -- fewer than 13 other teams.
It's sexy/nerdy to hate on quarterback wins, but Ryan deserves mention for sitting just five victories away from the 100-win line, which would vault him into a stellar group of passers led by Tom Brady (196), Drew Brees (142), Ben Roethlisberger (135), Eli Manning (111) and Philip Rivers (106). To Ryan's credit, every signal-caller on this list was drafted at least four years before him. Chalk it up to Ryan operating as one of the game's genuine ironmen. Outside of two missed starts in 2009, the Falcons' trusty arm has started every game of his 10-year career.
The league only houses so many minds like Kyle Shanahan, but another offseason with Steve Sarkisian should help. With MVP DNA in the bloodstream, Ryan looms as a trustworthy candidate for a statistical upswing this autumn.
2) One of the game's best backfields
Freeman sprained his MCL and PCL late in the season, but should be healthy for camp. He might not pile up the gaudy numbers of some feature backs, but Freeman gives you everything a team would want in a lead runner.
As for Coleman, he's been assured by coaches he'll be a bigger part of the passing game after the super-quick runner hauled in 27 catches a year ago -- a figure destined to rise this fall.
"They want to use me more," Coleman said in May. "Line me up out wide and stuff like that. It's going to be pretty cool."
3) Defense that surged down the stretch
Before landing in Atlanta, Dan Quinn oversaw a historically dominant, life-sucking defense in Seattle. Bringing that same scheme to Atlanta, the fourth-year Falcons coach has built a secondary stocked with young talent. Cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford both graded in the top 28 among players at their position, per Pro Football Focus. At safety, Ricardo Allen (ranked No. 40) remains a strong complement to the hard-hitting, powerful Keanu Neal, who finished as PFF's fifth-ranked safety in his second NFL campaign.
The secondary was a major force behind Atlanta's brilliant late-season defensive play. The Falcons gave up 30-plus points just once all year and allowed fewer points than all but seven teams. Their finest work came in the playoffs, holding the high-flying Sean McVay-led Rams to 13 points in the wild-card round before losing a nail-biter to the Eagles that saw the eventual Super Bowl champions dial up just 15 points.
The defense has a legitimate chance to be even better in 2018.
4) Juicy receiving corps
Julio Jones deserves a new contract sooner than later, and his teammates don't seem too concerned about him missing this week's minicamp. His touchdown total dipped last season, but Jones is still one of the grittiest, most physically imposing receivers in the NFL. At his best, Jones can take over a game as a one-man band authoring notes of sheer chaos.
"Very competitive player. He's a No. 2 receiver and, on a top team, he's a No. 3," one scout told longtime beat reporter Bob McGinn. "Little bit of an overachiever, too."
Ridley struggled with drops at Alabama, but gives the Falcons a speed element and tantalizing third option in a passing game that has the weapons to hammer enemies.
5) Dan Quinn
Last year's successes are a credit to Quinn, one of the game's brightest young coaches and a man revered by his players. He's built a community inside the Falcons locker room and shown a knack for developing young athletes.
A coach with buy-in can go far in the NFL -- and Quinn is one reason Atlanta should enjoy another double-digit-win campaign.