The Atlanta Falcons are coming off of a disappointing 2018 campaign in which they won just seven games and missed the playoffs, but there is a lot of hope for the Falcons heading into 2019.
With a high-powered offense and a healthier defense, Atlanta could very well be a playoff contender this coming season, especially in an NFC South division that features a lot of uncertainty behind the New Orleans Saints.
The Falcons are also just three years removed from a Super Bowl appearance, and that nucleus is still largely in tact, so it would not be the least bit surprising to see Atlanta make another run.
Of course, the Falcons are not exactly betting favorites to make the postseason, and a few things would still need to break right in order for them to do so.
Here are three things that need to happen for Atlanta to make it back to the playoffs in 2019.
3. Ito Smith Has to Be Better
It might sound odd that the Falcons’ playoff hopes may hinge on the production of second-year running back Ito Smith, but Smith will absolutely play a vital role in Atlanta’s offense in 2019.
Remember: Devonta Freeman missed just about all of 2018 and is coming off groin surgery, so we don’t know how he is going to respond. Plus, Tevin Coleman, who admirably filled in for Freeman during his absence, signed with the San Francisco 49ers earlier this offseason.
That means Smith will have to be ready to step up in case Freeman gets hurt again, and he will need to improve upon his meager 3.5 yards per carry average from his rookie season.
Smith was a monster at Southern Mississippi, so the potential is absolutely there. Maybe this will be the year he begins realizing it on the professional level.
2. Calvin Ridley Needs to Take the Next Step
Calvin Ridley had a spectacular rookie campaign, hauling in 64 receptions for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns and actually making fellow wide receiver Mohamed Sanu expendable in the process.
The Falcons didn’t move Sanu, but the fact that they seemed to be considering it just shows how great Ridley was this past year.
But, for Atlanta to take that next step, Ridley will have to do the same.
That shouldn’t be too difficult of a task playing alongside of Julio Jones and having a terrific quarterback like Matt Ryan throwing him the football, but it will still require some effort and improvement on the part of Ridley.
Perhaps most importantly, Ridley will need to avoid regression, as he caught a very impressive 69.6 percent of his targets this past year.
1. Deion Jones Needs to Stay Healthy
The Falcons’ defense was not very good this past season, and a big reason for that was the absence of linebacker Deion Jones, who played in just six games due to a foot injury.
Jones is expected to be ready for training camp, and his health will be absolutely paramount to Atlanta’s success this season.
The 24-year-old is outstanding when he is right, as evidenced in 2017 when he racked up 138 tackles, a sack, three interceptions, and 10 passes defended en route to a Pro Bowl appearance.
There is no doubting the profound impact he has on the Falcons’ defense, and while Atlanta’s defense as a whole can still use some work, Jones’ presence will make it that much better.
If he can play all 16 games in 2019, the Falcons’ chances of making it back to the playoffs improve quite a bit.