FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – We all know the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and, once again in 2019, the Atlanta Falcons will face a dangerous crop of signal-callers.
- Falcons 2019 schedule: Five things to know
While Falcons won’t be facing Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger or Baker Mayfield this season, they are slated to face teams in the AFC South and NFC West. That means Dan Quinn’s defense will have to come up with game plans to shut down the likes of Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson and Jimmy Garoppolo.
After going through the 2019 regular-season schedule, I’ve picked and ranked the 10 best quarterbacks the Falcons will face. I’m well aware of the fact that outside of Drew Brees, Luck and Wilson, an argument about the order of spots 4-10 could be made.
Who'd I leave off the list? There are three other teams the Falcons will play in 2019: the Titans (Marcus Mariota/Ryan Tannehill), Cardinals (Kyler Murray) and Jaguars (Nick Foles). Don't agree? Well, that’s what lists and rankings are for – to debate and argue – and this one is mine. So, have at it.
AtlantaFalcons.com's Matt Tabeek ranks the 10 best quarterbacks the Falcons' defense will face during the 2019 season.
10. Jameis Winston | Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Nov. 24: Buccaneers at Falcons, 1 pm ET
- Dec. 29: Falcons at Buccaneers, 1 pm ET
2018 recap: Winston only started nine games in 2018 because of injuries and sitting behind Ryan Fitzpatrick. As a result, Winston's production was way down. The Bucs’ fifth-year quarterback once again struggled with turnovers, tossing 14 interceptions compared to his 19 touchdown passes. Winston also fumbled seven times and lost five of them.
- Passing: Completed 244 of 378 pass attempts (64.6 percent) for 2,992 yards, 19 touchdowns, 14 interceptions
- Rushing: Ran 49 times for 281 yards (5.7 average) and one touchdown
Outlook: Will this be Winston’s final season in Tampa? He’s entering his option year without a new deal in place. The good news for the former No. 1 pick is that he should have a clean slate with new coach Bruce Arians in town. Even better for Winston, Arians is known for being aggressive in the down-the-field passing game (which should fit the quarterback's skill-set nicely) and the Bucs have plenty of weapons in their arsenal still with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard, Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones.
Projected 2019 stats: 344 completions, 559 attempts, 4,299 yards, 25 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 51 carries, 211 yards, two touchdowns (as per Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report).
9. Jimmy Garoppolo | San Francisco 49ers
- Dec. 15: Falcons at 49ers, 4:25 pm ET
2018 recap: Garoppolo is 6-2 as a starter for the 49ers, but he only played in three games in 2018 after tearing his ACL during a 38-27 road loss to the Chiefs in Week 3. When Garoppolo is on the field, he's been very good. For now, however, he's somewhat of a question mark with tons of potential. Garoppolo has started 10 games in his five-year NFL career (going 8-2) and has yet to play an entire 16-game season.
- Passing: Completed 53 of 89 pass attempts (59.6 percent) for 718 yards, five touchdowns, three interceptions
- Rushing: Ran eight times for 33 yards (4.1 average) and zero touchdowns
Outlook: If Garoppolo can stay healthy and on the field for 16 games, Kyle Shanahan's 49ers could make some noise in the NFC West and, quite possibly, push for a playoff spot. There are plenty of parts in place on both sides of the ball and Garoppolo might have one of the best young tight ends in the league at his disposal right now with George Kittle. Throw in Tevin Coleman, Marquise Goodwin, Jordan Matthews, Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd and it's easy to see why many are gushing over this team's potential.
Projected 2019 stats: 318 completions, 501 attempts, 3,896 yards, 25 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 40 carries, 131 yards, one touchdown (as per Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report).
8. Cam Newton | Carolina Panthers
- Nov. 17: Falcons at Panthers, 1 pm ET
- Dec. 8: Panthers at Falcons, 1 pm ET
2018 recap: After a 6-2 start to the season, the Panthers dropped seven straight games and, making matters worse, Newton missed the final two games of the season with a shoulder injury. The Panthers’ franchise quarterback underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his throwing shoulder after the season and hasn’t been seen throwing a football at all during the offseason. Well, that all changed during minicamp.
- Passing: Completed 320 of 471 pass attempts (67.9 percent) for 3,395 yards, 24 touchdowns, 13 interceptions
- Rushing: Ran 101 times for 488 yards (4.8 average) and four touchdowns
Outlook: Will Newton change his ways and start running less to avoid so many big hits? His ability to tuck it, run and pick up yards with his legs is a big reason why he's so dangerous. His health – and that throwing shoulder – have to be a concern until Newton proves it otherwise. As Newton goes, so will the Panthers' season. Right now it appears he's on track to make a healthy return.
