Arrow up, arrow down for Falcons heading into Week 4

Here’s a closer look at who appears
to be #risingup and who appears to be trending down as we head into the Bengals
matchup. Arrow UpQB Matt Ryan Ryan is capable of catching fire like he has over
the last two weeks, and it’s always a delight. He’s simply firing on all
cylinders right now, having thrown for seven touchdowns against the Panthers and
Saints and running for two more against the Panthers, which puts him at nine in
his last two games. His throws have been orders of magnitude better than they
were in Week 1, and despite some adventures in pass protection from the line and
the lack of a ground game in Week 3, he’s dealing. Heading into Week 4, the
chief concern for Ryan is the effectiveness of his ground game and offensive
line. The Bengals quietly have a quality secondary, but Ryan should continue to
dominate so long as he stays on his feet. WR Calvin RidleyWe’re actually at risk
of overhyping Ridley, because he’s in the midst of a magical two game stretch
that probably isn’t going to stretch out over the rest of the season. Ridley has
been every bit as good as advertised over the last two weeks, reeling in four
touchdowns and about 200 yards through the air and running crisp, difficult
routes with aplomb. There will be weeks where he fades into the background, but
he’s the second option in this passing game, and should be for a long time to
come. Before the season I was cautious about projecting too much from Ridley,
who came NFL-ready but figured to have to scrap for targets with Mohamed Sanu,
Austin Hooper and the running backs. Now that he’s taken his role and run with
it, though, I’m all-in on the Ridley train. Choo choo. LB Duke Riley Riley has
been under as much pressure as any Falcon to begin the year, and stepping into
the middle linebacker job against Carolina and New Orleans in back-to-back weeks
was never going to be easy for him. He faltered badly against Carolina, but he
legitimately played better against New Orleans in a tougher matchup, which was
encouraging. In this game, Riley was constantly around the ball, and despite the
looseness of his game at times he managed to make some good tackles and stay in
the play. It’s not earth-shattering, but the arrow’s pointing up, especially
with Foye Oluokun now nursing an injury. Riley’s never going to be Deion Jones,
and he may never even turn into an above average starter, but he’s making some
strides. The Falcons need him to keep it up if they’re going to stay afloat on
defense, and if he’s even a passable starter from here on out it’ll be a help. S
Damontae KazeeIt wasn’t all sunshine and form tackles for Kazee, but he showed
the open field tackling ability and physicality this defense sorely needs when
he wasn’t missing some tackles himself. Kazee is going to be heavily relied upon
with Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal out the rest of the way, and I think there’s
no question he has the talent to be a very good player. The Falcons
unfortunately need him to be one immediately.Kazee is the best safety on the
roster at the moment, though, and perhaps the surest tackler at the position.
Expect him to pile up the tackles and hopefully make some big plays going
forward. Stock down OL...All of them Not every offensive lineman played poorly
against the Saints, but as a unit, there were scuffles in pass protection that
are very concerning given who is coming to town this weekend. The Bengals
arguably have a better, deeper pass rush than the Saints, who got a handful of
key sacks on Matt Ryan.They also have a solid run defense up front, and the line
did not block well at all for Tevin Coleman in Week 3, if we can be honest.
