The Falcons will have to deal with Saints quarterback Drew Brees for at least one more season. They also are scheduled to see Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers in 2020. Those are four top-tier NFL quarterbacks if you assume, like I do, that old pros Brees and Rodgers won’t suddenly lose it.
But they are it as far as great quarterbacks the Falcons will face in 2020 (Brees twice). They could play at least seven games against bad QBs, including four in the division. This is a good place to start if you’re searching for reasons the Falcons could win more games after back-to-back 7-9 seasons.
It’s not the most inspiring rallying cry. It’s the kind of thing you are left with when the Falcons can’t improve their roster much. It’s also been a long time since good coaching made the Falcons add up to more than their individual parts. A lackluster group of opposing QBs is something for optimists to latch on to.
The picture would be been better for the Falcons if Brees had retired. He’s 41 years old, so there’s a chance Brees slips. His deep passing already has. The Falcons won at his place last season to begin their 6-2 surge over the second half.
But Brees still has the quick release. He’s still very accurate on short-to-intermediate throws. There’s still a lot of talent around him. The Saints are 32-9 in games that Brees started and finished over the past three seasons. His return means the Saints are favored to win the NFC South for the fourth year in a row.
Brees is the only QB in the division who’s likely to sweep the Falcons. The Buccaneers and Panthers don’t even know who their starter will be. Their incumbents were subpar in 2019. The fallback options for 2020 are risky.
The Panthers apparently will stick with Cam Newton through the summer. New coach Matt Rhule spoke a lot about Newton at the NFL scouting combine this week without saying much. That’s because the Panthers can’t trade Newton or commit to him until his health status is clearer.
Newton had surgery on his throwing shoulder in March 2017 and January 2019. I’d like to see Newton regain the form that once made him one of the league’s better players. But even the Panthers aren’t certain he can do that. Newton’s replacement in 2019, Kyle Allen, flopped after a hot start.
I hope the Buccaneers bring back pending free agent Jameis Winston. He’s fun to watch. There’s no in between with Winston. He’s great or he’s awful, with either possible from play to play.
“We’re not saying that we don’t want Jameis,” Bucs general manger Jason Licht told reporters at the combine, which was his way of explaining why the team won’t say it does want Winston.
The Bucs are considering a replacement for Winston from among the thin group of free-agent QBs. They have a lot of salary-cap space. But good QBs in their prime hardly ever reach the market because they are the scarcest commodity in the NFL. The best free agent option this year figures to be Philip Rivers, who was OK in his age 37 season.
The Bucs will have issues at QB if they don’t get Rivers. The same is true for the Panthers if Newton is diminished as player. That’s potentially four games in which the quarterback won’t be the main threat to the Falcons. The same applies to at least three more games on the schedule.
Rivers looks ready to leave the Chargers and they don’t have a good replacement. Broncos QB Drew Lock was decent in five starts as a rookie, but GM John Elway hasn’t gotten the QB right since Peyton Manning retired. Bears GM Ryan Pace is sticking with draft bust Mitchell Trubisky. Pace traded away the No. 3 pick and two third-round picks to get Trubisky when Mahomes and DeShaun Watson were on the board.
The QBs for the other nine games will be more of a challenge for the Falcons. Mahomes and Wilson are MVP-caliber. Brees and Rodgers still are very good. Dak Prescott (Cowboys) is on the come. Kirk Cousins (Vikings), Matthew Stafford (Lions) and Derek Carr (Raiders) are solid.
Of course, any decent QB can lick the Falcons if they don’t improve their defense. Most if that will have to happen internally. The Falcons are in a bad place with their salary cap. GM Thomas Dimitroff’s track record with selecting defenders in the draft does not suggest the Falcons will get a prospect who can help immediately.
Coach Dan Quinn is counting on the defense’s better play over the second half of 2019 to carry over to 2020. One caveat for that: Brees is the only good QB the Falcons beat during that stretch. The other five wins came against Allen (twice), Winston, Gardner Minshew and Jimmy Garoppolo. Winston beat the Falcons once.
The Falcons will have plenty of chances in 2020 to make hay against below-average QBs. There’s just not enough good QBs to go around in the watered-down NFL. This is a year when the Falcons will face one good QB in their division. They could see two bad ones in the South and three more outside of it. Maybe the Falcons can take advantage.
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