Gambling Guide: 2018 Atlanta Falcons — win total?

Falcons in good hands with wealthy Ryan, defense that's no longer deficient

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Falcons QB Matt Ryan (USA TODAY Sports photo)

2018 win total: 9

2017 ATS record: 7-9

Optimist view

Matt Ryan is still young enough at 33 to lead a potent attack, he has plenty of weapons and he seems poised for an eighth straight season of 4,000 passing yards, with a new, $150-million contract that includes $100 million guaranteed. The Falcons still have one of the league’s better attacks as they proved last year, finishing No. 1 on third downs and third in total yards and average gain per pass. The numbers didn’t add up, as they finished 15th in scoring, but they had little trouble moving the ball.

RBs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are arguably the NFL’s best dual-purpose tandem, capable of contributing as runners and receivers. WRs Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu should get a boost from rookie Calvin Ridley. Jones has exceeded 1,400 yards in four straight seasons and remains at the top of his game, as he pursues a reworked contract.

Pessimist view:

Yes, Dan Quinn has improved a defense that was one of the league’s worst before he took over in 2015, and it ascended all the way to No. 8 in points allowed last year. But the defensive line lost two key pieces in DE Adrian Clayborn and DT Dontari Poe, and it hasn’t done much to replace them.

Despite Jones’ 1,444 receiving yards in 2017, he found the end zone just three times, and Sanu is just a guy. Although Sanu has nine TDs in two seasons in Atlanta, he’s averaged just 10.8 yards per catch.

Largely because of Ryan’s massive new deal, the Falcons were prevented from addressing any deficiencies in free agency. This is a group that has struggled on special teams, especially on kick coverage, and the Falcons play in the tough NFC South, with the Panthers and Saints, both of whom finished ahead of them last year at 11-5.

On schedule:

The Falcons’ first two road games are no picnic – at Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. But those are the only two road games they play in the first eight weeks. Those two journeys are sandwiched among five home games, and the bye is in Week Eight. But four of those first five games are against opponents that won more than 10 games in 2017. While the Falcons play on the road six times in the final nine weeks, four of those away games are against teams that had losing records in 2017.

Prediction: Over.

A year after the Super Bowl collapse, the Falcons still made it back to the postseason in 2017. They trounced everyone’s favorite Cinderella story, the Rams, in a wild-card game in L.A. Then they lost 15-10 in the divisional round to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Eagles but did an exceptional defensive job on arguably the NFL’s most explosive offense.

Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian still has a lot to prove, but he should see improvement in Year Two. And the bet is that Quinn will find a way to make sure the defense keeps getting better.

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