NFC South Preview- Atlanta Falcons
The NFC South is up on TSX as this division is one of the more underrated divisions in the NFL. The rivalries are fierce, and there are always exciting battles at the end of the season. Not one team finished with a losing record in 2008, but the two teams that made the playoffs, Carolina and Atlanta, ended up getting knocked out of the playoffs by the eventual NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals.
The Falcons made huge strides in the offseason, by acquiring longtime Kansas City Chief Tony Gonzalez, and giving the offense an extra set of hands and a good blocker for Michael Turner. The Panthers are looking to hold on to the NFC South crown, but did not make too many big improvements, largely due to the $16.7M contract on Juilus Peppers’ franchise tag. The Saints made good improvements, and hope to have a healthy Jeremy Shockey to add to an already lethal offense, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a complete overhaul of the team by firing Jon Gruden and hiring Raheem Morris, and acquiring many different players that were not a part of the Gruden era, including releasing longtime LB Derrick Brooks.
The NFC South will look like this this season:
3. New Orleans
4. Tampa Bay
We start off the tour of the NFC South by going to Atlanta to take a look at the Falcons
When the Falcons drafted Matt Ryan, and labeled him the franchise player of a team that cut ties with the old face of the franchise, Michael Vick. Many thought that with Ryan, along with new head coach Mike Smith, would be in a rebuilding process and in about 2-3 years the team would be a major contender in the NFC South and the NFC altogether.
Apparently Ryan and Smith did not get that memo.
Ryan, along with free agent steal of the summer Michael Turner, took the whole football world by surprise when they went 11-5 and made it to the playoffs, only to lose to Arizona in the Wild Card game. The offense was fun to watch, and Ryan really surprised and show loads of promise. With the addition of Gonzalez, it is pretty safe to say that he has plenty of options to throw to along with Roddy White and Michael Jenkins. There is no sophomore slump coming out of Ryan, especially with his experience that drew the Falcons to him running professional style offenses in college. When Ryan gets consistent, he’s going to be one of the better QBs of the NFL for a long time to come.
The defense is the weak spot of this team, and this could be a detriment. The only threat that this team really has is DE John Abraham, who knows how to get to the quarterback and can get the pressure needed. They suffered a huge blow in free agency when Keith Brooking left to go to Dallas. If this team can’t get other players to pressure the QB, it could deal a blow to the championship hopes.
Overall, the Falcons are not only going to be good this season, they will be even better in the years to come. With the NFC so jumbled up and anybody can contend for a championship, if the defense can gel and Ryan can get it together with the consistency, the Falcons could make a surprisingly deep run in the playoffs, possibly the Super Bowl. Definitely they have the favorite slot in winning the NFC South outright.
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