The Atlanta Falcons were perhaps my most painful playoff omission of this NFL team preview series. I disagree with analysts who say Matt Ryan hit his statistical ceiling last regular season, and believe his postseason brilliance against the San Francisco 49ers — right up until the shoulder dislocation — proves there’s even more untapped upside. Atlanta was frankly a Harry Douglas stumble away from reaching the Super Bowl.
Meanwhile, Julio Jones has the tools to make a leap into the league’s best receiver conversation, with plenty of tangible evidence from him in that NFC title loss as well. Steven Jackson is a massive upgrade on Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez‘s return is absolutely crucial.
This is the part where I begin to sound perhaps less sane, but truly believe I’m onto something.
I’m always wary of defenses that are horrifically exposed here and there, yet manage to get by thanks to clever schemes by great defensive minds like coordinator Mike Nolan. With Nolan I would still give this unit the benefit of a doubt to remain decent, but they must eventually improve that personnel at least a little.
In my opinion, Atlanta takes a massive step backward by letting edge-rusher John Abraham walk and trying to replace him with Osi Umenyiora, who looked past his prime during his final year in New York. Abraham is a strong run defender and basically gave Atlanta its only reliable source of pass rushing last season, and Umenyiora has struggled mightily to replicate that edge presence thus far in the preseason.
Meanwhile, Asante Samuel remains savvy but isn’t getting any younger. Safeties William Moore and Thomas DeCoud are decent yet unspectacular in coverage. A rookie’s potentially at CB No. 2 for the season and Robert Alford could emerge in the slot, but there are just too many major question marks about Atlanta’s ability to stop any in the pass game, and they struggled mightily against the run in 2012.
I think this is a high-scoring team that plays from behind often and narrowly misses the playoffs.
Predicted Regular Season Record: 9-7 (2nd in NFC South)
Predicted Finish: Miss postseason