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Detroit Lions tomorrow
2011 Record: 10-6
Key Acquisitions: Peter Konz, Asante Samuel
Key Departures: Curtis Lofton, Ovie Mughelli, Mike Peterson, James Sanders, Eric Weems
Oh the Falcons. Picked them to go to the Super Bowl last year. They went up to New York and put together a stinker of an offensive performance, ending their season way before it should have ended. They never lose at home, so that's an automatic 8 wins right there, and this is this team's year. The Saints are going to be diminished after losing their coach for the season (NFL coaches have a huge impact on their teams) and the Panthers and Buccaneers are on the rise, but not at playoff level just yet. They'll win the division, but with their conference being so strong, they really can't afford to underachieve again. Matt Ryan has never won a playoff game, and he definitely is talented enough to do so. While Michael Turner, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez are getting older, offensively this team is really talented. That's part of the reason why I feel the window is closing, age. The defense was solid last year, and while they lost Curtis Lofton, they've vastly improved their secondary.
Matt Ryan is a very good quarterback. There are a bunch of people who will look at his lack of a playoff win and make the case that he's not good, but of course, those people are entirely wrong. He knows how to lead this team to wins, and with the receiving corps that he has, scoring points won't be that hard.
Michael Turner is now 30 years old. That's an ominous sign. This is probably the last year of productivity for him because he is a running back. He led the NFC in rushing last season, and I don't expect him to slow down this year. Usually when RBs reach this age, they have another good year before they fall flat. He's going to be as good as usual, but he could possibly slow down a little bit at the end of the year.
Roddy White is now nearing the end of his prime. He knows how to catch the ball. Well, sort of. He should get a lot more receptions than he does. He had a major issue with drops last year, even though he was able to get 100 receptions. He's still elite, but he really needs to iron out that issue. Julio Jones is going to have his breakout season this year. All cornerbacks released a joint statement: "Oh God no!!!" Jones has all the physical abilities to be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, and he's probably going to make that leap this year. He looked great as the season wore on after being seemingly non-existent at the start of the year. After these two, Harry Douglas is a very good slot receivers. He'll be the beneficiary of the extra attention paid to White and Jones.
Tony Gonzalez came back despite turning 36 in February. He's one of the best pass catchers ever, regardless of position, and he was still really productive in 2011. He's getting older but it seems that he won't ever stop catching passes. He had 80 last year, which seems completely ridiculous for a 35 year old, but I expect that from him by now.
The offensive line is very solid. Left tackle is the only glaring weakness, as neither Sam Baker nor Will Svitek were any good last year. Being Ryan's blind side, that's a concern, but the rest of the line is very good. Tyson Clabo and Todd McClure are both very proven veterans.
The Ray Edwards signing looked to be a major bust last season, and they really need him to step it up and be the pass rusher that the Falcons paid big bucks for. John Abraham is still producing, but he's pretty old at 34, and everyone is just waiting for age to hit him. He's still a very skilled pass rusher until then. The defensive tackles are both very good, even though Corey Peters isn't a good pass rusher.
Sean Weatherspoon was beyond impressive last year, and he's only going to get better. He could be one of the best outside linebackers in the NFL by the end of the year. He is a tackling machine. Speaking of tackling machines, the departure of Curtis Lofton is really going to hurt. It hurts even more than he went to the Saints. Weatherspoon and Akeem Dent will have to pick up the slack in his absence.
It was really hard to complete passes against Asante Samuel last year even though he was unhappy and probably wasn't playing as hard as he's capable of. It was even tougher for passes to be caught on Brent Grimes. This cornerback tandem is going to be really good. Dunta Robinson will be a package corner, and he's pretty good so his new role will maximize his talents. The safeties aren't terrible, but Thomas DeCoud isn't great.
Matt Bryant has been an elite kicker in recent seasons, and he's probably going to continue that trend. Matt Bosher was terrible last year, but he was only a rookie and he'll get better. Losing Eric Weems is a blow, and now the Rodgers boys; James and Jacquizz (brothers, but not twins) are going to be competing for that job.
10-6, 1st in NFC South
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