With the NFL draft in the books, I’ll be rolling out more Futures Friday content as we ramp up towards the start of the 2023 season. In this article, I’ll break down why I think the Atlanta Falcons are currently a great value to win the NFC South. Let’s get to work.
NFC South Best Bets: Divisional Winners & More
Heading into the 2023-24 NFL season, the NFC South remains one of the most wide-open divisions in the league. It really is anyone’s division to have and much of this sentiment lends itself to the uncertainty of each teams’ roster and coaching staff. While this uncertainty can foster a sense of trepidation amongst fanbases, it creates a great opportunity for bettors. Read on for more information about how to get the most out of the uncertainty in the NFC South heading into the 2023-24 season, along with some insight into why there is some value on the Atlanta Falcons to win the division at +300 odds.
2022 Atlanta Falcons Season Recap
The Falcons finished the 2022 season with a 7-10 record, which was fourth in the NFC South. They went 2-4 in their divisional games, but the final one was in Week 18 with the Buccaneers resting players as they prepared for the playoffs.
Atlanta’s defense had a lot of issues (more on that in a minute), but their offense was very solid despite two different starting quarterbacks in Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder. The Falcons ranked 13th in offensive DVOA and scored 21.5 points per game, which ranked 15th in the NFL.
The defense, however, let them down as they ranked 30th in overall DVOA and 24th or worse against the run and pass. Entering the offseason, the Falcons’ front office had a clear goal of improving the defensive personnel.
2023 Atlanta Falcons Offseason Moves
Arguably the most important move the Falcons made over the offseason was bringing in Ryan Nielsen as the new defensive coordinator following Dean Pees’ retirement. Previously a star defensive line coach for the Saints, Nielsen is a rising name in the coaching ranks well regarded as a top-notch developer of talent.
With Nielsen came a number of free agency signings, including a handful from the Saints. David Onyemata and Kaden Elliss came over from New Orleans with Nielsen to bolster the front seven while Jessie Bates III and Mike Hughes were valuable additions to the secondary
The Falcons also spent a first-round pick on phenomenal running back prospect Bijan Robinson and a second-round pick on Matthew Bergeron, who’s slated to start at guard for them right away. They also brought in Jonnu Smith, one of the better blocking tight ends in the league and a dynamic YAC threat.
Falcons’ Offense Could be Outstanding
The Falcons have spent first-round picks in each of the last three drafts on tight end Kyle Pitts, wide receiver Drake London, and running back Bijan Robinson. That’s a lot of top-end young skill position talent. Despite subpar quarterback play in a very run-heavy offense, Drake London set a Falcons franchise rookie record with 72 receptions.
Of course, the run game will still be central to everything the Falcons do, especially after landing Robinson in the first round. Their offensive line came in at #4 in my most recent update to our rankings page, and that provides a strong foundation for what should be an outstanding run game. With a rotation of backs, Atlanta ranked third in rushing DVOA last year – now they have one of the most talented running back prospects since the turn of the century.
The big elephant in the room, of course, is the quarterback. Desmond Ridder only started four games last season, which is a very small sample size, but he improved in each one. However, Ridder played in a ton of big games at Cincinnati and is by all accounts an intelligent, poised young player ready to make the most of this opportunity.
It helps a ton that this run-heavy offense will give Ridder plenty of opportunities for play-action passes to Pitts, London, and others in one-on-one situations. 44.4% of Marcus Mariota’s dropbacks were of the play-action variety last season. Ridder threw for 13 touchdowns to three interceptions on play action in his final season at Cincinnati, but only one of those picks was deemed a turnover-worthy play.
I was asked what's the difference between Mariota & Desmond Ridder. I said….. Ridder BELIEVES he can make every throw. PERFECT EXAMPLE OF his confidence. pic.twitter.com/MDdqCBc2BH
— SENATOR PALPATINE – MAD MIKE! (@MadMikeSports) January 2, 2023
What About the Defense?
With an elite offensive line, promising young skill position corps, and second-year quarterback with promise, Arthur Smith’s offense should be in good shape. But how much better will the defense be after such a down year? I believe Atlanta could see a significant improvement on that end.
The Falcons have lacked a strong presence at safety in a long time, and Jessie Bates III provides that – he was the leader of the Bengals’ defense in their run to the Super Bowl two years ago. Add Mike Hughes and Jeff Okudah into the mix, and 2021 All Pro corner A.J. Terrell suddenly doesn’t have to shoulder nearly as much burden in the defensive backfield.
Up front, Nielsen is renowned as a tremendous defensive line coach and should pay dividends for Arnold Ebiketie as he enters his second season. With David Onyemata and Calais Campbell joining Grady Jarrett on the interior, the run defense should be much improved. Kaden Ellis was also one of the most underrated signings of this free agency cycle after a tremendous season with the Saints.
Kaden Ellis 2022 Highlights
11 Games Started | 7 Sacks | 78 Tackles | 2 Forced Fumbles
Falcons got one for sure! He was one of the best LB’s in the league last year and he can ball with a high motor and makes plays all over the field! He can cover in man/zone and he’s a pass… pic.twitter.com/UZ8WatK2q2
— . (@KylePittsZone) March 14, 2023
Summary – the Case for the Falcons
The Falcons’ new regime finally had an offseason with the books cleared from the past regime’s mistakes, and I love what they did with their cap space and draft capital. Bijan Robinson is going to have a tremendous rookie season in an ascending offense and this defense should be at least league average this year.
Ultimately, much of this comes down to the level of play we can expect to see from Desmond Ridder. However, the second-year quarterback has no lack of confidence in himself and Smith’s offenses are built to support the passer. Look no further than Ryan Tannehill’s career-high production in Tennessee with Smith.
The Falcons have the second-easiest schedule in the NFL this year by projected opponent win totals, and they’re being slept on in a completely wide open division. I’ll happily buy in on them at 3-1 odds as I believe the Saints, who are close to even money, are being overvalued in the NFC South.
Running NFL Futures Log
I’ll update this every week with futures picks hyper-linked to my past articles for your convenience. If there isn’t a link, it’s because I haven’t written an article for it yet. Here’s the running list:
|Bijan Robinson to win Offensive Rookie of the Year
|Philadelphia Eagles over 10.5 wins
|Atlanta Falcons to win the NFC South
|Chicago Bears to win the NFC North
|Miami Dolphins to win the AFC East
|Seattle Seahawks to win the NFC West
|Calvin Ridley to lead the NFL in receiving yards
|Arizona Cardinals under 5 wins
|Tennessee Titans to Win the AFC South
|New York Jets under 9.5 wins