Author Archives: dawsondevitt


Father and son with telescope.



The quest to find special players at key positions is wrought with failure because there are no universal calculations for the perfect Offensive Guard or Defensive Tackle. There are factors like heart and soul and hunger and love for mama that cannot be derived from a spread sheet, a highlight reel, or a measuring tape.


Grady Jarrett is a great example. Deemed too short for early consideration, most NFL scouts predicted taller OLs would smother him upon contact. Yeah, how’d that work out? That opinion is changing quickly, thanks to Grady and another 6-footer named Aaron Donald as well as a few other fire plugs. The Falcons would do worse than to select another undersized DT in the 1st round to pair (or rotate) with Mr. Jarrett.

Conley UGA

Player statistics are accessible all over the web and previously recorded highlights are produced around the country and funneled into the sports media community to share. Some Draft websites are pretty much in line with prospects’ rankings while others vary within 1 round or so on the pool of players throughout the Draft. In the later rounds it is a crap shoot for every team. So is the case for Drafttek’s late rankings.


In recent years, there have been a few prospects on Drafttek’s last page, which by number alone (301-400) should be way off the draft board, turned out to be mid-round picks. There have been several every season that I’ve checked the site.

So that is the source of the game. Here are the NEW rules…

Below is a link to Draftek’s ‘Big Board’ final page, with prospects listed from 301 to 400.

Each contestant will look over the prospects and select 10 prospects who they are confident will be drafted from this list. There are no guesses which round the player gets selected, the scoring comes from the difference between Draftek’s ranking and the player’s draft pick number. Just list 10 players from that page and you’re done.

As last time, I will screen shot the Drafttek page 4 at the contest deadline which is:

April 1st!



A prospect is ranked #384 by Draftek.

He gets selected #203 overall (6th round).

That is a 181 point difference and that number goes toward the contestant’s total.

After the Draft in April, contestants add up their totals from all 10 prospects. It is likely that many of each contestant’s 10 choices will not be drafted in the NFL’s 2018 class of 256 picks, but all it takes is finding a few ♦ GEMS ♦ to win!


A whole lot of news happens in a 2 week period. Players hurt themselves or get into trouble, which would immediately downgrade their draft status.  A good strategy would be to make your list but hold on to it until we near the April 1st deadline.



Good luck!




2015 Draft – A Look Back




by Dewey

It’s the time of year every armchair General Manager looks forward to….the off season. NFL Draft Combine, free agency, the draft, secondary free agency, the time where every fan with a pencil, paper and internet access becomes experts in talent evaluation and knows exactly how to build a Super Bowl Champion.

As much as I love this time of year, I also enjoy reflecting on past drafts…successes and failures. I’ve been doing this piece for the Cage for about 4 years now. I usually wait until after the season’s draft to post this, but this year I decided to not mess up our fawning over all of our shiny new toys and print this before any of the wheeling and dealing starts.

For those not familiar with my method, a quick refresher.

-I like giving out number grades instead of the standard letter grades

-Most NFL folks will tell you it takes 2-3 years to truly grade a draft. Years ago when I started this, I chose the 3 year mark (players have been in the league for 3 seasons). So that’s why this year’s look is at the 2015 draft.

-I usually give a final grade at the end of it all, just averaging the grades of all the draftees. This year, I’ve decided to “weigh” each pick, possibly giving a more fair assessment of the draft. Afterall, a 7th round pick who washes out shouldn’t carry as much weight as a 1st rounder who washes out.

So, without further ado, I give you Coach Dan Quinn’s 1st NFL draft



The 2014 season our Atlanta Falcons produce fewer than 20 sacks for the entire season. There have been single players in NFL history to record 20 sacks in a single season. Quinn needed to pump some life into a miserable pass rush. Beasley had a slow rookie season (4 sacks), then burst onto the scene in year number 2 to lead the NFC with 15.5 sacks. Then year 3 saw a backslide in pass rush production (5 sacks). There will be many excuses given for these numbers. Played out of position, played injured, not used correctly, etc. The reality of the situation is, Quinn drafted Beasley to be his Atlanta version of Seattle’s Bruce Irvin or Denver’s Von Miler. Beasley was supposed to be a linebacker that rushed the QB on passing downs. The main problem here was Vic had never played linebacker and was not given the chance to do so his rookie season. Year#2 he played some linebacker, but mostly rushed the passer. Year#3, Vic was forced to play more linebacker (because of injury and poor personnel decisions) and seemed generally lost doing so. After the 2017 season ended, Quinn stated that Beasley would be moving back to DE full time. Good and bad news. Beasley is not a full time DE, he’s just to small. Injuries are mounting on the young player because he is routinely asked to do battle with players that outweigh him by 80+lbs. Moving forward, I don’t see Beasley as being anything more than a pass rush specialist. 2nd down and 9+yards to go, 3rd down and 4+yards to go and 2 minute defenses. Line him up and tell him to go get the QB, don’t worry about anything else.

24.5 sacks your 1st 3 years in the league is nothing to be ashamed of. But when 15.5 of those came in one season (and it wasn’t the most recent), then there is some cause for concern. So far, Beasley has not been the beast we’d all hoped he would become, and in the next few months, the team must decide whether or not to pick up his 5th year option for being a 1st round pick, which is going to be somewhere north of $10 million for 1 season. I can’t consciously give Beasley a high grade for 1 good season out of 3.




This pick raised more than a few eyebrows for a variety of reasons. Collins had only started 9 career college games. Collins had run afoul of his team and the NCAA a total of 3 times for substance abuse. Trufant and Alford were our starting CB’s and played solidly if not spectacularly. There were so many other holes on the roster, adding a 3rd CB was way down on most folks lists.

You all know the story of how this turned out. Collins was slow to pick things up as a rookie and played sparingly. Year 2, his 1st NFL suspension, came back, couldn’t crack his way into the starting lineup. Trufant gets hurt, Collins is forced into the lineup. Collins places well, sometimes really well, causing some fans (GUILTY!) to wonder if the Falcons should trade Trufant rather than signing him to a big contract extension. Well, Trufant got his fat raise, and Collins was suspended a 2nd time, leading to his ultimate dismissal from the team. To the best of my knowledge, he’s still not with a club. Cautionary Tale: if you’re really good, you can screw up as many times as you want and teams will give you chance after chance after chance. If you’re just average, well there are 100’s of those guys out there, teams don’t want to deal with a major headache for average.




Heading into the 2015 season, the Falcons only had 1 real RB on the roster, Devonta Freeman, who was a seldom used rookie just 1 year prior. Regardless if Devonta was starting caliber or not, another RB was needed. Tevin pretty much fell into Atlanta’s lap in the 2015 draft. Coleman had over 2,000 yards his senior year in Indiana and was a proven pass catcher and kick returner. So impressed were the Falcons with Tevin during training camp and pre-season, that he was named the starting RB. But then an injury caused Tevin to relinquish his starting job, one which Devonta would grab hold of and not let go. Injuries marred Tevin’s rookie season, as did a bad case of fumblitis. But in 2016, Tevin came back strong and formed a lethal 1-2 punch with Devonta. Tevin has been a perfect compliment to Devonta, and even showing he could be the workhorse when Devonta was out. Honestly, Tevin has been everything you could hope for. No complaints.




Justin came to Atlanta with a lot of NCAA receptions but not much fanfare. Justin can catch pretty much anything thrown his way, but one of the knocks on him was East Carolina didn’t really have a playbook as much as they ran sandlot football. Justin didn’t really run routes at East Carolina as he just fond the open spot and hoped the QB found him. That caused Justin to be a bit tardy in his learning curve coming to the NFL. Since then, what we have learned about Hardy is he seems just a tad too slow, not quite quick enough, but yes, he pretty much catches anything he can get his hands on. In the one game in 2017 where the Falcons lost Sanu an Julio, Hardy had his chance to prove what he could do…not much happened. Hardy has done everything the Falcons have asked of him. Plays special teams, blocks, runs clearing routes or rub routes, and does catch the occasional pass. This past year he had as many TD’s as Julio (which is more of an indictment of Julio than it is praise for Justin). The fact is, 3 years in, Justin is a take-him or leave-him wide receiver. The fact that he’s still here 3 years later is the only thing that gets him a passing grade(barely).




I wish all of Thomas Dimitroff’s trade ups worked out this well. For what we gave up, this is quite possibly the best trade up of Dimitroff’s many trade ups. This is how and when you do it. Late in the draft, where there’s a player still available who by all rights shouldn’t still be there. Grady has been everything you could hope for in a DT. He plays the run well, gets penetration, gets pressure on the QB and can occasionally get a sack. Grady saved his best game for Super Bowl 51, in which he surely would have been MVP (sorry Devonta, it would not have been you) had we just run the damn ball and kicked the FG. Sorry bout that, old wounds. Anyway, Grady is in the top half of the league’s DT’s. Not dominant every play or even every game, but he can dominate at times during games. The only part of his game you would like to se improvement in is actually getting to the QB, which may come when we finally get a full compliment of pass rushers around him.




This pick alone stands as a major statement selection in the Dan Quinn era. A trend that is thus far more disturbing than any. Draft what you perceive to be an athletic offensive linemen late in the draft, try to mold him into something you’re looking for, fail, move on to the next one. This is all I will say about this pick and this player. Jake never amounted to anything for the Falcons and is now out of the league.




Here is the other Dan Quinn trend that has marked the Dan Quinn era so far. What do these players have in common? Ricardo Allen, Akeem King, Damonte Kazee. They are all DB’s that Quinn has switched from their natural position once they arrived in the NFL. So far it has worked for Allen (switched from CB to S), though he is not spectacular at any one thing. The book is still out on Kazee (switched from CB to S), who looked ok filling in for Allen a few times as a rookie. The switch did not work out well for King (moved from S to CB). King was dropped from the Falcons in 2016, has landed on a couple of practice squads, and if I’m not mistaken, is now looking for work as a free agent.



I told you at the beginning, I have a new grading system for the overall all grade of the draft. Before I came up with grades, averaged them all, then came up with a final number, which usually ended up being a fail. Now I’m weighing the rounds, 1st round counts more, 2nd a little less, so on and so forth.


Maybe I need to find another new way to come up with overall grade. But when you’re 2nd round pick is no longer even on the team, for whatever reason, that’s going to drag your overall score down. When 3 of 7 picks are no longer on the team, that will hurt as well.

Regardless of grade, this was a solid draft. Nothing fancy. Beasley, Tevin, Hardy are all part-timers. Though Tevin has shown he can be a full timer, and Beasley has shown he can be a Pro Bowl caliber pass rusher (which, in my book, is still only part time work). Grady Jarrett is easily the crown jewel of the 2015 draft.

My grading system may be lacking in overall sophistication, but it does go to show you how missing on an early pick can really mess you up. I’ve seen plenty of mocks for the 2018 draft which have us needing a CB. Had Collins kept his nose clean, that would not be a need in this upcoming draft, a pick that could be better spent somewhere else.


Reconstructing a Winner


by Dewey

The Falcons have officially reached their off season. From the looks of some of the more recent posts here in The Cage, some are very anxious to get the ball (wrecking or otherwise) rolling on building this roster back up to Super Bowl character. So, without further ado, here is what our Falcons roster currently looks like headed into the 2018 season. Currently only 37 players under contract with roughly $18 million to spend to fill out the other 16 roster spots (for those counting at home, that’s about $1.1 million per player). These names and all preceding numbers are attributed to Spottrac….


QB-Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub

RB-Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman

WR-Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, Devin Fuller, Marvin Hall

TE-Levine Toilolo, Austin Hooper, Eric Saubert

LT-Jake Mathews, Ty Sambrailo

LG-Andy Levitre, Sean Harlow

C-Alex Mack

RG-Wes Schweitzer

RT-Ryan Schraeder

DE-Derrick Shelby, Brooks Reed, Tak McKinley, Martin Ifedi

DT-Jack Crawford, Grady Jarrett

OLB-Vic Beasley, Duke Riley, De’Vondre Campbell

ILB-Deion Jones

CB-Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Brian Poole

SS-Keanu Neal, Quincy Mauger

FS-Damonte Kazee

P-Matt Bosher

LS-Josh Harris


Where do we need the most help? Who do you re-sign, remembering we only have $18 million to fill 16 spots. Here is the list of our own free agents, in case you need a refresher….


FB-Derrick Coleman

RB-Terron Ward

WR-Taylor Gabriel, Nick Williams

RG-Ben Garland

RT-Austin Pasztor

DE-Adrian Clayborn

DT-Dontari Poe, Courtney Upshaw, Ahtyba Rubin

LB-Sean Weatherspoon, Jordan Tripp

LB/SS-Kemal Ishmael

CB-Blidi Wreh-Wilson

FS-Ricardo Allen

KR/WR-Andre Roberts

K-Matt Bryant


These players I stumbled across while researching as 9 players the Falcons recently signed to reserve/futures contracts. Typically these players are no more than camp fodder, but you never know…


S-Marcelis Branch

OG-Daniel Brunskill

CB-Deante Burton

WR-Reggie Davis

TE-Alex Gray

QB-Garrett Grayson

DT-Joey Ivie, Taniela Tupou

DE-JT Jones

So, that’s now 46 players, but like I said, very doubtful any of these last 9 make the team.

Start making your roster. Get us back to the Super Bowl.



A Look at ‘TEAMS


Just How Special are the 2017 Atlanta Falcons Special Teams?

The Time is NOW

Many eyebrows were raised in the Cage when word got out that Pro Football Focus had the Falcons’ Special Teams units ranked as the 8th best in the NFL after week 9 (when the Falcons were 4-4). Falcons fans knew we had a premiere Field Goal Kicker and a good Punter, but we also knew that the Falcons’ Special Teams had not passed the eyeball test.

Through week 11 (when the Falcons were 6-4), the Falcons had the worst average starting field position in the NFL – their own 25.2 yard line. To that point, Falcons opponents had the 5th best starting field position – their own 30.6 yard line. Through week 11, Football Outsiders had the Falcons ranked 20th in Special Teams play (through week 9, when PFF had the Falcons Special Teams ranked #8, Football Outsiders had them ranked #18).

After some discussion in the Cage, Cage administrator Arno suggested a systematic analysis of the Falcons’ Special Teams performance in 2017 might be in order. Here is my attempt to analyze Special Teams performance through traditional stats. We will look at five facets of Special Teams’ play in an attempt to determine where the 2017 Falcons stand in relation to their peers:

  1. Field goals and extra points

  2. Punts and punt coverage

  3. Kickoffs and kickoff coverage

  4. Punt returns

  5. Kickoff returns

Statistics from: , , and . All statistics from week 11 (when the Falcons were 6-4).


Uncle Matt

Field Goals and Extra Points

Let’s start by looking at an area of presumed strength: Matt Bryant. Through ten games, Bryant attempted 22 field goals (14th most in the NFL); opponents had attempted 25 field goals against the Falcons (5th most). Bryant made 19 of his 22 field goal attempts (#13 in field goals made), including 10 of 11 from 40+ yards; opponents made 21 of their 25 FG attempts (#7 in opponent FGM). Bryant ranked #13 in field goal percentage at 86.4%; opponents ranked #20 in opponent FG percentage at 84.0%. Both Bryant and our opponents have made all of their extra point kicks.

Analysis: Atlanta has been better than the opposition, but appears to be in the middle of the pack in this facet of the game.


The Tackling Machine

Punts and Punt Coverage

Next, let’s look at the Falcons’ Punter – Matt Bosher. Bosher had punted the ball only 31 times through 10 games (#31 – second fewest punts attempted), but had the fewest punting yards with 1367 yards. Bosher’s long punt was 62 yards (ranked #22 in longest punt). Bosher’s average yards per punt of 44.1 yards was good for only #24 in the NFL. Bosher has landed 12 punts inside the 20 yard line (tied for #29). Bosher has punted 3 balls out of bounds (tied for 27th most). Bosher has forced fair catches 12 times (tied for #17).

From these statistics, we can see that over a third of Bosher’s punts have been downed inside the 20 yard line, and over a third of his punts have resulted in a fair catch. While there is probably some overlap between those two categories, it still appears at a glance that close to two thirds of Bosher’s punts have been very effective. Bosher has not had a punt blocked this year. Bosher currently ranks #17 in Net Punting Average at 40.9 yards per punt.

As far as the Falcons’ punt coverage rankings, they have allowed 13 punt returns (tied for the 3rd fewest) for 81 yards (6th fewest) – giving up an average of 6.2 yards per punt return (#12 in YPR). The Falcons have not allowed a punt return for a TD.

Analysis: Considering all of the factors mentioned, it appears that the Falcons should be ranked somewhere in the middle of the pack in Punts and Punt coverage.


