This season, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter takes over the keys to a Maserati that Mike Mularkey just didn't know how to drive.
Mularkey was able to take great players and make them very good. However, if he can figure out how to protect Matt Ryan, Koetter will have so much to work with in 2012 that there should be no doubt that the Atlanta Falcons will have a Top-10 offense.
Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has a different set of problems. Since he lost middle linebacker Curtis Lofton to free agency, he will be starting a new defensive system.
There are questions about Lofa Tatupu's ability to play at a high level. However, if Tatupu works out, the Falcons will be better in pass coverage.
There is also the pass rush and the question of Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury stepping up. I happen to think they will both improve Atlanta's sack totals for next season.
Mike Nolan has excelled in improving defenses in Miami over the last two years and in Denver before that.
In 2011, he had the third best run defense in the league. The Dolphins were 10th in sacks and sixth in fewest points per game permitted. Miami was also in the Top 10 in red-zone defense and third down defense—all areas of need for the Falcons.
Mike Nolan had similar success in 2009 and 2010.
Even without the expected fireworks in free agency, I think the Atlanta Falcons defense will surprise in 2012. Mike Nolan's evaluation of player personnel must have played a role in the moves made and not made in free agency. I think his history of success deserves to be given a chance.
I also think a few gems will be forthcoming in the NFL draft. I look forward to a normal offseason with the emergence of a team ready to play in 2012.