Falcons thinking Super Bowl after falling short in 2012
RB S.Jackson, DE O.Umenyiora
CB B.Grimes, DE J.Abraham,
RB M.Turner, CB D.Robinson,
OT T.Clabo, C T.McClure, S C.Hope
That's how close the Atlanta Falcons came to reaching the Super Bowl last year when a last minute drive against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship came up just short.
And while they ultuimately fell short of the goal, 2012 has to be considered a big success in Atlanta.
The Falcons cruised through the regular season, clinched the NFC South by Week 13 and earned the top seed in the conference with a 13-3 record. More importantly, quarterback Matt Ryan and head coach Mike Smith finally got the monkey off their back with a playoff win after losses in their three previous attempts.
Life may not be quite as easy for the Falcons in 2013 though. The Buccaneers look to have made big strides this off-season, the Saints should be better without Bountygate hanging over their heads and even the Panthers could be tougher in what should be a very competitive NFC South.
High Flying Offence
The Falcons were a very good offensive team last year finishing seventh in points per game (26.2), and eighth in yards (369.1).
They should be even better in 2013 thanks to the addition of running back Steven Jackson.
The running game was a glaring weakness last season as the team finished 29th in the NFL with just 87.3 rush yards per game. Last year's starter Michael Turner averaged an awful 3.6 yards per carry and was dreadful in short yardage situations.
Jackson is the league's active leading rusher and is coming off his eighth straight 1,000 yard season with the Rams. He should provide a much more effective running game for the Falcons and is also a much more capable pass catcher out of the backfield than Turner.
Matt Ryan, who recently signed a 5-year, $103.75 million extension, should be salivating at all the weapons he has to work with.
Julio Jones and Roddy White are arguably the most dangerous 1-2 wide receiver tandem in the NFL. The two combined for 171 catches, 2,540 yards and 17 touchdowns last season and those numbers could go up in 2013.
Not only that, ageless tight end Tony Gonzalez opted not to retire after last season, deciding to take one more run at a Super Bowl.
The Falcons offensive skill players basically read like a Pro Bowl roster.
Walk The Line
The one question mark for the Falcons offensively, and it is a pretty big one, is the offensive line. The Falcons' front five enter the season 28th in TSN.ca's offensive line rankings.
Last year's starting right tackle Tyson Clabo, who was arguably the Falcons best offensive lineman in 2012, was released leaving either Lamar Holmes or Mike Johnson to fill the void.
Second-year pro Peter Konz, who had an underwhelming rookie season at right guard, moves to centre to replace the retired Todd McClure. Centre is a more natural fit for Konz but there are questions as to whether he is ready for the responsibility.
Sam Baker meanwhile, doesn't exactly inspire confidence protecting Ryan's blindside.
Unless the Falcons offensive line can show some improvement, Ryan may have to keep that quick release ready to go and Jackson may find it tough sledding carrying the ball. (-TSN.ca)
Where's The Rush?
The Falcons have a ton of firepower on offence, and they may need it because they have lots of holes on defence.
They released the NFL's active sacks leader John Abraham during the off-season after he led the team with 10 quarterback kills a year ago. The team brought in former New York Giant Osi Umenyiora to replace Abraham on the right end but pass rush is still going to be a big concern for Atlanta.
How do the Falcons get consistent quarterback pressure with their front four? Umenyiora managed just six sacks last season despite playing in all 16 games for the Giants a significant dip in production from the double digit totals earlier in his career, and no one else projected to start has much of a pass rush pedigree.
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan loves to blitz but if he is forced to do it more than he would like, you're bound to see the type of blown coverages that happened in last year's playoffs.
That brings us to the Falcons' holes in the secondary.
NFC SOUTH PROJECTIONS
Surprising Division Winner
6th in NFC, wildcard berth
Defence holds them back
Need more playmakers
Clearing The Air
In a division like the NFC South that features some potent offences, the Falcons shaky secondary will be put to the test.
Asante Samuel will start at one corner while the team looks to a rookie on the other side. There will be no easing in period for first round draft pick Desmond Trufant as he will be counted on to fill the hole left by Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes. Fellow rookie Robert Alford will also see time.
With that much inexperience in the secondary and a shaky pass rush up front teams are not going to be afraid to air it out against Atlanta.
The linebacking corps is probably the strength of the Falcons defence and all three starters from alst season retrun. However, Sean Weatherspoon has had injury issues the last few years and there is plenty of room for improvement for both Akeem Dent and Stephen Nicholas. Nicholas was burned badly in coverage by San Francisco during last yaer's NFC Championship loss.
What It All Means
The Falcons think they are close to a Super Bowl and they can certainly beat anyone in the NFL on any given Sunday. They aren't going to have an easy time repeating as NFC South champs though. Their offence is a top-tier unit in the NFL despite a shaky offensive line, but their shortcomings on defence may be tough to overcome come crunch time. Don't be surprised if the Falcons find themselves in a tough battle for a playoff spot come season's end. (-TSN.ca)
Special Teams: K M. Bryant, P M. Bosher, KR Jaq. Rodgers, PR D. Franks
Special Teams: K M. Bryant, P M. Bosher, KR Jaq. Rodgers, PR D. Franks
Fantasy - By The Numbers
A high-octane attack that boasts two legitimate No. 1 receivers, one of the all-time greats and tight end and has an improved running game is obviously very appealing.
Get ready for the fantasy season with the latest from TSN.ca.
Rankings: QB | RB | WR | TE | DEF
Fantasy Schedules: AFC | NFC
2013 Auction Values: Cheat Sheet
Fantasy Depth Charts: AFC | NFC
QB Matt Ryan threw for 4719 yards and 32 touchdowns last season and had two players, WR Roddy White and TE Tony Gonzalez, with more than 90 catches and two, White and WR Julio Jones, with more than 1100 receiving yards.
Even if new Falcons RB Steven Jackson has hit 30, he's an upgrade on the departed Michael Turner and the opportunity to play for a much better Atlanta team ought to give Jackson more chances to score -- he's rushed for 19 touchdowns in the last four seasons, which is on the low-end among runners averaging over 1,000 yards for those seasons.
The Falcons don't have stud defenders in terms of fantasy production, but LB Sean Weatherspoon, FS Thomas DeCoud and DE Osi Umenyiora will warrant consideration in IDP leagues. (-Scott Cullen)