A Statistical Analysis of the Atlanta Falcons’ Schedule

AP Photo

AP Photo: Michael Turner Runs Away from Detroit Defense

Last year, the Atlanta Falcons were one of the surprise teams in the NFL. In fact, some were even predicting that the Falcons would go winless in 2008, including Peter Schrager of FoxSports.com (whose 2009 prediction for possible winless teams I came across in tlozwarlock‘s post at The Falcoholic). While it may have been a stretch to expect them to go winless last year, I don’t think anyone predicted that they would win 11 games and make the playoffs with a rookie GM, rookie Head Coach and rookie QB (not to mention a first year starter at running back). Never-the-less, the Falcons had a great year last year, with rookie QB Matt Ryan having one of the best rookie campaigns in NFL history.

Coming off of that success, how likely are they to repeat that success in 2009?

Unfortunately, history is not on the Falcons’ side, having never posted back to back winning seasons. Their other obstacle is that they go from having the 24th toughest schedule in 2008 to the 4th toughest schedule in 2009, according to this article.

In this post, I wanted to break down the Falcons’ 2008 and 2009 schedules a little further to get a better understanding of what they are up against this season. Taking my raw data from Pro-Football-Reference.com, I have compiled the Offensive and Defensive rankings of the Falcons’ opponents from 2008 and 2009, broken out in the following 4 categories:

  • Pts Rk – Total Points Rank
  • Yds Rk – Total Yards Rank
  • Pass Rk – Passing Yards Rank
  • Rush Rk – Rushing Yards Rank

The rankings for both seasons are based on how the teams finished the 2008 season, since, of course, the 2009 final rankings are yet to be determined.

Before we get into opponents’ rankings, let’s review the Falcons’ rankings from last season. The Falcons offense finished 10th in points scored and 6th in total yards, including being 14th in passing yards and 2nd in rushing yards. Their defense finished 11th in points allowed and 24th in yards allowed, including 21st in pass yards and 25th in rush yards allowed. With these numbers in mind, let’s take a look at the Falcons’ opponents for last year and this year. In the tables below, we see the Falcons’ opponents’ offensive and defensive ranks for 2008 and 2009. First, the offensive ranks for 2008:


Opponents’ Offensive Ranks
Falcons’ 2008 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Detroit Lions 27 30 24 30
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19 14 11 15
Kansas City Chiefs 26 24 20 16
Carolina Panthers 7 10 19 3
Green Bay Packers 5 8 8 17
Chicago Bears 15 26 21 24
Philadelphia Eagles 6 9 6 22
Oakland Raiders 29 29 32 10
New Orleans Saints 1 1 1 28
Denver Broncos 16 2 3 12
Carolina Panthers 7 10 19 3
San Diego Chargers 2 11 7 20
New Orleans Saints 1 1 1 28
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19 14 11 15
Minnesota Vikings 12 17 25 5
St. Louis Rams 30 27 26 25
Average Ranks 13.88 14.56 14.63 17.06

And 2009:


Opponents’ Offensive Ranks
Falcons’ 2009 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Miami Dolphins 21 12 10 11
Carolina Panthers 7 10 19 3
New England Patriots 8 5 12 6
San Francisco 49ers 22 23 13 27
Chicago Bears 15 26 21 24
Dallas Cowboys 18 13 9 21
New Orleans Saints 1 1 1 28
Washington Redskins 28 19 23 8
Carolina Panthers 7 10 19 3
New York Giants 3 7 18 1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19 14 11 15
Philadelphia Eagles 6 9 6 22
New Orleans Saints 1 1 1 28
New York Jets 9 16 16 9
Buffalo Bills 23 25 22 14
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19 14 11 15
Average Ranks 12.94 12.81 13.25 14.69

Next, we have the opponents’ defensive ranks for 2008:


Opponents’ Defensive Ranks
Falcons’ 2008 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Detroit Lions 32 32 27 32
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10 9 4 19
Kansas City Chiefs 29 31 28 30
Carolina Panthers 12 18 16 20
Green Bay Packers 22 20 12 26
Chicago Bears 16 21 30 5
Philadelphia Eagles 4 3 3 4
Oakland Raiders 24 27 10 31
New Orleans Saints 26 23 23 17
Denver Broncos 30 29 26 27
Carolina Panthers 12 18 16 20
San Diego Chargers 15 25 31 11
New Orleans Saints 26 23 23 17
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10 9 4 19
Minnesota Vikings 13 6 18 1
St. Louis Rams 31 28 19 29
Average Ranks 19.5 20.13 18.13 19.25

