The Atlanta Falcons have been members of the NFL since 1965 when they were added as an expansion team. This was actually a counter move in response to the rival AFL’s decision to target Atlanta for an expansion franchise of their own. They were also awarded the first overall draft pick for 1966 and chose University of Texas linebacker Tommy Nobis. They currently play their home games indoors in Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. It was built as to replace their long time home, the Georgia Dome, in 2017.
Success didn’t come easily, as the team failed to make the playoffs until the 1978 season. In fact, they only have six total playoff appearances from 1965-2000. These of course were capped off by the 1998 team that finished 14-2 and made an appearance in their very first Super Bowl that winter. Successful seasons have been much more common of late, with eight postseason berths over the past 20 seasons, including yet another Super Bowl appearance (and yet another Super Bowl loss) coming in 2016. This of course was their famous second half meltdown versus the New England Patriots.
Post-merger, they became an NFC team, joining the NFC West division until the 2002 league realignment put them in the NFC South. They have been division champions six times over the years, twice in the West, four times in the South, again most recently in 2016.
The team’s original owner, Rankin M. Smith, Sr. passed ownership to his son, Taylor Smith in 1990. He in turn sold the team to current owner, Arthur Blank in 2002 for $545 million. Blank also owns Atlanta United FC of Major League Soccer, they share Mercedes Benz Stadium with the Falcons. Atlanta’s general manager is Thomas Dimitroff. He has been in that position since 1998 after working his way up through the scouting department with the New England Patriots.
The team has been coached by Dan Quinn since 2015. Quinn made a name for himself as a defensive coordinator in Seattle, but gave up defensive coordinating responsibilities partway through 2019. Defensive play calling will fall on Raheem Morris in 2020. Dirk Koetter will enter his second season as the offensive coordinator after losing his head coaching position in Tampa following the 2018 season.
A handful of absolute legends have played short stints in Atlanta on their way to the Hall of Fame. Brett Favre, Chris Doleman and Eric Dickerson all donned the Falcons jersey for at least a handful of games. But, the most famous player who spent meaningful time in Atlanta on the way to Canton is defensive back Deion Sanders. Sanders played five seasons with the team, intercepting 24 passes and scoring ten touchdowns.
The Current roster is led by long time quarterback and 2016 MVP Matt Ryan once again. He is joined by star receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley as well as new addition, Todd Gurley at running back. The defense is anchored by Pro Bowl defensive lineman Grady Jarrett.
The 2020 draft saw the Falcons making some moves to improve their defense with Clemson cornerback A. J. Terrell in the first round and Auburn defensive end Marlon Davidson being added in the second. They also later added several other defensive players along with a center and even a punter very late in the draft.
The market is a little cool on the Falcons for 2020. DraftKings has them 50/1 to win the Super Bowl and 25/1 to win the NFC. They are also the third favorite to take the NFC South division (8/1) behind Drew Brees and the Saints (-130) and the retooled Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+150). Only the Panthers, at 25/1 have worse odds.
Which version of the Falcons will show up in 2020?
It was a tale of two seasons for the Atlanta Falcons last year. After starting their season with an abysmal 1-7 record, it looked like it was going to be the end of the road for Dan Quinn and the rest of the coaching staff. That was until the team came out firing after their week 9 bye. They ended the season on an impressive 6-2 run, including wins over the Saints and the eventual NFC champion 49ers.
So the question every Falcons fan and bettor wants to know heading into the 2020 season is: Which version of the Falcons will we see in 2020? Will we see the 1-7 Falcons who looked lost in every game, or will it be the team that finished the season 6-2 and looked like a legit contender?
Key Offseason Moves
The Falcons decided to go defense with their 16th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, selecting cornerback A.J. Terrell out of Clemson. He'll be a key part of the extremely young Falcons secondary that will have to remain steady throughout the season if the Falcons want to make a return to the playoffs.
Their biggest offseason signing on defense was former Jaguars and Rams pass rusher Dante Fowler. He'll be there to provide Takkarist McKinley some much needed pass rushing support for a defense that finished with the fourth fewest sacks last season.
On the offensive side of the football, the Falcons began their offseason by signing former Rams Todd Gurley at running back. Despite Gurley showing some age in his recent seasons with Los Angeles, if he can take advantage of a fresh start in his alma mater state of Georgia, the Falcons could be getting great value in a Pro Bowl caliber player. Gurley rushed for 857 yards on 223 carries in 2019.
Finally, the most intriguing move the Falcons made in the offseason came via trade during the NFL Draft. They gave up a second-round and a fifth-round pick for Ravens TE Hayden Hurst. Hurst, who was a first-round pick for the Ravens in 2018, struggled to live up to his hype in Baltimore due to nagging injuries and competition for reps with Mark Andrews. He will slide in well with a Falcons team that had a hole at the tight end position after Austin Hooper joined the Browns at the start of the offseason.
