NFL 2018 power rankings countdown No. 9: Atlanta Falcons

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 06: Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons throws a pass during the NFC Wild Card Playoff Game against the Los Angeles Rams at the Los Angeles Coliseum on January 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 06: Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons throws a pass during the NFC Wild Card Playoff Game against the Los Angeles Rams at the Los Angeles Coliseum on January 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

A preview of the Atlanta Falcons ahead of the 2018 season.

Check back every day for a new 2018 team preview in this year’s NFL power rankings countdown.

Today’s team is the Atlanta Falcons.

9. Atlanta Falcons

Keegan’s highest rated player: Julio Jones, wide receiver

Biggest strength: Receiving corps

Biggest weakness: Right guard

Best offseason move: Drafting Calvin Ridley

Worst offseason move: Not getting an extension done with Tevin Coleman

Game to circle on calendar: Week 1, at Philadelphia

Breakout candidate: Isaiah Oliver, cornerback

Key players in contract years: Matt Schaub, Tevin Coleman, Ricky Ortiz, Justin Hardy, Logan Paulsen, Andy Levitre, Grady Jarrett, Terrell McClain, and Brian Poole

Offensive preview

The Falcons’ offense had a down year in 2017 (compared to 2016), but there are reasons to be more optimistic headed into 2018, and former MVP Matt Ryan is a huge reason for this. Don’t expect Ryan to reach his MVP-level numbers again, but he will remain a premier NFL quarterback for the foreseeable future.

Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman together make up one of the best running back tandems in football — both of these players have very different skill-sets which makes this backfield incredibly diverse and well-rounded. Freeman has the potential to get 1,000 yards once again this season.

This is one of the strongest receiving corps in football. Julio Jones is one of the best receivers in football, rookie Calvin Ridley dominated the SEC despite mediocre quarterback play, and Mohamed Sanu is a well-rounded receiver who has made this offense a lot better. The Falcons are loaded at wide receiver.

Austin Hooper is an underrated receiver, who could make a big leap this season. I wouldn’t forget about the Logan Paulsen signing either. Atlanta won’t be dominant at tight end this season, but it would be absurd to say they won’t be improved at this position in 2018.

The Falcons have two premier players on their line with Alex Mack and Ryan Schraeder, and also have two reliable starters in Andy Levitre and Jake Matthews. The one hole on this offensive line lies at right guard, where a competition could be brewing between new Falcon Brandon Fusco and Wes Schweitzer. This should be a consistently reliable offensive line.

Defensive preview

The Falcons have a well-rounded defense with a strong front seven. Grady Jarrett is a talented interior lineman who is often underrated, and Terrell McClain is an established veteran lineman as well. The Falcons should be strong in run support this season.

Takk McKinley and Vic Beasley are two young pass rushers with loads of potential. Beasley is an All-Pro talent when he is at the top of his game, and McKinley is only scratching the surface of his potential. This could be one of the better pass rushes in the NFC.

Deion Jones is a premier linebacker, his versatility is special and it’s crazy to believe he fell all the way to the second round in 2016. Another player in this linebacking corps worth watching is De’Vondre Campbell — he excelled at Minnesota and gets overshadowed a lot in this defense.

The Falcons have a strong cornerback duo with Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford; both of these cornerbacks are reliable starters. The depth they have at this position is almost as impressive with Brian Poole and rookie Isaiah Oliver.

Keanu Neal is a speedy safety who will only get better with time; there is a chance that Neal will be the best player in this secondary for years to come. Ricardo Allen isn’t quite as talented, but he is still a solid starter. Atlanta shouldn’t have too many worries at safety this season.

Coaching staff/front office preview

Dan Quinn is a good coach who has helped continue the success of a franchise that has been dominant in the past decade. The Falcons are mostly known for their offensive talent, but Quinn has maximized the talent of his defense during his tenure in Atlanta.

Having a more-experienced Steve Sarkisian at offensive coordinator will greatly help this offense as well. No matter how good of a coach you are, the first year is usually tough, and Sarkisian’s increased experience with this team will be a huge factor this season.

General manager Thomas Dimitroff has done a great job during his tenure in Atlanta. He was 30 minutes away from becoming a Super Bowl-winning GM. Dimitroff is worthy of being in the top-10 general managers discussion.

Don’t forget about the other top executive, Scott Pioli, who has been a huge benefit to this franchise. If the Falcons keep making the playoffs, there is a chance Pioli gets another crack at being an NFL general manager.

Overall outlook for 2018

The Falcons have a shot at getting back to the Super Bowl this season. They should be improved from the 2017 team that went all the way to the divisional round last year, and the playoff experience of this team will be a huge benefit if you see them again in January. One of the things that could hold Atlanta back is the loaded NFC South.

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Previous teams:

10. Los Angeles Chargers
11. Houston Texans
12. Carolina Panthers
13. Tennessee Titans
14. Denver Broncos
15. Dallas Cowboys
16. Kansas City Chiefs
17. Seattle Seahawks
18. New York Giants
19. San Francisco 49ers
20. Indianapolis Colts
21. Detroit Lions
22. Arizona Cardinals
23. Chicago Bears
24. Oakland Raiders
25. Baltimore Ravens
26. Washington Redskins
27. Cleveland Browns
28. Buffalo Bills
29. New York Jets
30. Cincinnati Bengals
31. Miami Dolphins
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers