Three predictions for the Atlanta Falcons in 2017
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The Atlanta Falcons are a week away from their regular season opener against the Chicago Bears. The Falcons won the NFC South last season, along with home games against the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round and Green Bay Packers in the conference final. The Falcons were in a dream scenario with big lead in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, but couldn’t hold it and lost to the Patriots in overtime.

Here are three predictions for the Falcons this season.

#3. Austin Hooper will be second on the Falcons in receptions

Hooper is in position to have a breakout second year in the NFL. He emerged late last season when Jacob Tamme got hurt. He is a very good receiver and tight ends tend to be better after being in the league for a year or two.

Julio Jones will lead the team in catches, there is no doubt about that. The question is who opposing defenses will try to take away. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman will be the main focus. Then defenses will key on Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel. That means Hooper will mainly have to beat the fourth or fifth best coverage player on the opposing defenses.

Many teams don’t have five really good coverage players in the secondary and linebackers. Hooper will have the easier matchup than the other offensive weapons and has just as much receiving talent as Sanu and Gabriel. Hooper is poised to have a big season.

#2. De’Vondre Campbell will lead all linebackers in interceptions

Campbell is a freakish athlete with freakish length. The 6-foot-3-inch, 234-pound outside linebacker played 11 games as a rookie last season, including 10 starts. He had seven passes defensed and one interception, but started to come on late in the season.

He has long arms and very good speed. He really showed the playmaking ability while at the University of Minnesota. He recognized pass coverages, dropped into the passing lanes and had very quick reaction to snag the ball out of the air. He didn’t just deflect the pass and catch it on the rebound, he caught and turned up field right away.

Now in his second year in the NFL, that ability should show up more often this season. Jordan Hicks of the Philadelphia Eagles led all linebackers with five interceptions last season. Expect Campbell to have that many this season.

#1. The Falcons will finish second in the NFC South division

The Falcons will suffer a bit of a Super Bowl hangover and cede the division title to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They will still make the playoffs as the first wild card team, but will fall to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in the wild card round.