Projected 2019 stats: 326 completions, 508 attempts, 3,616 yards, 24 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 104 carries, 525 yards, five touchdowns (as per Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report).
7. Carson Wentz | Philadelphia Eagles
- Sept. 15: Eagles at Falcons, 8:20 pm ET
2018 recap: After missing the final three games of his rookie season with a torn ACL, Wentz missed five more games in 2018 with a back injury. Despite only going 5-6 when he was behind last year, the Eagles know there’s no denying Wentz's talent and recently rewarded the 26-year-old with a record-setting four-year contract extension.
- Passing: Completed 279 of 401 pass attempts (69.6 percent) for 3,074 yards, 21 touchdowns, seven interceptions
- Rushing: Ran 34 times for 93 yards (2.7 average) and zero touchdowns
Outlook: By giving Wentz a hefty contract extension and letting Nick Foles go sign with the Jaguars in free agency, the Eagles clearly believe the fourth-year quarterback out of North Dakota State is going to be fine health-wise moving forward. On the field there shouldn’t be any concerns and if Wentz can remain there for all 16 regular-season games, Philly should be a contender in the NFC.
Projected 2019 stats: 361 completions, 564 attempts, 4,253 yards, 31 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 43 carries, 160 yards, one touchdown (as per Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report).
6. Deshaun Watson | Houston Texans
- Oct. 6: Falcons at Texans, 1 pm ET
2018 recap: Watson bounced back from a season-ending knee injury sustained in 2017 and emerged as one of the premier young quarterbacks in the league last season. He not only played all 16 games, Watson led Houston to an 11-5 finish and into the postseason in his second season. At the same time, however, he sacked a league-high 62 times and the Texans must do a better job of protecting Watson.
- Passing: Completed 345 of 505 pass attempts (68.3 percent) for 4,165 yards, 26 touchdowns, nine interceptions
- Rushing: Ran 99 times for 551 yards (5.6 average) and five touchdowns
Outlook: The Texans have an explosive offense and have done a good job of surrounding Watson with plenty of weapons, including DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and Lamar Miller. It’ll come down to whether they can protect Watson better in 2019. If the Texans can manage to do that and stay healthy, they'll once again be a threat in the AFC.
Projected 2019 stats: 340 completions, 514 attempts, 4,095 yards, 28 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 90 carries, 484 yards, four touchdowns (as per Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report).
5. Jared Goff | Los Angeles Rams
- Oct. 20: Rams at Falcons, 1 pm ET
2018 recap: Since Sean McVay has taken over the reins of the Rams offense in 2017, Goff has flourished. The former No. 1 overall pick topped an outstanding 2017 season with an even better year – as the Rams cruised to a 13-3 finish and secured the top seed in the NFC.
- Passing: Completed 364 of 561 pass attempts (64.9 percent) for 4,688 yards, 32 touchdowns, 12 interceptions
- Rushing: Ran 43 times for 108 yards (2.5 average) and two touchdowns
Outlook: The Rams, like every other NFL team, have their fair share of question marks heading into 2019 (see Todd Gurley’s arthritic knee and Cooper Kupp’s recovering ACL), but the offense should still be plenty potent with Goff under center. Receivers Brandin Cooks (1,204 receiving yards and five touchdowns) and Robert Woods (1,219 yards and six touchdowns) are back with a veteran offensive line. While it’ll be tough for Goff to top last year’s numbers, the Rams will be tough to stop – if all of those aforementioned playmakers can stay on the field.
Projected 2019 stats: 332 completions, 538 attempts, 4,301 yards, 31 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 35 carries, 103 yards, one touchdown (as per Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report).
4. Kirk Cousins | Minnesota Vikings
- Sept. 8: Falcons at Vikings, 1 pm ET
2018 recap: After signing a three-year deal with the Vikings, Cousins went out and had a pretty decent year statistically last year – passing for 4,298 yards, 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The Vikings, however, didn’t fare as well, finishing with an 8-7-1 record. Cousins played his worst football down the stretch, too. According to Pro Football Focus, Cousins produced a grade of over 71.0 only once during the final seven games. That’s probably not the kind of results the Vikings were expecting when they handed the QB a fully guaranteed $84 million deal, either.
