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Atlanta Falcons tomorrow
2011 Record: 9-7
Key Acquisitions: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Dre Kirkpatrick, Terrence Newman, Mohamed Sanu, Devon Still, Travelle Wharton, Kevin Zeitler
Key Departures: Cedric Benson, Andre Caldwell, Chris Crocker, Keith Rivers, Frostee Rucker, Jerome Simpson, Bobbie Williams
This team was reasonably surprising last year, even though people knew that the defense would be very good. Andy Dalton was much better than expected. Everyone knew that he would be good eventually, but the chemistry that he quickly fostered with A.J. Green was amazing. Green is a great receiver who whose combination of size and speed makes him a special talent. In terms of weapons this offense is very thin outside of Green. Defensively they have lost a few players, but should still be very good. They have a tougher schedule than last year. Dalton struggled near the end of last year, and he's probably going to be affected by the classic sophmore slump, so I expect him to take a step back. Those issues combined will lead the this team missing the playoffs. It wouldn't surprise me if they do get into the postseason because the AFC is not as deep as usual.
Andy Dalton's accuracy as a passer is a major asset to this team. He becomes much more erratic as the passes are deeper, which is why A.J. Green is so valuable. Throw it anywhere near Green's tall frame, he has a chance to catch it. Outside of that, Dalton is a great QB to move the ball down the field using short passes.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a fine running back who looked much better than he actually is because of the New England offense. He's an average runner who won't really make great plays unless the offensive line creates giant holes for him. This offensive line will consistently give him a lot of daylight.
I've already talked enough about A.J. Green, but other than him, the receivers on this team are not very good. It looks like Brandon Tate is going to be the #2 receiver, and he's another Pats castoff and he hasn't done much of anything in his career as a wide receiver. Mohamed Sanu was chosen in the 3rd round of this year's draft, and he's going to have to play a pivotal role on this roster. There is absolutely no depth here.
Jermaine Gresham and Donald Lee form a pretty nice combination at the tight end position. Gresham is a real weapon while Lee has shown that he has pretty good hands.
Travelle Wharton and Kevin Zeitler will be new starters on this pretty good offensive line. Wharton has always been a solid blocker, while Zeitler, a rookie whose main job is to be better than Bobbie Williams. Williams is a really good blocker, but at his advanced age, it's hard to maintain his success over the 16 game season. The rest of the line consists of returning starters Kyle Cook, Andre Smith, and Andrew Whitworth. All are fine at what they do, nothing spectacular, but in the NFL it's hard to find an offensive line with 5 guys that are at least average.
Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson showed last year that they could consistently apply pressure to the opposing offense. Both are very good young pass rushers. Geno Atkins led to team in sacks at the defensive tackle position, which does not happen very often. He's a rock in the middle who has the athleticism to get after the quarterback. He also terrorizes running backs consistently. Domata Peko is a very good defensive tackle in his own right. His strength is stopping the run, but he attracts extra attention from pass blockers because of his size. It would help this front seven if Keith Rivers was still with the team, but he could never stay healthy, so trading him was a reasonable decision. Rey Maualuga is an above average linebacker who does a lot on defense. Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson both did well last year.
It will be very hard to throw on this team anywhere near the sidelines. The corners are not only very top heavy, this is a very deep position. Leon Hall is a really good corner, but he is coming off of an Achilles injury and it is not certain whether or not he can play (and if so, how effectively) this year. They went out and drafted athletic Dre Kirkpatrick in the first round this year who happens to be compared to Antonio Cromartie a lot (which is a very good thing, but only when on the field. Outside of that...I think he wants to avoid those parallels). Nate Clements and Terrence Newman are aging veterans who have had success in their careers with Clements playing as good as usual last season. Jason Allen isn't very good, but as the 4th corner, he's a good option. Pac-Man Jones is still on this roster in case you forgot. The middle of the field seems to be much weaker. Reggie Nelson is fine, but Taylor Mays is the real problem. As the strong safety, it doesn't help if he can't really cover receivers that well. He has a tendency to be burned in the passing game.
Mike Nugent somehow found a way to be consistent all of a sudden after struggling with just that during his career. I'm not sure whether or not he can continue to be as sure-footed as last year. Ken Huber wasn't very good last year. Brandon Tate has done well in the kick return game in the past.
7-9, 3rd in AFC North