While the SportsLine Projection Model still forecasts that it's more likely than not that the Atlanta Falcons miss the playoffs in the 2021 NFL season, the Dirty Birds' postseason chances actually improved via the model more than any team in the league with the addition of a 17th game. William Hill Sportsbook oddsmakers list Matt Ryan & Co. at +290 to play extra football next winter and -360 to miss out again.
Atlanta finished 4-12 last year, its third straight losing season, and it cost coach Dan Quinn his job during the year. Raheem Morris served out the 2020 season as the interim coach and the Falcons were better under him at 4-7, but former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith landed the full-time gig this offseason.
Smith was one of seven coaching candidates considered by Atlanta but the reported No. 1 choice all along. With the Titans, Smith ran similar scheme to the one the Falcons ran during their run to a Super Bowl appearance in the 2016 season.
In free agency, the Falcons have been rather quiet because they were very tight against the salary cap – arguably the team's biggest move was signing running back Mike Davis. Ryan and receiver and fellow future Hall of Famer Julio Jones were considered potential trade candidates this offseason, but their contracts essentially made that impossible.
The Falcons hold the No. 4 overall pick in the draft and could look at taking Ryan's long-term quarterback replacement in Alabama's Mac Jones, North Dakota State's Trey Lance or Ohio State's Justin Fields (subtract whichever one goes No. 3 overall to San Francisco) or perhaps Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, who had an incredible Pro Day recently. Atlanta also has needs all over the defense and perhaps could trade down for multiple picks.
The SportsLine Projection Model gave the Falcons a 38.04 percent chance of the playoffs before the addition of the 17th game but now that number is 41.76 percent. Why the jump? Because Atlanta's 17th game is at rebuilding Jacksonville, which had the NFL's worst record in 2020 (but also will have Trevor Lawrence in 2021). Meanwhile, division rivals Tampa Bay and New Orleans added very tough opponents in the Colts and Titans, respectively. All NFC teams will visit AFC teams in the 17th game this season.
To win the NFC South, Atlanta is a +1000 long shot at William Hill and the team has an Over/Under win total of 7. Perhaps 7 wins will be enough for the final NFC wild-card spot; 8 wins was enough in 2020.
Falcons 2021 opponents (one home game TBA will be in London):
Home: Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Football Team.
Away: Panthers, Saints, Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers, New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars
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