“People are willing to follow him.” –Ricardo Allen

Kickoffs and Kickoff Coverage

Now let’s look at kickoffs, which are also handled by Bosher. Through week 11, Bosher had kicked off 53 times (8th most) for an average of 63.1 yards per kickoff (19th most). Bosher was #10 in touch-backs with 33, but his touch-back percentage of 62.26% ranks #15.

The Falcons kickoff coverage unit has faced 19 returns (16th most), not counting one on-side kick, for 497 yards (#26) – their average of 26.1 yards per kickoff return ranks #30. Herein, we see a big reason why the Falcons’ Special Teams have not passed the eyeball test.

Analysis: We aren’t too bad, unless the other team returns the kickoff. When they do we stink. The good news – we haven’t allowed a return for a TD, yet (thanks, Bosher!).


Cards, Skins, Lions, Falcons.

Punt Returns

So what about the Falcons’ return game in 2017 with new return man Andre Roberts? The Falcons have forced 36 punts (#31 in the NFL). That stat ought to provoke some chatter about the state of our defense in terms of being able to get off the field. Opposition punters have averaged 47.1 yards per punt against the Falcons (7th best average). The Falcons have only returned 12 punts (dead last in the NFL), for 96 yards (#28). The longest punt return by the Falcons was 27 yards (#18 in longest punt return). The Falcons average through week 11 was 8.0 yards per punt return (#16).

Analysis: We don’t return many punts, but when we do we are average.

Kickoff Returns

The Falcons have received 52 kickoffs (14th most); 28 of those were touch-backs (#14), giving the Falcons opponents a Kickoff/Touch-back percentage of 53.85% (7th lowest percentage for opponents KO/TB %). The Falcons have returned 24 kickoffs (4th most in the NFL) for 483 yards (9th most), with a long return of 61 yards (7th longest LR), for an average of 20.1 yards per kickoff retrun (ranked #24).

Analysis: We return a lot of kickoffs, but are a bottom ten team at doing it.

In the final analysis, the 2017 Falcons Special Teams appear to me to be average in three of our five areas of consideration: Field goals and extra points, Punts and punt coverage, and Punt Returns. The Falcons appear to be a bottom ten unit in the other two areas of consideration: Kickoff coverage and Kickoff Returns. Add these areas together and it looks to me like Football Outsiders has our Special Teams ranked about right – #20 in the NFL.

How special are the 2017 Falcons Special Teams? Slightly below average, if you ask me. What’s your take on the state of our Special Teams, Cagers?


Illegal Block in the Back


Halfway and Pointing Forward

by Arno

Well, here we are at mid-season with four wins, four losses. There are four other four and four teams (!). The Lions are at a plus twenty point differential, and the Dolphins at minus 63. But we are the champions of evenness with a mere minus two points. So is the Falcons glass half full, half empty, or half ugly?


Half full? Half empty? Half ugly?

After extensive nationwide interviews among the Falcons fan base, the answer emerges with overwhelming clarity: half ugly. So with this conclusion, we may ask, how did we get this way? We’ll take a simplistic approach in this post– a look at point flow through our first eight games.


No secret we’ve been winning first halves. What’s more telling is that we’ve been winning on average, even including the 0-17 first half deficit against the Patriots.


First and third quarters mirror images of each other. Quarters one, two, and four are quite even on offense.


Adding the point totals from the Dallas and Seattle wins, we can see better consistency through four quarters.



When the Falcons win, the lead is never relinquished, although the first half production isn’t carried forward.


Now how is it that the Falcons can utterly dominate the first quarter and still lose the game?

These are only a few of my observations, and I’ll be interested to hear Cager’s thoughts. But by having these numbers, we might be able to see whether the Falcons upcoming games either confirm or buck the trends.




Why the Falcons must win the Super Bowl this year

by Dewey

We, the long suffering fans of the Atlanta Falcons, have grown accustomed to one mantra over the years, “wait ‘til next year. In Super Bowl 51 (sorry, not going to bother looking up the roman numeral), for 40 glorious minutes, it looked like the wait was over. Not going to rehash what happened, it was painful enough the first 463,792 times. But this time, the mantra had a different feel. And why shouldn’t it? All our pieces coming back, very talented with more talent on the way, only major setbacks were a defensive coordinator who never seemed to do much anyway, and an offensive coordinator that most of the fan base despised. Things should look very good even with “Falcon colored” glasses on. Well, I’m here to explain why if we don’t get it done this year, we could be in serious peril.


Forget about the players?

Forget about the players for a moment. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Vic Beasley, Gray Jarrett, whoever your personal favorite, or favorites might be. Forget that this is currently the most talented roster ever to wear the red, silver and black.

Forget about Dan Quinn, our long awaited savior whose never ending energy and enthusiasm has us all seeing nothing but gold, even after a terrible loss.

Forget about Arthur Blank, the owner with the golden touch and heart to match. He who has brought us the most spectacular sporting venue ever created.

Forget everything you know about time lines, windows, expiration dates, X’s and O’s. Forget all of that, because the simple truth is, we need to win this year, Super Bowl 52 (once again, not looking it up), for one reason and one reason only…….



Why? Why?

(Sigh!) Everything always seems to come down to money, doesn’t it. So why should football be any different? And if football comes down to money, why should the Falcons be immune to it? Here’s what I’m referring to.

The way our current 2017 version of the Falcons are constructed, we are on the hook for 57 players at over $159 million dollars. Leaving us roughly $3 million under the salary cap.

Right now, looking forward to the 2018 season, we only have 38 players currently under contract. Moreover, due to increased wages, bonuses, escalators, those 38 players account for over $160 million in salary. About $13 million or so under the cap (give or take a couple of million given we won’t know the true salary cap for quite some time yet.

