Jan 13, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith reacts during the second half of the NFC divisional playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports
Coach Mike Smith has methodically directed a “one step at a time” approach to help the birds Rise Up consistently since 2010. Steven Jackson commented in a recent interview he chose Atlanta In an effort to “Go out on Top“. Veteran receiver Roddy White was quoted this week saying that 2013 is a ‘Super Bowl or Bust’ season for the Falcons. The Atlanta Falcons have made some strides this off-season to get those Ten yards they needed in Januarys NFC Championship game. With eleven draft picks at hand in two weeks they can fill the last couple of holes and add depth support. Instead of Mock Draft number Five (Hundred) I have decided to take a early look at who stands in the flight path of the Birds quest to that coveted Bowl.
First up are the division rivals whom like every team must play twice per year. These are significant games for all teams and they usually, especially in the South division, become a grueling hard fought contest no matter what the records are or on paper analysis reveals. Since the formation in 2002 the NFC South can boast of all four teams taking the title but no team winning that prize in back to back seasons. Atlanta can accomplish that in 2013 for they have gotten younger and slightly improved this past winter where New Orleans, Carolina, and Tampa Bay, whom all finished 2012 at 7 – 9, have stayed at par.
Sean Peyton’s return will help the Saints but a team that gave up over 400 points last year will need a lot of help. The departure of Bushrod leaves a big hole to fill in protecting Brees who is 34 and the cap strapped Saints found out last November 29th on a Thursday night game in the nest that these teams are headed in different directions. The Carolina Panthers had the quietest winter of the South teams, and with leading receiver Steve Smith at 34 they’ll have to have quite the draft to flip that record around to 9-7. Cam Newton was the leading passer and leading rusher on the team in 2012. If a good defense controls him they have a good chance for a ’W’. The hard fought division I mentioned can be told through the Panthers, they could have easily beaten Atlanta twice and they did beat the Saints twice, but with a 7 – 9 record they obviously had trouble with everyone else. The Tampa Bay Bucs found Freeman to Jackson and Doug Martin legit offensive weapons that can give any defense headaches. But with the loss of defensive line starters Miller and Bennett and the possible exit of Barber’s leadership from a secondary that was rated last in the NFL, they may have to be the Florida version of Air Coryell, and unfortunately Freeman just is not up to Dan Fouts status. Tampa also gave the Birds all they could handle in 2012 but were 3 – 5 at home and that’s not going to win this division.
Leaving the Division we visit Nemesis Green Bay and when scheduled will be an important intangible.
Going to Lambeau in October rather than December will be just what the Birds would hope. I found it a surprise that the Pack had no thousand yard receiver last year. They have also had a quiet winter and the loss of Jennings, Walden, Crabtree, Merling, Zombo, and possibly Woodson, Shields and Benson may not thaw the frozen Tundra but Packer fans know they have lost valuable depth .
Atlanta is scheduled to play the AFC ‘Least’ where the Patriots are the only threat, and unlike N.O and Tampa who travel to Foxboro, the Birds get to host the Pats minus one Wes Welker, their leading receiver in 2012 and will welcome a quarterback that is still good, but after playing last season against Kaepernick, Wilson, Vick, RGIII and Cam Newton twice, should enjoy defensively one that never leaves the pocket.
As with the visit to Green Bay, going to Buffalo would be great before December. The Falcons could very well get all four of the AFC conference wins which helps as it did last year with post season seeding.
Last in the way of the Birds are the best of the west, San Francisco and Seattle. Solid teams that have also had a decent winter. Good to have them as division rivals where they will have to beat on each other twice.
I view the Jackson signing as the difference maker against these teams, where Atlanta held January leads and lost them because they had no rushing game. Jackson did well against these teams with little surrounding help. Both these teams are in Atlanta’s bubble, and which team who stays healthy and wins turnover battle will represent the NFC in the bowl most likely. General Jan Dadonna discovered a weakness even with the Death Star battle station, so I looked for one against these West heavyweights and found it odd that both feature a quick to run mobile quarterback, which can be dangerous in the NFL as witnessed with Vick and RGIII, and that both teams have traded away their legit seasoned number two Q.B. Thin Ice ?
Football is a long tough season and playoff teams need good depth. The Falcons with a smart draft at Cornerback and defensive line along with another solid camp and preseason from Dom Davis will have the edge ever so slightly in the depth department among some other area’s. The Bird’s view to the Super Bowl looks good at this point in time, just a tad out of focus. The draft will help clear the Falcon’s vision.