Coleman did himself few favors, but this line has to block better for the
Falcons to remain balanced.S Jordan Richards I hope to be putting Richards in
Arrow Up next week. I really do.The fact of the matter is that Richards, despite
some impressively physical tackling and solid run support in his limited Falcons
snaps to this point, has not impressed at all in coverage. In fact, he’s had his
adventures there, as he has throughout his career, and took some notably bad
angles in the Panthers game. Now he’s looking like the full-time starter for at
least a short stint Authentic
Julio Jones Jersey
 , with Sharrod Neasman lurking in the
background, I guess.Against teams committed to running the football, Richards is
likely to beless of a liability, and he may even be an asset. Against teams like
the Bengals who are committed to throwing the ball, Richards is going to be
tested and is going to need to erase doubts about his ability to handle those
assignments. If he can, Dan Quinn and company will look like geniuses, but it’s
fair to say we haven’t seen enough from Richards thus far in his career to
suggest he will.Arrow down until proven otherwise.DE Vic Beasley It’s incredibly
painful to keep putting Beasley here. He’s one of the team’s good guys, he’s two
seasons away from leading the league in sacks, and there are those moments where
you watch him absolutely whip by a tackle and think this is it. But those
moments have been far too few and far between for a while now.Against the
Saints, Beasley picked up the game’s lone sack, but also found himself getting
tangled up off the edge and failing to make some crucial tackles, most notably
on Taysom Hill’s embarrassing long rumble. Getting Takk McKinley back this week
will help and finding more playing time for Jack Crawford should as well, but
this line has no hopes of being great if Beasley isn’t.NFC South 2018 divisional
preview Week 1 is finally upon us! The Falcons play football in approximately 48
hours, which is awesome. Before that, however, it might be a good idea to check
in on our greatest competition: our rivals in the NFC South. This is a division
that sent three teams to the playoffs in 2017, which is a pretty incredible feat
in a stacked conference. Is that likely to happen again in 2018, and who ends up
on top when the dust clears? Check out my predictions and thoughts on the other
teams below.For reference, here is how the division finished in 2017:New Orleans
Saints* 11-5Carolina Panthers* 11-5Atlanta Falcons* 10-6Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5-11New Orleans Saints2017 Record: 11-52018 Projection: 10-6Major Additions:
EDGE Marcus Davenport (draft), CB Patrick Robinson (FA), LB Demario Davis (FA),
S Kurt Coleman (FA), TE Benjamin Watson (FA), QB Teddy Bridgewater (trade)Major
Losses: S Kenny Vaccaro, OL Senio Kelemete, CB Delvin Breaux, WR Willie Snead,
QB Chase DanielThe Saints were among the NFC’s best teams in 2017, and the trend
is likely to continue in 2018. They benefited greatly from a phenomenal draft
class that produced five starters, and managed to stay relatively healthy
throughout the year. New Orleans also had a ridiculously efficient offense that
is likely to come back down to earth somewhat this season.The Saints added some
interesting pieces this offseason. Marcus Davenport required two first round
picks—a gamble that the developmental pass rusher will turn into a top-tier
player sooner rather than later. Patrick Robinson, Demario Davis, and Kurt
Coleman are all serviceable starters. Ben Watson is quite old and their only
real option at TE—that position is likely to be a weakness in 2018. A last
minute trade for Teddy Bridgewater solidified their back-up QB spot, but it was
a costly move that required a 3rd round pick.New Orleans lost a few big
names—Vaccaro and Breaux were long-hyped by Saints fans as high-level
players—but nobody that will significantly move the needle for this team. Willie
Snead seemed to fall out of favor last season, but had been a quality receiving
option before that. Chase Daniel was a dependable and reliable back-up QB—his
loss had the Saints scrambling for QB help, and they ended up trading for
Bridgewater.The Saints will still be very good in 2017, but this “all-in”
strategy is going to cost them long-term. Giving up next year’s first and third
round pick will make 2019 a thin class at the top. We’ve seen how big trades can
gut the depth of rosters—look no further than 2013 and 2014 in Atlanta. With the
Saints already cutting three of their 2018 draft picks—4th round T Rick Leonard,
5th round DB Natrell Jamerson, and 6th round CB Kamrin Moore—the stage is set
for this team to potentially face a serious downfall after Brees’ retirement in
1-2 seasons.Carolina Panthers2017 Record: 11-52018 Projection: 8-8Major
Additions: DT Dontari Poe (FA), WR D.J. Moore (draft), CB Donte Jackson (draft),
S Da’Norris Searcy (FA), WR Torrey Smith (trade) Major Losses: LG Andrew
Norwell, EDGE Charles Johnson Matt
Ryan Jersey
 , CB Daryl Worley, S Kurt Coleman, QB Derek AndersonThe
Panthers were an exciting team in 2017 that—arguably—overachieved based on their
roster. Carolina went an incredible 8-1 in one-score games last season, a feat
that is nearly impossible to replicate. There is almost certainly going to be
some regression to the mean from probability alone, but what about the state of
the roster?Obviously Cam Newton is the engine that drives the offense, and
sophomore RB Christian McCaffrey is going to be called upon to become a focal
point. The Panthers fired longtime offensive coordinator Mike Shula and brought
in Norv Turner for the job—the same Norv Turner that quit in Minnesota in 2016.