- Passing: Completed 425 of 606 pass attempts (70.1 percent) for 4,298 yards, 30 touchdowns, 10 interceptions
- Rushing: Ran 44 times for 123 yards (2.8 average) and one touchdown
Outlook: Cousins will once again have a dynamic receiving duo in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs at his disposal. And if running back Dalvin Cook can stay on the field for an entire season, something he’s struggled to do during his first two seasons, the Vikings could be quite formidable on offense. The Vikings’ success on offense will hinge on playing better up front – guards Mike Remmers and Tom Compton combined to allow a staggering 77 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus – and, of course, behind center (especially when it matters most).
Projected 2019 stats: 388 completions, 566 attempts, 4,072 yards, 29 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 41 carries, 130 yards, two touchdowns (as per Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report).
3. Russell Wilson | Seattle Seahawks
- Oct. 27: Seahawks at Falcons, 1 pm ET
2018 recap: Wilson threw for more touchdowns (35) in 2018 than his six previous seasons in the NFL. He threw only seven interceptions, too, matching his previous low in 2014. In short, Wilson was exceptional while leading the Seahawks to a 10-6 finish and back to the postseason for the sixth time in seven seasons. Seattle rewarded their QB with a $140 million contract extension in April.
- Passing: Completed 280 of 427 pass attempts (65.6 percent) for 3,448 yards, 35 touchdowns, seven interceptions
- Rushing: Ran 67 times for 376 yards (5.6 average) and zero touchdowns
Outlook: The Seahawks must get better along the interior offensive line if Wilson and Co. are to have a chance in 2019. According to Pro Football Focus, the Seahawks’ offensive line tied for the 12th-most sacks allowed in the league and of their six linemen who took snaps at center or guard, none of them earned an overall grade above 60.0. Wilson will also have a different assortment of weapons this year, too. Tyler Lockett returns, but longtime star Doug Baldwin is gone. In his place, Seattle drafted D.K. Metcalf and Gary Jennings.
Projected 2019 stats: 295 completions, 461 attempts, 3,636 yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 75 carries, 375 yards, two touchdowns (as per Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report).
2. Andrew Luck | Indianapolis Colts
- Sept. 22: Falcons at Colts, 1 pm ET
2018 recap: Luck was easily one of the best feel-good stories of the 2018 season. After missing all of 2017 following surgery on his throwing shoulder, Luck returned to lead the Colts to a 10-6 finish, a postseason berth and, not surprisingly, was named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year. One of the biggest reasons for Luck’s success and the Colts’ offensive resurgence was the play of the offensive line, led by Quenton Nelson, Braden Smith and Anthony Castanzo. Luck also has receiver T.Y. Hilton, who’s one of the league’s top deep threats.
- Passing: Completed 430 of 639 pass attempts (67.3 percent) for 4,593 yards, 39 touchdowns, 15 touchdowns
- Rushing: Ran 46 times for 148 yards (3.2 average) and zero touchdowns
Outlook: Luck and the Colts could be even better, and some are touting them as legitimate Super Bowl contenders coming out of the AFC. Indianapolis added receiver Devin Funchess in free agency and drafted Parris Campbell in the second round of April’s draft. Also worth noting is the return of tight end Jack Doyle, who played in just six games last year after suffering multiple injuries.
Projected 2019 stats: 412 completions, 644 attempts, 4,611 yards, 34 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 50 carries, 165 yards, two touchdowns (as per Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report).
1. Drew Brees | New Orleans Saints
- Nov. 10: Falcons at Saints, 1 pm ET
- Nov. 28: Saints at Falcons, 8:20 pm ET
2018 recap: It was a fantastic ride for Brees and the Saints as they cruised to a 13-3 regular-season finish and the top seed – until it all came crashing down with a non-call in overtime during the NFC Championship Game against the Rams. Still, even at age 40, Brees lit up opposing defenses and had an MVP-caliber year with dangerous weapons at his disposal, including Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. According to Pro Football Focus, Brees led all quarterbacks with a 94.7 overall grade and also had a passing grade of 94.0 – both career highs.
- Passing: Completed 364 of 489 pass attempts (74.4 percent) for 3,992 yards, 32 touchdowns, five interceptions
- Rushing: Ran 31 times for 22 yards (0.7 average) and four touchdowns
Outlook: As long as Brees stays healthy and is behind center, the Saints always have a chance to be special. With more balance on offense and playmakers on defense, New Orleans will once again be a tough out for most teams and a threat to win the NFC South … and make noise in the postseason.
Projected 2019 stats: 395 completions, 596 attempts, 4,478 yards, 30 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 18 carries, 35 yards, one touchdown (as per Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report).
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