The same team that went 7-9 during the 2018 season also closed that campaign on a three-game win streak. The Atlanta Falcons are coming into the 2019 season with a certain duplicity, they have enough talent to realistically win the NFC South this season but lost seven of 10 non-divisional games.
Atlanta went 4-2 in divisional play last season despite being swept by New Orleans. The Falcons won two of those three season-ending games against divisional rivals Carolina 24-10, and Tampa 34-32. Last season, the Falcons lost four of their first five games and endured a five-game losing streak down the stretch between week 10 through 14.
The Falcons opened the preseason in Canton against the Denver Broncos at the Hall of Fame Game, the league’s annual preseason kickstarter, on Thursday, Aug. 1. The team held their final open practice of the preseason at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, Aug. 4.
But questions about which Falcons team will take the field for week one at Minnesota on Sept. 8 still remain.
Here are a few things to look for from the Falcons during the 2019 season:
Can receiver quartet of Jones, Sanu, Ridley and Hardy still be best of its kind in the league?
There continues to be (and probably always will be) arguments online about who the best receiver in the National Football League is. No matter who holds the mythical crown from season to season Julio Jones remains in the conversation. Jones not only caught 113 balls last season, the third time in his seven year career he has had 100-plus receptions, but he tallied a league high 1,677 receiving yards. Along with Mohamed Sanu (66 receptions, 838 yards, four touchdowns last season), speedster Calvin Ridley and Justin Hardy, the Falcons have the league’s most productive quartet with 257 total receptions.
Does Matt Ryan remain Mr. Reliable?
Still one of the most popular and charitable athletes in the city, can veteran quarterback and former league Most Valuable Player Matt Ryan remain one of the league’s best signal callers? All signs point to yes if his 2018 season is any proof.
Ryan has not missed a start in nine years and has only missed a pair during his 11-year career. Having him on the field keeps the Falcons in every game, and with the 2019 season opening with Minnesota, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Houston, the L.A. Rams and Seattle before the week nine bye, a healthy Ryan is key to starting season strong.
Have the schedule gods blessed Atlanta by holding all NFC South games until second half?
Atlanta won’t play their first divisional game of the season until week 10 at rival New Orleans followed by four consecutive divisional games (in order) at Carolina week 11, against Tampa on week 12, and at home against the Saints and Panthers during weeks 13 and 14. Is this a good thing? Yes and here’s why. Atlanta has a chance to get all of the kinks (and early season losses) out before they play the most important games of the season.
Here’s why it can be bad: The Falcons will not get a break between divisional games for a month (they play San Francisco and Jacksonville during weeks 15 and 16). No matter how good they might be playing during the first half of the season their playoff hopes can rest on one five-week portion of a four-month season.
With the defense at full strength can Atlanta be better outside of NFC South?
Veteran defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, heading into fifth season with the franchise, had a career year last season (career high in sacks with six, and quarterback hits with 16) which led to earning a contract extension this week. The Conyers native is guaranteed $42.5 of the $68 million dollar four-year contract.
Despite playing in just six games last season, fourth-year linebacker Deion Jones cemented his place as one of the team’s best overall players (53 total tackles, one interception and one sack in six starts). Jones’ versatility, including his ability to drop back into coverage, helped him earn his new four-year $57 million dollar contract ($34 guaranteed). With both players locked in the Falcons are less likely to be dominated the way they were early last season.