How can you not like the Atlanta Falcons’ chances again in the NFC South? How can the Falcons not be worried about the fact they are on the cusp and continually fall short of getting back to the Super Bowl. How can the team that looks like it could be the “Greatest Show on Turf” in this day and age, misfire when it comes to the playoffs and now that it seems the Saints are back on track following a year “off” the NFC could be a hotbed of activity this year.
And the “Dirty Birds” will be in the middle of it all come September.
But being in the “middle” is not where team owner Arthur Blank and head coach Mike Smith want to be--- they want to be at the top looking down on all the other contenders in a wide open conference. That’s easier said than done when eight teams can arguably make the case for being a true Super Bowl contender. And the Falcons, who have been in the catbird seat before, having the top seed and home field advantage in the playoffs and failed, want to correct the mistakes they have made in the past.
This is a team that honestly looks really good on offense and could be suspect on defense with losses like John Abraham and Brent Grimes.
The loss of Michael Turner in the running game is not as significant as one would think, as the Falcons are a pass-first offense under coordinator Dirk Koeter, where the team averaged 281 yards passing last season and only 87 yards per contest on the ground.
In terms of fantasy football and the potential to own half the offensive starters on this team, owners will look to the Falcons early and often. Here is why.
Now that Joe Flacco has won a Super Bowl, it is Matt Ryan’s turn to step up and showcase what he can do. The two quarterbacks will forever be linked because both were drafted in the same class. It was thought Ryan was pulling away from his rival, but a ring kind of evens the score. Ryan has a better arm and better weapons to work with. He threw for 4,700 yards and 32 touchdowns last season.
There may not be a better pure passer who is young and growing in the NFC. Ryan has become an upper-echelon passer, but he has not taken the next step yet. And if he were to get injured or hurt or falter, this offense will go down with him like a sinking ship.
The Falcons running game got stronger when it replaced Turner with Steven Jackson from the Rams. Admittedly, Jackson has some mileage on him and has been injured. But when he is healthy, he is a much better option. Jackson can run around and through defenses and can catch the ball out of the backfield.
If you want to see a great change of direction and pace in the Falcons, watch what happens when Jacquizz Rodgers gets in the game. The small back can dance through defenses and can make linebackers miss. Rodgers will be used more this season and could be a star running, catching and in the return game.
Jason Snelling is still on the roster and could be a nice breathe for Jackson to keep him healthy. Snelling is a “do everything” back who can be a nice goal line presence in the offense.
The receivers on this club are just plain “sick”. Three very good pass catchers and a tight end who continually amazes us all with his skills and his heart.
Year after year, Roddy White turns in All-Pro seasons and does not miss a beat. The former UAB star is one of the 8-best in the league. Period. with 82 catches and 1,347 yards, he is still doing it at a top level and doing it well.
Julio Jones is going to be the best receiver in this league in two seasons. Size and speed make him a must have on the fantasy front. This might be the year Jones leapfrogs White to become the leader of this receiving corps.
Watch out for Harry Douglas, who is a third receiver in this offense, but could be a solid second option on other teams. Douglas has speed to burn as the third option in three-receiver sets.
At tight end, it starts with Tony Gonzalez and it stops with Tony Gonzalez. This is his last season in the NFL and all he did last season was manage to catch 93 passes and eight scores. Teams still must make it a priority to cover him at the goal line as he is a favorite target of Ryan’s.
In terms of scheduling this season, the powerful schedule makers in the front office f the NFL did the Falcons no favors. Remember they face the Saints twice this season and will see New England, Seattle, Green Bay, Washington and the 49ers. While they look to be a playoff team, they could also be a team to score first and worry about defense on Monday.
This could be the highest scoring team in the league this season.
Look for Julio Jones to be this team’s breakout player. It is time for Jones to showcase that talent and take the lead in the Falcons offense.
It is possible Jackson could be a bust based on carries and milage on his legs. The Falcons need to get something out of him so they can balance this offense and keep defenses honest.
I like Matt Ryan as this team’s most valuable player and someone who will challenge for that honor in the NFL. If he catches fire, this could the season he takes the next step toward greatness.