And 2009:


Opponents’ Defensive Ranks
Falcons’ 2009 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Miami Dolphins 9 15 25 10
Carolina Panthers 12 18 16 20
New England Patriots 8 10 11 15
San Francisco 49ers 23 13 20 13
Chicago Bears 16 21 30 5
Dallas Cowboys 20 8 5 12
New Orleans Saints 26 23 23 17
Washington Redskins 6 4 7 8
Carolina Panthers 12 18 16 20
New York Giants 5 5 8 9
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10 9 4 19
Philadelphia Eagles 4 3 3 4
New Orleans Saints 26 23 23 17
New York Jets 18 16 29 7
Buffalo Bills 14 14 13 22
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10 9 4 19
Average Ranks 13.69 13.06 14.81 13.56

Just a cursory glance at these tables shows that the level of opponents’ defenses increases considerably more than the level of opponents’ offenses. This may be good news for the Falcons, because the Falcons’ offense was pretty good last year. They should be even better this year with the a addition of Tony Gonzalez and a full year of NFL experience under Matt Ryan’s belt. I think the Falcon’s offense is more prepared to handle higher quality defenses than the Falcons’ defense to handle higher quality offenses.

Digging a little deeper into the numbers, here are a few items of the note from this data.

  • The opponents’ average offensive rank increases 7% in points scored from 2008 to 2009.
  • The opponents’ average offensive rank increases 12% in yards gained from 2008 to 2009 (9% in pass yards, 14% in rush yards).
  • The opponents’ average defensive rank increases 30% in points allowed from 2008 to 2009.
  • The opponents’ average defensive rank increases 35% in yards allowed from 2008 to 2009 (18% in pass yards, 30% in rush yards).
  • In 2008, the Falcons faced the following number of top 10 offenses: 7 in points, 7 in yards, 6 passing, and 4 rushing.
  • In 2009, the Falcons will face the following number of top 10 offenses: 8 in points, 7 in yards, 5 passing, and 6 rushing.
  • In 2008, the Falcons faced the following number of top 10 defenses: 3 in points, 4 in yards, 4 passing, and 3 rushing.
  • In 2009, the Falcons will face the following number of top 10 offenses: 7 in points, 7 in yards, 6 passing, and 6 rushing.

When looking at all of the numbers, I come away with a couple of things. First, the Falcons could have a better offense this year and not have the same numbers as a year ago. But, again, with the addition of Gonzalez and Ryan having more experience, I think they can play well enough on offense to win most games. So, that brings me to the second point. A big question mark for the Falcons last year was run defense. As most Steelers or Ravens fans will tell you, the run defense starts in the middle. The Falcons drafted DT Peria Jerry to address that this offseason. His play and development will go a long way in determining how successful the Falcons are against the run. Of course, the pass defense wasn’t spectacular last year either, and there are a lot of new faces in the back seven. If the Falcons can do a better job stopping the run, they may be able to get away with another year of bend but don’t break defense to stay in the top 3rd in points allowed this year.

Overall, the Falcon will face teams that are stronger on both sides of the ball than last year. The greatest difference in opponents’ strengths is on the defensive side of the ball. However, this analysis didn’t get into individual opponents and what changes each opponent went through in the offseason. For example, the Buccaneers had a solid defense and decent offense last year, but they have undergone massive changes in the offseason. So, who knows how they will look this year. But, at a macro level, I do think this analysis gives us a good idea of what the Falcons are up against this year.

Some of you hardcore Falcons fans can fill in more details as far as changes in the Falcons roster and their opponents that may adjust the level of challenge that they face. Let me know your thoughts.

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One Response to “A Statistical Analysis of the Atlanta Falcons’ Schedule”

  1. susuzotoyikama Says:

    susuzotoyikama…

    […]A Statistical Analysis of the Atlanta Falcons’ Schedule « Checking the Numbers[…]…

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