Just $13 million to add 15 players to get up to the league mandated 53 players. 6 or so players( already lost a 5th rounder to Denver in exchange for Ty Sambrailo) will be added via the draft, costing anywhere from roughly $3 – $5.5 million, depending on where we draft. That leaves 9 players and roughly $8- $10 million to pay them. No free agent spending spree this season, best to just take care of our own. In no particular order, here are the Falcons 2018 free agents, restricted, unrestricted or otherwise.

WR-Taylor Gabriel

WR/KR-Andre Roberts

WR-Nick Williams

RB-Terron Ward

OG/OT-Austin Pasztor

DT-Dontari Poe

DE-Adrian Clayborne

DE/DT-Courtney Upshaw

DT-Joe Vellano

LB-LaRoy Reynolds

LB-Jordan Tripp

LB/SS-Kemal Ismael

CB-Blidi Wre-Wilson

S-Ricardo Allen

CB-CJ Goodwin

S-Sharrod Neasman

K-Matt Bryant


Who do you keep?

Who do you keep from here, keeping in mind, you only have, at most, $10 million to spend. Dontari Poe? Ideally you’d like to get him long term if you so desired. You could back load his contract, but since he “settled” for $8 million this year, you probably couldn’t get him for much less than $6/7 million on that 1st year. Plus, with guaranteed money and the like, his “cap hit” would more than likely be more anyway. Adrian Clayborne? In the last year of a contract he signed coming off of injury (which is paying him $5 million this year). If we decided we wanted to keep Adrian, that probably means he performed fairly well, which means his “cap hit” would stay around the same, at least. Matt Bryant? Excellent kicker, makes over $3 million. Question: Why would someone pay a kicker that much money, then not trust him with the most important kick in franchise history? (Sorry, said I wouldn’t rehash that). Might take a little less at the tail-end of his career, but you wouldn’t get arguably the best K in Falcons history for less than $2 mil. Ricardo Allen? Finally set to make “big boy” money after 2 years of being an “exclusive rights” free agent, this restricted free agent to be will likely get a contract just under or just over $3 million, depending what level the Falcons decide to tender him at. So, it would appear we would be out of the running for any of our own “big money” free agents. Just have to make due with bargain basement free agents, draft choices and undrafted free agents.


But Dewey… ??

“But Dewey”, you question, “aren’t there some players we could cut to gain some much needed cap relief?”. Excellent question, glad you asked. There are a handful of players that could be jettisoned to make room under the cap.

Matt Schaub-QB. This would net us about $4 million. But then we either draft his replacement, forcing us to have a rookie back up QB for 2018, or we sign one, which would take away anywhere from $1-2 million we just saved.

Jalen Collins -CB. Probably happening this season. Can definitely see it happening before 2018. Helps. But really only saves us about $1million.

Andy Levitre-OG. Ah, the guard everyone loves to hate. His 2018 cap hit is over $8 million. Cutting him frees up over $7 million. Question: What is the weakest spot on our offensive line currently? Answer: OG Wes Schweitzer. Yes, he’s getting incrementally better each week. But will it continue? What’s his ceiling gonna be? We drafted Pat Harlow, but he was largely unimpressive in pre-season. So much so that we signed an injured player (Pasztor) and traded for a player who’d lost his job (Sambrailo). So we would either have to hope a rookie comes along that can start, and excel, from week #1, sign a replacement, which would take away some of our cap savings, or hope both Schweitzer and Harlow develop. Don’t know about you, but I like Matt Ryan with a nice clean pocket he can step into.

Brooks Reed-DE. Cutting Reed would save about $3.5 million. Reed, so far this season, has been our most consistent overall DE. Yes, we have Beasley and Tak. But in this scenario, we’re already potentially losing Clayborne and Upshaw, do we really want to release another DE to save money?


What about trades?

So, what about trades you say? You don’t want to have to trade a starter unless you’re in “cap hell” or you’re overwhelmed by an offer. I really only see 2 marketable players, who we could get assests (more than likely draft picks) for. RB Tevin Coleman, WR Justin Hardy, neither of who make a crippling amount of money. So, those options don’t really help out the situation I’m referring to.

There are other options to “stretch” the cap. We can rollover any amount we have leftover this season. Right now, that would add a couple of million. We can always “rob Peter to pay Paul”. This is a common practice, re-work some contracts. Problem with that is, you eventually need to pay what is owed. The Saints did this a few years back and won a Super Bowl. They have been a shell of a team ever since. Yearly needing to jettison good players to gain needed cap relief.

So, that’s it. Our Falcons really need to win it all this year. That will allow us to continue to build for the long term, maybe sacrificing a little talent and experience for some green talent that can grow with the existing core that’s on the team now. If not, we’ll be forced to play Russian Roulette with the roster and stare down the loaded barrel of cap chaos.


Roulette anyone?


Click on above image to see the latest.



Season Predictions

predictionsI have a question for you. Are you ready? Really? I have been reflecting over this past weekend and frankly, I’m not sure I am. No matter how optimistic I want to be, history tells us to prepare for a down year. History tells us, someone will get injured. What would happen if we lose Matt Ryan for the season? Julio? Devonta? I just keep thinking about Jamaal Anderson in 1999.  I feel like I need to prepare myself for something horrific only because it will make our last real game hurt EVEN more. With that ray of sunshine, let’s go. This is my 5th annual attempt to predict the season. Hopefully, it will be entertaining and if nothing else, give everyone a target.

by Anthony Cooper, “Coop”

Breaking it DOWN!

Let’s look at some interesting facts about the schedule.