I’m not sure how well Turner’s offensive style fits with the Panthers, but it
might not matter all that much. The reason? Injuries, particularly on the
offensive line. LT Matt Kalil is on IR. LG Amini Silatolu is hurt. RT Daryl
Williams appears to have made a miraculous recovery after a knee injury that
could’ve been season-ending, but he’s still only a little over a month past his
surgery. Carolina already lost LG Andrew Norwell—among the best in the game at
his position—in free agency. This offensive line could end up being a huge
liability.Former Falcons DT Dontari Poe signed a big deal to join the Panthers
and should help solidify a stout defensive line. Carolina added WR D.J. Moore
and CB Donte Jackson in the first two rounds of the draft. S Da’Norris Searcy
came in to replace Kurt Coleman, but that is likely going to be a downgrade. CB
Ross Cockrell—who was expected to be the CB2 next to James Bradberry—suffered a
season-ending injury in camp. The secondary is short on proven players with
Daryl Worley shipped off to Philadelphia in the offseason. Carolina will be
depending on a lot of young players on both sides of the ball to keep them from
falling behind.Tampa Bay Buccaneers2017 Record: 5-112018 Projection: 6-10Major
Additions: C Ryan Jensen, EDGE Jason Pierre-Paul (FA), EDGE Vinny Curry (FA), DT
Vita Vea (draft), RB Ronald Jones (draft)Major Losses: EDGE Robert Ayers, C Joe
Hawley, S T.J. WardOh, the Bucs. It seems like every year, Tampa Bay gets hyped
as the “up-and-coming” team. The trendy pick to go from worst-to-first. And,
like clockwork, every year they fall spectacularly short. This year appears no
different, but fewer people are behind them now with the news of Jameis
Winston’s 3-game suspension. That suspension—for groping an Uber driver—has put
Winston’s future with the team in doubt, and he’ll need to put together a very
good season for the Bucs to consider giving him a big contract after this
year.That means we’ll get to see Ryan Fitzpatrick once again for the first three
games of the season—and those three games are absolutely brutal for Tampa Bay.
Most are projecting them to go 0-3, and it would be genuinely surprising if they
didn’t. Recovering from 0-3 (or worse) certainly isn’t impossible—we saw the
Saints do it last season—but it’ll be very difficult for this Bucs’ team against
an absolutely stacked NFC South.The good news for Tampa Bay is that the
defensive line looks much better all-around. Additions like Jason Pierre-Paul
and Vinny Curry should give the Bucs’ some semblance of a pass rush for the
first time in forever. C Ryan Jensen was brought in to replace the retiring Joe
Hawley, and he should be an upgrade there. In the draft, Tampa Bay added DT Vita
Vea and RB Ronald Jones in the first and second rounds. Neither of those two are
likely to have major roles to start the season—Vea because of injury, Jones
because of...well, he’s been bad. That’s not a great omen.Overall, this team
basically has the same issues that it has had over the past two years. The
offensive line is passable but not a strength. There are big problems in the
secondary, where Brent Grimes is solid but the rest of the group is a giant
question mark. Somehow, Chris Conte is still a starting safety in Tampa Bay. The
Bucs have a quality group of receivers and TEs, as usual, but the RBs are not a
position of strength. I think this Tampa Bay team improves in the win column,
but not enough to make much of a difference.The NFC South is still quite
talented in 2018, but I expect the Saints to regress slightly and the Panthers
to regress in a big way. The Bucs will actually improve—albeit by 1 game—but
that probably won’t be enough to save Koetter’s job. This is still going to be a
difficult division, and the Falcons’ playoff fortunes will likely rest on how
well they play against their closest rivals.Here is my final prediction for how
the NFC South will shake out in 2018:Atlanta Falcons* 12-4New Orleans Saints*
10-6Carolina Panthers 8-8Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6-10The changing of the guard
continues at the top of the NFC South, as is customary, with the Falcons taking
home the division title in 2018. New Orleans is right behind them at 10-6, and
they lock up a Wild Card berth despite playing a tough first place schedule. The
Panthers fall a bit to 8-8 due to some statistical regression and a few very
thin position groups—the offensive line and secondary come to mind. Tampa Bay
is...well, they’re still in the basement of the division. Until they get a new
coaching staff, they’re likely to stay there.What are your thoughts on the NFC
South heading into the 2018 season? Which team are you most concerned about this
season? Who do you think might surprise—in a good or bad way—this year?
Sign In or Register to comment.