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The Falcons suffered a heart-wrenching defeat in the Super Bowl, but don’t look for them to fade away.  They have the NFL’s most potent offense (33.8 points per game) and a high-upside, if unpolished, defense with sacks leader Vic Beasley, safety Keanu Neal, and a healthy Desmond Trufant. The Buccaneers could reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007 with franchise QB Jameis Winston throwing bombs to newly-signed DeSean Jackson and superstar Mike Evans, though they may need a more consistent running game. Drew Brees keeps fending off Father Time, but the 38-year-old continues to be let down by a second-rate defense (31st in points allowed per game in 2016). The Saints did begin to address their defensive ills in the draft by selecting CB Marshon Lattimore and S Marcus Williams. The Panthers went from the Super Bowl to the division cellar last year. They could rebound if Cam Newton is healthy enough to regain his MVP form, and dual-threat rookie RB Christian McCaffrey hits the ground running.

 

QUARTERBACKS

Matt Ryan (ATL) had a passer rating of 128.1 when not pressured (425 Pass Attempts) last season (NFL Rank: 1st of 31 Qualified QBs; League Avg: 96.8)

Matt Ryan (ATL) chucked a career-high 38 TDs while earning MVP honors in 2016. He threw 15 TD passes against the blitz last season (NFL Rank: 1st among QBs)

Matt Ryan (ATL) did not throw an interception when pressured last season in 109 pass attempts (NFL Rank: 1st of 28 Qualified QBs; League Avg: 29.9)

Drew Brees (NO) did not complete a pass for 40+ yards on any of his 252 total passing attempts at outdoor stadiums last season (NFL Rank: T-Last among QBs)

Drew Brees (NO) threw 61 catchable balls on 79 pass attempts (77.2%) on 3rd and long last season (NFL Rank: 1st of 28 Qualified QBs; League Avg: 66.5%)

Cam Newton (CAR) was sacked 36 times last year and is now recovering from off-season surgery on his throwing shoulder.  He had a passer rating of just 67.3 against the blitz (190 Pass Attempts) last season (NFL Rank: 29th of 29 Qualified QBs; League Avg: 90.0)

Cam Newton (CAR) gained 70.6% of his total passing yards through the air (489/693) in close and late situations last season (NFL Rank: 1st of 31 Qualified QBs; League Avg: 56.8%)

Jameis Winston (TB) had a passer rating of 134.5 in short yardage situations (54 Pass Attempts) last season (NFL Rank: 1st of 31 Qualified QBs; League Avg: 104.4)

Jameis Winston (TB) threw for first downs on 38.7% of his pass attempts on 3rd and long last season (NFL Rank: 2nd of 28 Qualified QBs; League Avg: 29.9%)

Jameis Winston (TB) threw 10 TD passes against the blitz last season (NFL Rank: 3rd among QBs)

Jameis Winston (TB) threw for 340 passing yards when scrambling last season (NFL Rank: 5th among QBs)

 

RUNNING BACKS

Devonta Freeman (ATL) recently signed a long-term deal that makes him the NFL’s highest-paid running back.  He picked up 77 yards after contact on plays in the red zone last season (NFL Rank: 5th among RBs)

Tevin Coleman (ATL) gained 116 yards after catch against the blitz last season (NFL Rank: 3rd among RBs)

Jonathan Stewart (CAR) had 85 rushing attempts on plays out of the shotgun last season (NFL Rank: 5th among RBs)

Mark Ingram (NO) broke 22 tackles last season (NFL Rank: tied for 4th best among RBs)

Doug Martin (TB) averaged just 2.9 Yards per Carry (421 yards/144 carries) last season (NFL Rank: worst of 36 Qualified RBs; League Avg: 4.2)

 

 

WIDE RECEIVERS

Mike Evans (TB), a first-time Pro Bowl selection in 2016, led the league in targets (54) and receptions (28) on 3rd down last season

The Buccaneers picked up DeSean Jackson (TB) during the offseason.  He averaged 17.1 Yards per Reception (904 yards/53 catches) on 85 targets when his QB was not under pressure last season (NFL Rank: 1st of 45 Qualified WRs; League Avg: 12.5)

With Brandin Cooks now in New England, Michael Thomas (NO) is Drew Brees’ unquestioned number one target. Thomas broke 10 tackles last season (NFL Rank: 2nd among WRs)

Michael Thomas (NO) gained 143 yards after catch on slant routes last season (NFL Rank: 3rd among WRs)

Kelvin Benjamin (CAR) had 22 first down receptions against the blitz last season (NFL Rank: 5th among WRs)

Julio Jones (ATL) averaged 17 yards per catch in 2017, his best total since his rookie year in 2011 (17.8). Jones gained 20+ yards on 27 of his 83 receptions (32.5%) last season (NFL Rank: 1st of 39 Qualified WRs; League Avg: 17.1%)

Julio Jones (ATL) was targeted 65 times on 1st down last season (NFL Rank: 1st among WRs)

Julio Jones (ATL) caught 26 of 35 passes when targeted (74.3% Reception Pct) against the blitz last season (NFL Rank: 3rd of 39 Qualified WRs; League Avg: 57.7%)

Atlanta Falcons WRs had 40 receptions on slant routes last season (NFL Rank: 2nd of 32; League Avg: 22)


TIGHT ENDS

Greg Olsen (CAR) was targeted 49 times and had 28 receptions against the blitz last season (NFL Rank: 1st among TEs in targets and T-1st in receptions)

Greg Olsen (CAR) had 50 first down receptions when his QB was not under pressure last season (NFL Rank: 1st among TEs)

Cameron Brate (TB) had 11 receptions on plays in the red zone last season (NFL Rank: 3rd among TEs)

Coby Fleener (NO) was targeted 18 times on plays in the red zone last season (NFL Rank: tied for 4th most among TEs) and had 10 receptions on those plays (NFL Rank: tied for 5th best among TEs)


DEFENSE

The Saints defense blitzed on 25.1% of plays at home last season (NFL Rank: 1st of 32; League Avg: 15.8%)

The Saints defense created pressure against opposing QBs 65 times when blitzing last season (NFL Rank: 1st of 32; League Avg: 42). Despite applying all of that pressure, New Orleans racked up just 30 total sacks (27th in the NFL).

The Buccaneers defense sacked opposing QBs on 41.3% of pass attempts (38/92) on plays where they pressured the QB last season (NFL Rank: 3rd of 32; League Avg: 31.7%)

The Panthers defense sacked opposing QBs on 12.2% of pass attempts (16/131) when blitzing last season (NFL Rank: 2nd of 32; League Avg: 7.9%)

The Falcons defense sacked opposing QBs just once on 97 pass attempts on plays in the red zone last season (NFL Rank: 2nd worst of 32; League Avg: 19.6)

The Falcons defense allowed a passer rating of just 47.8 on 3rd and short (45 Pass Attempts) last season (NFL Rank: 2nd best of 32; League Avg: 101.3)

 

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