The Atlanta Falcons were one of the NFL’s most disappointing teams in 2019. Some had them pegged as darkhorse Super Bowl contenders (or maybe that was just me), but the Falcons went just 7-9 and missed the playoffs.
It marked Atlanta’s second straight 7-9 season, and in an NFC South that includes the New Orleans Saints and the revitalized Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s hard to imagine the Falcons being much better in 2020.
But stranger things have happened, I guess.
Here are the three biggest questions for Atlanta entering next season:
3. How much does Todd Gurley have left?
The Falcons signed Todd Gurley following his release from the Los Angeles Rams earlier this offseason, a move that would have looked much more significant a couple of years ago.
This version of Gurley is broken down and plagued by what most consider to be a chronic knee issue, severely limiting his effectiveness. Heck, the Falcons themselves have said they aren’t even sure how healthy Gurley is.
But perhaps Atlanta can squeeze something out of him.
Gurley did punch in 12 rushing touchdowns in 2019, so he is at least still a viable goal-line threat. But the days of him racking up over 1,000 yards while averaging nearly five yards per carry are almost certainly over.
Maybe he can help form a solid running back committee with Ito Smith and Brian Hill. We’ll see.
2. Is Matt Ryan declining?
Since 2016, Matt Ryan has been an every other year quarterback. He won the MVP award in 2016, regressed in 2017, had another monster year in 2018 and then took a pretty big step back this past season.
If that trend continues, Ryan could be in for another big year in 2020, but the thing is, he is now 35 years old.
It is entirely possible that the Boston College product has begun to decline, as evidenced by the fact that he averaged just 7.3 yards per pass in 2019 (his lowest mark since 2013).
It’s not like Ryan didn’t have proper weapons, either. A triumvirate of Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Austin Hooper was nothing to sneeze at.
Now, Hooper is in Cleveland, so that is one less reliable piece for Ryan. Yes, the Falcons acquired fellow tight end Hayden Hurst as a replacement, but Hurst isn’t Hooper. At least not yet.
How Ryan plays over the first several weeks of next season will likely be a clear indicator of his trajectory.
1. Will Dan Quinn make it through the season?
The Falcons made it all the way to the Super Bowl during the 2016-17 campaign and jumped out to a 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots. They proceeded to blow it.
Ever since then, Dan Quinn has been on a downward spiral.
Atlanta won 10 games the following year and was knocked out in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The Falcons then went 7-9 each of the next two seasons.
Many feel that former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan—now the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers—was the true brains behind the operation four years ago, and that same group felt Quinn should have been canned after 2019.
So let’s say the Falcons get off to an inauspicious start in 2020. Does Quinn make it through the year?
The pressure is on Quinn from the get-go.