I say it’s the Falcons division to lose, and they will walk away with it. Aaron seems to think they’ll just walk away and lose it. So, on with the debate.
It’s no secret that the teams in the NFC South have very little love for each other. It’s sparked by intense regional rivalries in Georgia, Louisiana, Florida and North Carolina, not to mention one of the most fierce NFL rivalries in the league between the Falcons and the New Orleans Saints.
Since it’s inception in 2002, no NFC South team has had back-to-back division championships, and every team in the division has won the crown at least twice.
Atlanta is set up nicely to win it’s third division championship in 2012, but I will preface my argument with this statement:
If the Saints were not playing short-handed with coaches and players for the better part of the season, they would probably still win this division. Probably.
But the Saints are playing short-handed, so that being said, here is why Atlanta will not only win this division, but win it handily.
The Saints are in crisis mode. Potentially, the off-season issues could bring them together closer as a team, but not having head coach Sean Payton for the entire season will be a bigger handicap than most think.
The Carolina Panthers are still young, and rebuilding their team. Quarterback Cam Newton is a great centerpiece for them, but he simply doesn’t have enough good players around him to make that team compete.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming in to the season with a new head coach, Greg Schiano – who has limited NFL experience – and are coming off one of the worst seasons Tampa has had since their pumpkin orange days. The Buccaneers have a long road ahead.
Atlanta has a lot going for them this season, including the man taking the snaps for the Falcons. Matt Ryan, probably one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the league, has quietly grown into at top-10 NFL quarterback, and with the new offense being installed by first-year offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, I predict he will have one of the best seasons of his young career.
He’ll shed the reputation of not being able to win in the playoffs this year. Count on it.
Ryan has spent this off-season working diligently on his arm strength and deep throw accuracy. That thought is probably making deep threat receivers Julio Jones and Harry Douglas itch for some one-on-one coverage (which one or the other of them is bound to get on practically every passing down), and is probably making defensive backs around the league wish they had listened to dad and become an NBA point guard.
The rest of the Falcons’ success in 2012 will lay squarely on the shoulders of their two new coordinators, Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan.
The dynamic offense that Atlanta fans have been looking for will finally surface this year, and you will see Koetter turn what was once a predictable play-calling sequence into a defensive coordinators nightmare.
Think about it. Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas to line up at wide-out. Running backs Michael Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling, who are all not only dangerous rushers, but are also able to catch passes on quick check-downs or designed screens. And let’s not forget future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez….yeah, he’s kind of good.
That is a lot of offensive firepower, and while it’s basically the same weaponry that Atlanta had last year, they will actually be utilized to their potential this year.
Oh, did I mention the Falcons will flat out play defense this year? Mike Nolan is just plain scary good at his job, and every defense he has taken on has improved under his tutelage.
With the veteran additions of cornerback Asante Samuel and safety Chris Hope to the secondary, the Falcons took a serious step into potential elite pass defenses for this season. Linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Akeem Dent are two of the top young talents on this team, and Atlanta’s linebackers wont miss a beat, even without last year’s leading tackler (and traitor) Curtis Lofton.
Atlanta is still solid on the defensive line, and rookie defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi will not only make this squad, but I think he’ll turn a lot of heads doing it. Let’s not forget, no quarterback is ever safe with “The Predator” John Abraham lined up and foaming at the mouth, and Nolan will spend more time utilizing Abraham’s pass rush skills, and less time dropping him back into coverage.
Quite simply, they were outstanding last year, and will be again this year. No major changes on the special teams unit, other than a punter who had a pretty good rookie year being even better.
The Falcons have a very well put-together team, and have a favorable schedule as well. With the rest of the division taking a step back, the Falcons will undoubtedly take a step up, and win this division.