The Atlanta Falcons Have What It Takes to Win the Super Bowl
With a win on Saturday over the Seattle Seahawks, the Atlanta Falcons moved one step closer to reaching the Super Bowl. This shouldn't have come as a surprise, though, as the Falcons were about a two-to-one favorite to beat the Seahawks based on our projections.
The Falcons now have an upcoming NFC Championship matchup with the Green Bay Packers. Similar to their contest against Seattle, the upcoming game with Green Bay represents a rematch from this year's regular season. While the Falcons avenged their Week 6 loss to the Seahawks this past weekend, they beat the Packers in Week 8.
In order to fully analyze the upcoming matchup, we need to look beyond just Ryan -- who's been dominant this season -- to see how the Falcons are having sustained success, and how they can continue that success through the NFC Championship.
Strong Supporting Cast
Ryan targeted 10 different players -- eight had receptions -- this weekend in the win over the Seahawks. Just like all season, where the Falcons targeted 15 different players on passes, the Falcons spread the ball out to find strong offensive success.
For the season, Atlanta had the third-most passing yards and fifth-most rushing yards leading to the second-most overall yards on offense while scoring the most points in the NFL. According to our power rankings, which use our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (or NEP, which you can read more about in our glossary) metric, the Falcons boast both the best total and passing offense, as well as the third-best rushing offense.
While Julio Jones was the most-targeted receiver on Saturday with eight targets, the Falcons didn't specifically rely on him. Instead, they had a very even distribution of player usage.
Both Devonta Freeman and Mohamed Sanu saw five targets, while Taylor Gabriel had six targets come his way. Additionally, Levine Toilolo and Tevin Coleman each had four targets in the game. Overall, six players for the Falcons saw between four and eight looks. With the depth on offense, it's built to win by taking advantage of matchups.
To show just how great this supporting cast is outside of Jones, we can look at their regular season receiving statistics and see how they rank based on our advanced analytics.
|Player||Receptions||Yards||Touchdowns||Rec NEP Rank||Rec NEP per Target Rank||Success Rate Rank|
First, looking at Coleman and Freeman shows that the Falcons have two running backs who excel as pass-catchers out of the backfield. Both are in the top-10 in Reception NEP -- expected points added on catches -- among the 32 running backs who saw at least 40 targets this year. Furthermore, Coleman is the most efficient back, as he has the best Reception NEP per target. Meanwhile, Freeman is "just" 11th in this category.
Pivoting to the wide receivers, 113 receivers had at least 31 targets this year. For the Falcons, Jones, Sanu, Gabriel, Aldrick Robinson, and Justin Hardy all saw at least this many targets, with only Jones and Sanu seeing over 80 targets. On a per-target basis, only Sanu ranked worse than 19th in Reception NEP.
By properly using this supporting cast, Ryan has been able to constantly take advantage of opposing defenses all year. He should continue to replicate his yearlong success on Sunday against the Packers, as they do not boast a defense ranked as well as the Seahawks by any of our analytics.
Young, Opportunistic Defense
Based on overall numbers, the Falcons defense doesn't look amazing. They rank 25th in yards allowed and 27th in points allowed while being 16th in total takeaways. Our analytics agree with this, too, as the Falcons rank 27th in Adjusted Defensive NEP, 30th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP, and 23rd in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP.
But take a look at how the defense has played before and after their Week 11 bye week.
|Falcons Defense||Yards Allowed||Points Allowed||Turnovers||Adj D NEP||Adj Run D NEP||Adj Pass D Nep|
Since the bye, the Falcons have been on a tear. Their turnover rate would place them in the top-5 for the season had they maintained that pace all year, their points allowed per game would have them inside the top-12, and their yards allowed would have them in the top-16.
Furthermore, our analytics back this assessment -- the Falcons poor analytical rankings are haunted by their early-season performance. If we extrapolate their post-bye week analytics and use them based on a full season, the Falcons would be ranked in the top-15 for Adjusted Defensive NEP (total defense) and top-12 for Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP (passing defense).
So the Falcons boast a strong secondary supporting cast on offense, and they've got a young, constantly-improving, and opportunistic defense. It's because of this that they beat the Seahawks en route to the NFC Championship game, and it's because of this that they can succeed this weekend against the Packers.