FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes how the Falcons can navigate a difficult path to the Super Bowl as well as why they need to be ready to defend the Eagles' RPO.
The Falcons' journey to … well, Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII begins Thursday. The path to the Super Bowl is difficult for each NFL team, but the Falcons are well-equipped to traverse that path.
ESPN's Bill Barnwell previewed how each of the NFL's 32 teams can reach the Super Bowl, and the road there is much harder for some than others. ESPN's Football Power Index gives the Falcons a 6.2 percent chance to reach the Super Bowl, which is eighth among all NFL teams.
"Can the Falcons get their playoff defense to show up during the regular season?" Barnwell writes. "Dan Quinn's team managed to coax great performances out of Deion Jones & Co. during each of the past two postseasons, but the Falcons have ranked 26nd and 22nd in DVOA, respectively, over the past two regular-season campaigns. The talent level and the relative youth of this defense -- 10 of Atlanta's 11 likely starters in Week 1 are players who have been drafted by the Falcons over the past five seasons -- suggest that they can make a leap past league-average in 2018."
To see the rest of what Barnwell has to say about the Falcons as well as his thoughts on each of the other NFL teams, click here.
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
AJC: The Falcons need to be on RPO alert vs. Eagles
The RPO – or run-pass option – became the new trend among the forward-thinking NFL offenses in 2017, including the Eagles, who brought increased attention to the offensive wrinkle during their run to the Super Bowl.
How to properly defend the RPO was a popular question for Falcons coach Dan Quinn this week, and Matt Winkeljohn discussed the subject in a detailed piece for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in which he spoke to several Falcons defenders as well as defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel.
"They call it free plays, free yards. That's how they look at the RPOs," Manuel said, per Winkeljohn. "The ability to go from first-and-10 to second-and-3, just based on ... if they create a (defensive look) that you might be playing the run or you might be playing the pass, then they have seven yards (doing the opposite)."
MMQB: NFL predictions 2018: Playoff picks, Super Bowl champion and more
To preview the upcoming season, the MMQB staff over at Sports Illustrated provided their predictions of how the year will unfold, including who will make the postseason, win the Super Bowl and earn some hardware in 2018.
12 of the 15 writers picked the Falcons to make the playoffs in the NFC, and Andy Benoit believes the Falcons will beat the Steelers in the Super Bowl this season. Benoit also believes Julio Jones will be named the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year, but he's not the only one as Gary Grambling makes the same prediction. The other member of the Falcons garnering support for an award this season is coach Dan Quinn, who Jonathan Jones predicts will win NFL Coach of the Year.
"Speaking of, I think whoever wins the NFC South—the toughest division in football—deserves the coach of the year trophy, and that's why fourth-year head coach Dan Quinn gets it in his third straight trip to the postseason," Jones writes.
To read MMQB's entire predictions for 2018, click here.