The Next Atlanta Falcons

NFL Futures: Who Will Be the 2017 Atlanta Falcons?

Despite suffering one of the greatest collapses in sports history at Super Bowl LI, the Atlanta Falcons still managed to overcome significant odds to reach the NFL’s spotlight game. Rewinding the clock all the way back to February of 2016, the Falcons were installed as 40/1 favorites to hoist Lombardi this past February.

If not for some botched 4th quarter playcalling, a couple of ill-timed penalties, and Tom Brady heroics, the Dirty Birds would’ve pulled off an improbable victory, and made those shrewd enough to back them some serious cash. Needless to say, nobody saw them coming leading up to the 2016 season. And even leading up to the Big Game itself, not a lot of pundits and talking heads were confident they could hang with the mighty Patriots.

All of this begs the question: Can another team flying under the radar defy the odds and outrace their opponents to reach Super Bowl LII in 2018? The Pats, Falcons, Seahawks, Packers, and Steelers will of course be the consensus group of franchises favored to outplay and outlast the rest of the league, but it’s highly possible the sportsbooks like are sleeping on a few teams.

So, let’s take a look at a few of these potential sleepers to see which ones might be capable of turning heads, using 40/1 odds as a baseline.

Tampa Bay Bucs 40/1

With an ascending quarterback in Jameis Winston, a rising young defense led by Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David, solid playmakers, and a creative head coach, the Bucs have the look and feel of a sleeper. They were 9-7 a season ago and added speedy DeSean Jackson in free agency to complement the beastly Mike Evans. If they land a skilled running back in April’s draft, beware the pirate ship.

Baltimore Ravens 40/1

This would be the opposite of a sexy pick. Joe Flacco has been average at best the last two seasons. They have no running game. The defense is beginning to show some age. That said, John Harbaugh is still one of the league’s best coaches, Justin Tucker is arguably the best kicker in NFL history, and the AFC isn’t exactly chock-full of elite teams outside of the Patriots. And hey, nobody saw them coming in 2012.

Miami Dolphins 50/1

Sure, the Fish got steamrolled by the Steelers in the Wild Card round, but how many “experts” predicted a 10-6 finish and a playoff appearance last August? Ryan Tannehill has reportedly recovered from a partially torn ACL and will be entering his second season in Adam Gase’s offense. By resigning (and vastly overpaying) free agent Kenny Stills, they keep together their top trio of receivers. Running back Jay Ajayi seems like the real deal behind a much improved offensive line. New tight end Julius Thomas should help the red zone attack, provided he can stay healthy. Then again, there’s probably a better chance they finish 6-10. Because the Dolphins.

Philadelphia Eagles 50/1

Eagles Executive Vice President Howie Roseman promised he would get playmakers for budding quarterback Carson Wentz and he did just that by inking free agent receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. That’s all well and good, but the cornerback situation is still a calamity, and they lack depth at linebacker and along the defensive line. The upcoming draft might alleviate some of those issues, but entering the season with Jalen Mills and a rookie as starting corners is a disaster waiting to happen. On the plus side, the 2016 Birds somehow found a way to outscore their competition by 36 points despite having a rookie quarterback and burning garbage at wide receiver.

Tennessee Titans 50/1

Did you know prior to breaking his fibula in Week 16, second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota had 26 touchdowns against only 9 interceptions? Did you know the Titans finished 3rd in rushing behind a rejuvenated DeMarco Murray and rookie Derrick Henry? Did you know tight end Delanie Walker and receiver Rishard Matthews combined for 16 touchdowns? Did you know they added ex-Patriot corner Logan Ryan and former Jags safety Johnathan Cyprien to improve a porous secondary? What does all this mean? It means a Mariota vs Winston Super Bowl is forthcoming. 

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