Matt Ryan: The Falcons offense starts and ends with former Boston College QB Matt Ryan. Despite most of the attention on superstar Julio Jones, it's Matt Ryan who determines the success of this offensive unit. After being named NFL's MVP in 2016, Matt Ryan has been close to replicating each season since, but the results haven't resulted in big improvements on his team's record. In 2019, this was largely due to a large jump in interceptions. He finished the 2019 season with 14 interceptions, many of which came in key situations. This was was double as many as he had in his 2016 MVP campaign.
One bet for Ryan's 2020 season that stands out to me is his passing yardage total. The OVER/UNDER on his passing yard total at FanDuel Sportsbook is set at 4,449.5 with each side coming in at -112. He has surpassed that total in every season since 2011, except for 2017 which was his MVP and Super Bowl hangover year in which he only record 4,095. But he's thrown for over 4,900 yards in two of his previous four seasons and he hasn't showed any glaring signs of slowing down. The OVER 4,449.5 passing yards for Matt Ryan is a GREAT look in my opinion. Also, if you think he can repeat his 2016 MVP performance, you can back him to win the award for a second time at +4400, great odds for a guy who won the award just four short years ago.
Julio Jones: An Atlanta Falcons season preview wouldn't be complete without a look at Julio Jones, arguably one of the best wide receivers of this generation. Despite a sub-par 2019 performance by Julio standards, he still recorded 1,394 receiving yards, 99 receptions, and 6 touchdowns. A key factor for Julio Jones' 2020 performance will be whether or not Calvin Ridley and new acquisition Hayden Hurst will be able to take some pressure off of Jones.
Jones has led the NFL in receiving yards twice in his career, in 2015 and 2018. He's second on the odds list at FanDuel Sportsbook to lead the league in receiving yards for a third time at +900. Not a bad bet considering he achieved the feat just two years ago in 2018. His OVER/UNDER receiving yards total is set at 1,349.5. He has surpassed that number in every single season 2013, so the OVER on that number seems like a no-brainer.
Keanu Neal: The key factor to the Falcons defense in 2020 is safety Keanu Neal. He was the cornerstone of the Falcons defense as a rookie in 2016, was named to the Prop Bowl in 2017, and then suffered early season ending injuries in 2018 and 2019. His injury in 2018 came in the opening game, and then his season was declared finished in week 3 against the Colts last year. It would be a massive boost to the Falcons defense if Neal can stay healthy throughout the 2020 season.
He's listed at +6000 to be named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year, which is an interesting look if he can stay healthy and return to his dominant form in 2020.
Win Total: 7.5 The Falcons win total is currently set at 7.5 at FanDuel Sportsbook, which makes sense considering they finished at 7-9 in their previous two seasons. While the defense is a bit of a concern, you have to think the OVER 7.5 is a solid look with the amount of talent they have on the offensive side of the football. It'll be a tough start in their 2020 season with the Seahawks, Cowboys, and Packers in three of their first four weeks, but if they can snag a couple wins from those three tough teams, OVER 7.5 will be a great look.
Odds to win NFC South: +700 It will be an interesting season to watch in the NFC South. The Saints and the Bucs seem to be the frontrunners with the Panthers far behind and the Falcons somewhere in the middle. I don't think the oddsmakers are giving the Falcons enough credit with their price set at +700. Can an aging Drew Brees and Tom Brady lead their respective teams to a double-digit win seasons? Do the Falcons really not have the talent to compete with them? While the Falcons to win the division may be a stretch, there could be some value on the price at +700 if you're looking for a divisional long shot.
Odds to win the Super Bowl: +5000 If you're looking for a pre-season dark horse or long shot to bet on to win the Super Bowl, the Falcons may be worth a sprinkle. Listed at +5000 (50/1) at FanDuel Sportsbook, the Falcons could see their odds take a big jump if they start off with wins over the Seahawks and Cowboys. Don't forget, this team was one of the best teams in the NFC just a couple of years ago. A young offensive line and defensive secondary could cause some bumps in the road, but they have the talent and star power to make a run at it.
There's too many question marks on the offensive line and defensive secondary for me to come out and say that a dominant season is in store for the Dirty Birds, but I think that brand new seventh playoff seed could be exactly where we see the Falcons end up. If the Falcons we see are the Falcons who finished the 2019 season on a 6-2 run, a 9-7 or 10-6 season is definitely well within reach. That is why my favorite bet for the Falcons 2020 season is for them to make the playoffs at +210.