  1. The Falcons play 5 nationally televised games this year. Last year we played 2 games, the beat down of both the Saints and the Bucs in their houses. Combined, we scored 93 points in those 2 games.  When you play in the Super Bowl, you get on national television more. We play Green Bay in our home opener on SNF, Sep 17th, travel to New England for SNF on Oct 22nd, head to Seattle for MNF on Nov 20th, host the Saints for TNF on Dec 7th, and the very next week visit Tampa Bay for MNF on Dec 18th. Man, I hope we don’t suck.

  2. The Falcons had multiple back-to-back home games and back-to-back away games last year.  In fact, there were 5 separate such pairs (3 away; 2 home).  This year is interesting in we have 2 runs of multiple home games and 2 runs of multiple away games. We have a 3-game road trip and a 3-game home stand… both unique. 

  3. The Birds have three short weeks. The first, following week eleven’s MNF game in Seattle.  Fortunately, we play at home against Tampa Bay at 1:00pm. The second short week is the TNF vs. New Orleans (week 14) after playing the Vikings at home the week before.  Yikes!  Short week prior to playing a division rival… ugh.  The good news is that it is the last of that 3-game home stand. Finally, we play New Orleans in week 16 following MNF vs. TB 6 days earlier. So… good news… we get to play our arch rival TWICE on short rest. Perfect.
  4. Travel is so much better this year. Other than our trip to Seattle, we don’t go west of New Orleans all year.  Weather should be good as well. We play the AFC and NFC north, but most of the games are front loaded. Seattle in late November is our only real potential for really cold weather. I lived there a couple years… honestly, it’s a crap shoot that time of year.
  5. The Falcons will again play a total of 10 games inside (I have no idea how to predict when our stadium will be open or closed, so I chose to assume we are inside at home) with the Bears, Patriots, Seahawks, Bucs, Jets, and Panthers being outdoors.


Path to the Playoffs

Next, let’s examine how the games are arrayed in terms of trying to map a way to the playoffs.  Though recent history has shown that you can make the playoffs with 9 or even 8 wins, most hold to the belief that 10 wins pretty much guarantees you a spot and 11 or 12 should lock up the division.  Of the 16 games, the Falcons play 6 in their own division (2 each against the Saints, Panthers, and Bucs).  If you win all 6, you can take the division to the bank.  At a minimum, you better win 3 and more likely 4 to have decent playoff hopes.

The Falcons have a total of 12 conference games in the NFC.  The 6 we just talked about plus 4 from the NFC North (Bears, Packers, Lions, and Vikings).  We play 3 of 4 in the first 3 games.  If you can win 3 of 4 here, to go with 4 of 6 from above, you have 7 of the 10 wins you need.  I think we win 3 and maybe sweep if we beat the Packers.

The NFC South also matches up with the AFC East this year.  So, we all get to play the Patriots, Dolphins, Jets, and Bills.  Win 3 of these 4 (specifically Dolphins, Jets, and Bills) and you now have 10 wins. 

So that brings you to the last two games to make up the 12 from the NFC.  These are the only games that will differ on our rival’s schedules.  We get the Cowboys and the Seahawks while the Saints drew the Redskins and Rams.  The Bucs got the Giants and the Cardinals while the Panthers drew the Eagles and the Niners.  At first glance, I think we have the toughest two games.  Our Birds should be able to split; I don’t have faith beating the Hawks.

The point I leave you with is this: winning 4 of 6 in the division is a must.  If the Falcons can grab 3 of 4 from the NFC North and 3 of 4 from the AFC East, then split the Cowboys and Seahawks, you have 11 wins and a likely playoff berth. Make no mistake, this is a tough schedule with. But there are some games we should win easily (Bears, Jets, Vikings, Bills, Dolphins, and Lions). We need to win these to buffer against the tougher division games and the brutal Patriots, Seahawks, Cowboys, and Packers.

Of special note, we often debate in the Cage about “this game is huge” vs. others who say, “It’s just a game, they all count the same”.  Actually, they don’t all count the same.  Without going through every procedure (, the basic order for tie-breakers is head-to-head, games within the division, games in common, and games within the conference.  So in terms of tiebreakers, all the games within the conference are more important than the AFC games.  In other words, if I can go 12-4 let me win all NFC games at the cost of the AFC games. 


  1. 01cSunday, Sep 10th @ Chicago 1:00 pm: As we lick our wounds from the worst defeat in our franchise history, it is hard not to be concerned. Of course, it is just pre-season, but I hate going 0-4. I hate that we have lost 5 straight games. I don’t like getting comfortable with losing. Remember the last time we went 0-4 in the preseason? It was 2013 after ALMOST making the Super Bowl… we finished the year 4-12. There is some hope here that we start with the Bears. I am surprised we didn’t open on MNF against the Patriots, but we head to the windy city instead. If the Birds don’t get shot in what has become a city so dangerous that people from Detroit say, “… you better not go to Chicago”, then we should win our opener and ease our fears. I predict this game will not be easy and will fuel the Super Bowl hangover dialogue. Not because the Bears are tough, but I think we have some demons to exercise. Fortunately, this will be like a 5th pre-season game against a franchise that has basically always stunk (except that one great season in ’85). Falcons 20 – Bears 12 (1-0)

  2. 02cSunday, Sep 17th vs. Green Bay 8:30 pm: Well, if we don’t beat the Bears, we might be in full blown panic. Meanwhile, Mr. Discount Douchebag will be coming to town to help us open the new stadium. The Packers are not as good as us. They don’t have a good defense and Rodgers line is still suspect. But I would bet my car today that they win this game. Rodgers will want revenge for the thrashing we gave them in the NFC Championship game. And… we, generally suck in huge moments… like opening a new stadium. If I am wrong and we win this game to go 2-0, count me in for the Super Bowl Express. But I see this game as another reason to worry. Packers 33 – Falcons 24 (1-1)

