The Falcons will begin the 2012 regular season on Sunday with a trip to Kansas City to face the Chiefs. Most experts are predicting the Falcons to win the game and they are also saying that the Falcons will win at least nine games and clinch their third straight playoff spot.
But how good is this Falcons team? Can get over the playoff hump and make a Super Bowl run? Here’s a look at the 2012 Falcons and where they will end up when the season comes to an end.
The offense will have a new look to them thanks to offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Led by quarterback Matt Ryan, the offense will have a vertical passing attack, which was effective during the preseason. Ryan completed 75 percent of his passes to go along with his 549 yards and three touchdowns during the preseason.
Ryan looks comfortable in the new system and really should thrive, especially when he has receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones on the outside. Ryan also has Tony Gonzalez to turn to, which has been a reliable target since his arrival in 2009.
If the passing game has issues, the Falcons can always turn to the running game which has been the central focus of the offense since head coach Mike Smith took over in 2008. Michael Turner rushed for 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns last. He is not as explosive as he has been in the past, but has been a consistent runner for the Falcons and is effective at the goal line.
He may not see as many carries this season because the Falcons want to work in Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling as much as possible. Rodgers has the ability to be an effective third down back and Snelling is an effective blocker as well as a hard-nosed runner.
The most glaring issue for the Falcons is the offensive line. Overall, the unit struggled last season when it came to helping the skill players making big plays, especially in the playoff game versus the New York Giants. There wasn’t any personnel changes except the team drafting Peter Konz who will likely take over as the starting guard this year or the starting center next year. But Todd McClure, Garrett Reynolds, Justin Blaylock, Sam Baker and Tyson Clabo hope to have bounce back seasons.
The defense was not stellar for the Falcons last year, but they are not bad either. It starts with the defensive line and they hope to apply more pressure to opposing quarterbacks. This means that they have to get more production from Ray Edwards who only had 3.5 sacks after notching 16 sacks the previous two seasons. John Abraham is also returns and looks to have another 10-plus sack year. Peria Jerry and Jonathan Babineaux will man the middle of the defensive line and look solid during preseason.
The play of the back-seven will be key to the Falcons success. Akeem Dent will take the place of Curtis Lofton at middle linebacker this year. He’s another guy who played well during the preseason and is ready to take the next step in his young career. Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon are the outside linebackers. Nicholas is very consistent and Weatherspoon has the tools to be an elite NFL linebacker.
The secondary got a boost when the Falcons acquired Asante Samuel. He will provide swagger to the team as well as depth to the cornerback position. Samuel, Bent Grimes and Dunta Robinson make up what could be the best set of cornerbacks in the NFL. William Moore and Thomas DeCoud make a strong safety duo and new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan hopes those two can make life miserable for receivers who come across the middle.
No changes to the special teams from last year except Dominque Franks and Harry Douglass will replace Eric Weems on kick and punt returns. Kicker Matt Bryant looks to have another strong year while Matt Bosher is coming off a great 2011 season and 2012 preseason.
Head coach Mike Smith hopes the additions of the new coordinators as well as the addition of Samuel and the return of their nucleus of players like Ryan, White, Turner and Abraham will led them to a deep playoff run. The Falcons schedule will not be easy, but they have all the tools to take that next step, which is exactly what they will do this year.
PROJECTED RECORD: 11-5, First in NFC South
OFFENSIVE MVP: Matt Ryan
DEFENSIVE MVP: Sean Weatherspoon
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: Travian Robertson