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Why are so many intelligent NFL analysts, both gambling and otherwise, buying stock in the 2023 Atlanta Falcons? As of July 31, Atlanta’s regular-season win total is 8.5 with the Over at DraftKings Sportsbook juiced to -120.
In 2022, the Falcons exceeded their 5.5 pre-season win total with a 7-10 record. But, people only focus on Atlanta’s 6-0 against-the-spread (ATS) record to start the season. People apparently forget how the Falcons ended last year.
Atlanta finished in a three-way tie for 2nd in the NFC South last season in head coach Arthur Smith’s first year on the job. Then-rookie Falcons QB Desmond Ridder became the starter in Week 15 vs. the New Orleans Saints.
From there, Atlanta scored just 16.8 points per game. Ridder had a 55.9 QB grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF), which would’ve ranked 34th out of 40 quarterbacks for the full season. He threw just two touchdowns in his four games as a starter.
NFL talking heads need to make up their minds about running backs. A lot of the love for Atlanta in the betting market stems from its elite run game last season. Yet productive running backs are a dime a dozen, right?
NFL FRONT OFFICES SEEM TO THINK PRODUCTIVE RBS ARE EASY TO FIND, BUT THE STATS FROM RECENT SEASONS SAY OTHERWISE
Also, Atlanta’s defense was trash in 2022. The Falcons were 29th in expected points added per play allowed (EPA/play) and 25th in yards per play. If you consider Atlanta’s competition last year, those numbers look worse.
Here are some of the QBs the Falcons faced in 2022: Jameis Winston, Baker Mayfield, Jacoby Brissett, P.J. Walker, Tyler Huntley, David Blough and two Tampa Bay Buccaneer backup QBs in Week 18. All of them should be backups.
Granted, Atlanta’s front office invested heavily on the defensive side of the ball this offseason. However, as I discuss below, I’m skeptical those defensive acquisitions make a sizable difference.
2023 Atlanta Falcons by the odds (DraftKings)
- Super Bowl: +6000
- NFC title: +2800
- NFC South: +215
- Playoffs: Yes (+105), No (-125)
- 8.5 regular-season wins: Over (-120), Under (+100)
I just don’t know how we got here with the Falcons. They have better odds to win the Super Bowl than the NY Giants (+6500), LA Rams (+6500), and Tennessee Titans (+8000).
New York won a playoff game last season with several Pro Bowl-caliber players and a more legitimate starting QB. The Rams won the 2022 Super Bowl. Tennessee was the 1-seed in the AFC two years ago.
The Giants, Rams, and Titans all have the same starting quarterbacks. All three have former or current NFL Coaches of the Year. So, again, how important is the running back position?
Because Atlanta’s running back room needs to make up for a below-average WR corp and a bottom-five starting quarterback. The Falcons selected RB Bijan Robinson with the 8th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
FIRST LOOK AT BIJAN ROBINSON WITH FALCONS INDICATES UNIQUE HYBRID POSITION AS ARTHUR SMITH GETS CREATIVE WITH 1ST ROUND PICK
That said, Atlanta isn’t a “running back away” from competing for a Super Bowl. That presumes that Ridder is the guy, Falcons TE Kyle Pitts starts to realize is sky-high potential, and Atlanta’s offensive line stays healthy in 2023.
Last year, the Falcons had incredible health-luck along the offensive line. And they weren’t even that good. Per ESPN, Atlanta’s offensive line was 19th in pass-block win rate and 25th in run-block win rate.
Furthermore, the Falcons struggled in the trenches on the other side of the ball in 2023. They were 26th in pass-rush win rate and 29th in run-stopping win rate last season, according to ESPN.
Atlanta added seven new defensive starters and hired a new defensive coordinator (Ryan Nielsen) this offseason. It’s far more likely these newcomers bust than pan out. Plus, defense is less predictive than offense in football.
BEST BET: Falcons UNDER 6.5 alternate-win total (+310) at DraftKings
Let’s simplify this conversation. “Is there a world where the Atlanta Falcons lose one more game than they did in 2022?” There is because the Falcons were lucky to have seven wins last season.
Remember, that would-be go-ahead TD catch by then-Panthers WR D.J. Moore in Atlanta’s 37-34 home overtime win over Carolina in Week 8? Moore’s brain-fart cost the Panthers a win and perhaps former-coach Matt Rhule his job.
Or how about Tampa Bay resting its starters and Tom Brady in Week 18? The Bucs had the division clinched and they pulled their starters in the second half of Atlanta’s 30-17 Week 18 win. But, Tampa led 17-10 at halftime.
Furthermore, the break-even rate on the FALCONS UNDER 6.5 ALTERNATE WINS (+310) is 24% give or take. Entering 2022, Atlanta’s regular-season win total was 5.5. The three-win increase is an overreaction to the Falcons starting 6-0 ATS last year.
They have the 2nd-easiest schedule coming into 2023, according to Warren Sharp. Yet Atlanta’s minus-12-game net rest edge is the 4th-worst in the league. I.e. the NFL didn’t do the Falcons any favors.
The bottom line is Atlanta has better than a 75% chance to be in the “Caleb Williams Sweepstakes” at the end of the year.
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