  3. 03cSunday, Sep 24th @ Detroit 1:00 pm:  Matt Stafford is now the highest paid player in football history. I think it is a smart move by the Lions. He is a great QB. Probably more physically talented than Ryan. Too bad the Lions haven’t put enough around him. That said, they did make the playoffs last year and perhaps he is nearing that maturing range that Matt hit last year. Mostly, it pisses me off that he couldn’t get UGA to the championship game. But Mark Richt was a terrible, Mike Smith clone. This game will be decided in Chicago and Atlanta. We are better than the Lions (ok, we are better than everyone except MAYBE New England), but they are good enough to beat us. If we lose to Green Bay and then Detroit, I suggest that we will miss the playoffs and 28-3 will never be avenged. Based on my current predictions to beat Chicago and lose to the Packers, I pick this game as the spot where we start to shake the rust off. I believe in Dan Quinn and Matt Ryan. I think this team is tough. I believe this is the game we regain our hope. Falcons 38 – Lions 18 (2-1)

  4. 04cSunday, Oct 1st vs. Buffalo 1:00pm:   The Bills are an interesting franchise to me. Loyal fans. Gritty northeast town. Four straight Super Bowl appearances. Have you ever been to Buffalo? It sucks. It is stinking cold. I don’t understand why people moved to Buffalo, Cleveland, or Detroit and say, yeah… this is awesome. Let’s live here. On a football note, name the Bills QB. I’ll get another Bourbon while you are thinking. As of now, Nathan Peterman looks to be the week 1 starter (yeah… I never heard of him either, but according to Wikipedia he was drafted in the 5th round out of Pitt). Tyrod Taylor should be back from concussion protocol, but if not, it will be Peterman or T.J. Yates. You remember how awesome Yates is, don’t you? This game is in our house. It is meaningless to the Bills who could be on their 3rd QB of the season. If we don’t win this game, pack it in. Falcons 31 – Bills 6 (3-1)


  6. Sunday, Oct 15th vs. Miami 1:00 pm: Another team without a QB. What? You say they signed Jay Cutler??? HAHAHAHAHAHA! What, was Tomy Romo not available? Look, the Dolphins have talent. This will be a tough day for our offense. But Jay Cutler stinks and a couple of well-placed hits and he will fold. I think Jarrett and Poe start to look like a force of nature in this game. Tak gets his first sack and Cutler doesn’t finish the game. Falcons 17 – Dolphins 3 (4-1)

  7.  Sunday, Oct 22nd @ New England 8:30 pm:  I can’t. I just can’t. I… I just can’t.  Patriots 24 – Falcons 13 (4-2)


  8. Sunday, Oct 29th @ New York Jets 1:00 pm: The Jets are going to be terrible this year. If you keep up with them at all, you probably see that they seem to be tanking the season to get the #1 overall draft pick. Many think they want to draft the QB out of USC or UCLA. There is a recurring message in my picks; if you don’t have a QB, it is awfully tough to be competitive. So, I can’t honestly blame them. Every year there is a team or two that find a way to get by with a serviceable QB, but the teams that compete every year need that franchise signal caller that the Jets haven’t had. This game should be a blowout. Then again, the Jets beat us 2 years ago in Mike Smith’s embarrassing last season. We rebound from “the rematch” and handle a weak team that wants to lose. Falcons 42 – Jets 3 (5-2)


  9. Sunday, Nov 5th @ Carolina 1:00 pm: We hit the halfway point with a solid record built against a fairly soft schedule to this point. Things get tough from here on. I hope my predictions are correct, because we have the chance to build a lead in the standings before facing some tough challenges. Some are predicting that the Kittens will return to form this year. Perhaps. I still don’t believe in Scam Newton. For all his physical gifts, he lacks football IQ and leadership. He consistently shows that he cares more about Cam than anything else. I also think their D is still weak and ripe for Matt to carve up again. The wild card for me is McCaffrey. This kid looks dynamic. If he can be what they hope, then it will help their offense and lead to easier play for Cam. But this game comes down to whether they can keep up with our offense, because I think their D is still suspect. This will be closer than last year, but the Panthers are aging.  Falcons 31 – Panthers 17 (6-2)

  10. 10cSunday, Nov 12th vs. Dallas 4:25 pm:  I’m really glad the Cowboys lost last year and we got to host the NFC Championship game. But, it prevented us from beating them, so I have had to listen to all their fans saying they would have beaten us and won the Super Bowl. Hogwash. Even in Dallas, we would have destroyed this team. I am a firm believer in the sophomore slump for QBs. Elliot may or may not be suspended (who the hell knows), but regardless he will be back for this game unless there is a TRO now that is lifted and he serves the suspension later in the season. The best thing about Dallas is their O-Line. They will protect Dak and open holes for their running game. But they don’t have the defense to stop the Birds. More so than Carolina, this could be a shootout. Dallas should watch the Seattle and Green Bay tape from last year. Don’t bring a knife to a shootout with these Birds. Falcons 38 – Cowboys 35 (7-2)

  11. Monday, Nov 20th @ Seattle 8:30 pm Atlanta has really played Seattle strong the last few years. Outside of their division, the only other team that plays them as well as Atlanta is probably Green Bay. We had a great match in Seattle last year, but weren’t able to grab the W. I was very nervous to face them in the playoffs. After we trounced them, I was certain we would go to the Super Bowl and win. What was the difference in the 2 games against Seattle? The Falcons matured later in the season and became dominant. But I really think the venue plays a big role. Something about playing up there with e 12th man is a real advantage for them. I predict another close game, and another tough loss. Seahawks 24 – Falcons 20 (7-3)

