If nothing else, 2011 brought a massive power shift in the NFC. Just last offseason, the Saints were sure-fire favorites… and the San Francisco 49ers? Come on.
Now the NFC, with exception given to those 49ers, is full of question marks. Many even question the New York Giants' (reigning Super Bowl champion) chances come next fall.
The Atlanta Falcons have been a competitive squad since drafting star quarterback Matt Ryan in 2008; they are looking to make the jump to supremacy in 2012.
Considering the teams that have already made the leap, this is prime time for Atlanta to take center stage.
Of the seven teams that won a playoff game in 2011, three had top 10 offenses (yards per game). Five were ranked in the top 15. The other two are Denver and San Francisco; teams that often left games in the hands of their defense.
Atlanta was ranked in the top 10 in virtually every offensive category;10th
in yards per game, 7th
in scoring offense, 6th
in third-down efficiency and 6th
in turnover differential. Atlanta’s high-powered offense is not going anywhere. They possess the firepower required to compete in this offense-driven league.
Thinking back to those seven teams that won a playoff game (Saints, Giants, Patriots, 49ers, Broncos, Texans, Ravens) there is one that is particularly significant to Atlanta’s success. Can you guess?
Division rival New Orleans will look quite different (and less dominant) than we are accustomed to seeing. Without head coach Sean Payton, defensive captain Jon Vilma, and other key pieces lost through free agency, the opportunity for Atlanta to take the reins in the NFC south has never been greater.
While the Falcons’ offense is primed for performance, the defense is a different story. 12th
ranked total yards per game and 15th
ranked scoring defense. Rounded off with a very modest 20th
ranked passing defense. The team addressed this issue with the signing of Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel.
The linebacker corps is being renovated as well with the signing of Lofa Tatupu who will line up next to Sean Weatherspoon. This is an extremely athletic pair of linebackers, and barring injuries, they will improve the shaky Atlanta defense.
The Falcons have flown under the radar most of this offseason; a great sign for Atlanta fans. The high-caliber offense is still intact. The defense is slowly gaining playmakers. The NFC south is wide open.
This team has remained quiet throughout the offseason as they prepare for a very loud 2012 campaign.