After a dominant display in 2012, the Falcons led by their explosive offense fell heartbreakingly short of their first Super Bowl appearance in 14 years. Even though the organisation had gone from annual inconsistency to the greatest stretch in their history, the story was the same – still no Superbowl.
Unsurprisingly, there were high hopes for the team to once again complete for the best record in the NFC and push far into the playoff picture in 2013. The addition of perennial All-Star Steven Jackson & two time Superbowl champion pass rusher Osi Umenyiora further enhanced the chances of turning Atlanta’s dreams into a reality.
Through the course of the year however, injuries to key players, the offensive line’s inability to protect Franchise QB Matt Ryan, and a sieve-live defense resulted in a Falcons implosion which turned them from Superbowl hopefuls to cellar dwellers.
One year on, there haven’t been any marquee free agent additions to a team that lost future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez and defensive captain Sean Weatherspoon in the offseason. General Manager Thomas Dimitroff has made it a point to build a tougher squad in 2014 and addressed this straight off the bat by adding beef through the likes of DTs Paul Soliai from the Dolphins and former #3 overall pick Tyson Jackson from the Chiefs. The defense which was labelled ‘soft’ in 2013, was further strengthened by drafting mammoth 310 pound rookie Ra’Shede Hageman in the 2nd round.
These key additions, along with the promising development of 2nd year corners Desmond Trufant & Robert Alford should result in an immediate improvement on a defense that ranked 27th in both total yards & points surrendered last year. I see the Falcons rising to range between the 15-20 spot in both categories, and could shoot up even further if the young linebacking corps flourishes.
Matt Ryan has finally been given a Class A bodyguard in blue-chip prospect Jake Matthews out of Texas A&M. and his stats should improve vastly this season with the return of the freakish Julio Jones & the rejuvenation of the much maligned offensive line. The Atlanta running game although still weak, should slightly improve on last year’s output with the addition of RG Jon Asamoah from the Chiefs, who has slotted straight into the starting lineup.
It’s no revelation that the Falcons will improve immensely on last year’s dismal showing, however the only problem is that they play in the NFC South. Many pundits have New Orleans as Superbowl favourites, Carolina’s stingy defense isn’t going anywhere & the Bucs are arguably the most improved team in the NFL.
Being ever optimistic, I can only see Mike Smith’s men getting 7 or 8 wins from a schedule that isn’t very favourable. As if playing the Saints, Panthers & Bucs twice wasn’t bad enough, matchups such as Bengals (away), Bears (home), Cardinals (home), Packers (away), Ravens (away) & Steelers (home) are going to make for a brutal season. Everything will have to go right for the Falcons if they are to find a spot in the playoffs this season. Let’s just hope that the offense finds an extra gear and that the defense can hold it out.