  12. sappSunday, Nov 26th vs. Tampa Bay 1:00 pm: Tampa Bay is on the come. They will be the biggest divisional threat to our return to the playoffs. But they are intimidated by Atlanta. During the Warren Sap days, we were intimidated by them, but with the best QB, WR, and RB in the division (if not the league) make no mistake… the division fears our birds. Now, Winston is a very good QB and a leader that the Bucs rally around. I am not sold yet that he has reached his potential for decision making in their system. They have added playmakers to assist him, but it takes some time for all of it to synch. This late in the season worries me, because they may be putting it together and pushing for the playoffs. Another issue is that we learned today they will take their BYE in week 1 due to the hurricane. So, who knows what that will do to them physically and mentally.  Falcons 27 – Bucs 21 (8-3)

  13. 13cSunday, Dec 3rd vs. Minnesota 1:00 pm: Since I retired, I started consulting for a great company. My boss, the owner, is from Minnesota. She has box seats in their stadium. I was hoping this game would be there and that she would invite me up to watch. The scheduling gods did not deliver. I have been needling her that we should go to Atlanta to catch the game, so who knows… Minnesota is a solid team. But are they playoff good? No. Why does Sam Bradford still have a job? Am I the only one who doesn’t think he is any good? He’s not terrible, but I think I take Jay Cutler over Bradford. It doesn’t matter, because he will likely be out on IR by this point in the season. If Atlanta plays offensively like we are capable, this is another team that could get blown out. When we get up by 10 points or more, our defense really shines. It will on this day as well. Falcons 34 – Vikings 13 (9-3)

  14. 14cThursday, Dec 7th vs. New Orleans 8:25 pm:  Hello Newman! We finally meet our arch rival. I think it is interesting that we play them so late in the season. I have us solidly in the playoff picture at this point. Will the Saints be a playoff contender? Hell no. Let’s face it, without Drew Brees, this is the Browns or Jaguars (again, showing how important a good QB is to a franchise). But it is a short week for us and the historical mockery these two teams have made of each other over the years is astounding. I am never shy about my utter disgust and hatred of the New Orleans Saints over any other sports team on the planet. I hate them, their city, their fans. I hate France because of the French Quarter and I hate Bourbon because of Bourbon St… uh… well, perhaps I’ve gone too far. The Saints will be awful this year and lucky to win 4 games. Unfortunately, this will be one of them, because it’s just what we do.  Saints 45 – Falcons 31 (9-4)

  15. Monday, Dec 18th @ Tampa Bay 8:30 pm:  After the short week and the embarrassing loss on national TV, we get a longer rest before another nationally televised game against ol’ crab legs. The Bucs will be looking for payback and to prove that they can compete. They will be looking to grab a playoff spot if not win the division. This is an important and pivotal game for that crown. Just as we got stronger down the stretch last season, I predict some struggles down the stretch this season. I haven’t talked a lot about Freeman’s contract, but I didn’t like it at all. I didn’t like the talk before the big game last year and I didn’t like the talk before pre-season. For my money, I would have traded him. I think we wasted money and I think the football gods have a way of disciplining teams that succumb to non-Brotherhood actions. What shape will our team be in late in the season? Injuries, the letdown against the Saints, the constant 28-3 reminders… let’s be real. We are going to see how mentally tough this team really is. And after this night, we will start to question whether they are going to flame out. Most think the early season success will prove there is no hangover. I predict the closer we get to the playoffs, the tighter that noose will squeeze. Bucs 24 – Falcons 19 (9-5)

  16. 12cSunday, Dec 24th @ New Or1eans 1:00 pm: Did I mention I hate New Orleans? Ugh. I hate even thinking about this city. But, the Birds must travel to the Big Sleazy once a year to play in the FEMA dome. So here we are… reeling after two straight losses that will have the Buc only a game behind for the division crown. The Cage will be starting to wonder if we even make the playoffs and how we would fair if we lost the last 4 games of the season to back in to a wild card birth. I do expect the Falcons to struggle. I expect their testicular fortitude to be questioned by the media and fans alike. And it is at this point, that we will all wonder if the whole thing is blowing up right in our face. Be prepared for this season being compared to THAT game. Running out to 9 wins only to finish 9-7. But Cage, your Christmas present this year is going to be balls. Huge brass balls. Cause Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Grady Jarrrett, and Dan Quin are going to say on Christmas Eve, enough. The Falcons’ brotherhood will be tested, but our leaders on this team will exert their will. And the Saints and their fans will choke on our huge brass balls. Falcons 38 – Saints 10 (10-5)

  17. Sunday, Dec 31st vs. Carolina 1:00 pm: We finish the season against the crybaby that is Sham “Fig” Newton. This clown is such a jerk that we often forget what a terrible passer he is. Mark it down, the media will be wondering aloud if Cam is just another Mike Vick by the end of the season. Incredibly gifted feet, but dumb decision maker with accuracy problems. It’s a shame too since he’s such a wonderful human being. Ha! Carolina is actually a likeable team except for this jerk. Kind of the antithesis of New Orleans which absolutely putrid except for Drew Brees who is a class act. The thing that I think of most when I think of Cam is… he quits. He is a quitter. He has no moral fiber and as I stated above, we have huge brass balls. The Panthers season will already be over and they will be ready to go home. Not all of them. They have several ballers with heart. But when your QB has quit… well, it won’t be enough. The Birds will need this game to win the division. They get it and a first round bye just like last year. Unlike last year, they will have to play on the road to make it to the Super Bowl… and it will be cold as hell when we get to Green Bay. Falcons 28 – Panthers 13 (11-5)


What’s your Predictions???



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Throwback unis against Bills.