Last year the Falcons went from a team fans expected to reach the Superbowl to a team that by the end of the season was near unwatchable. Speaking of unwatchable, if I have to watch Kroy Biermann’s wife Kim on HBO’s Hard Knocks one more time I’m going to hurl a brick through my flatscreen.
This team is again led by 6th year QB Matt “Matty Ice” Ryan. Since entering the NFL and throwing a TD on his first professional pass the question still looms: Can Ryan take that next step into “elite” status? Returning from injuries suffered last year are receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White. Julio was out for the year with a foot injury and Roddy was fighting off an ankle sprain throughout the season. With both seemingly healthy, their aim now is to throw their names back into the “best receiving duo” conversation. The Falcons addressed their OL need by drafting the most technically sound OL in the draft-Jake Matthews. With the injury to LT Sam Baker, the rookie is thrust into being the franchise QB’s blindside protector. Besides Kim Zolciak (mentioned above) this team has 2 other issues. The first is team health. With Stephen Jackson in street clothes more than an undercover cop the Falcons had to draft a RB. They nabbed Devonta Freeman from FSU with their 4th round pick. He has good vision, balance and runs behind his pads. He just has one problem…he can’t block…anyone…seriously. He’ll have to learn his keys quickly or Matt Ryan will be on his back more than a Kardashian. Cheap shot-my bad.
The second issue is the defense. When was the last time you said “You know who has a smash mouth defense…the Falcons!” The correct answer is never. Atlanta has suffered from a lack of pass rush and a lack of toughness. Understanding this, the Falcons front office literally used 6 of their 8 picks on defense. They also hired D line Coach Bryan Cox (who would’ve thought he’d be a coach?) to infuse toughness into this group. Spitting incident, middle fingers and horrifically bad sportsmanship aside, he was a 3 time Pro-Bowler with a ring and a fire that this team desperately needs.
Now let’s answer some questions: Can Matt Ryan make that step into being elite? Yes…but not this year. He’s going to need a squad behind him and I’m not sure if this schedule will help at all. Will this team stay relatively healthy? Maybe. It’s this receiving core that concerns me. Jones’ foot seems to be a recurring issue and if he goes down then Harry Douglass has to be a real #2. After Douglass it’s Devin Hester (who’s shown he really isn’t a full time receiver) and a bunch of guys I played with in a flag football league. Also, who will fill the hole at TE? Right now it may end up being Levine Toilolo. Who? Exactly. He’s replacing a Hall of Famer so let’s see how fast he catches on. By years end it could be Bear Pascoe at that spot. The health of the receivers, RB’s and the TE spot will all factor into Ryan’s success. Finally-will the defense play a larger, tougher role? They have to. They were ranked 23rd overall last year. Another defensive output like that may place this team third in the division. Maybe changing to the 3-4 will also help. Gut check time fellas. This division is tough but if they can stay relatively healthy and that D steps up the Falcons could be battling the Saints for 1st.
Season Record Prediction: 9-7
Let Jesse Peel how you feel about his season prediction. You can follow him on twitter @jpsportsruckus
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