The Atlanta Falcons are a very splashly and trendy Super Bowl pick. They've have two 13-win seasons in the last two years and were leading for most of the NFC Championship game last year before melting down in the fourth quarter.
Their offense is led by the explosive wideout duo of Julio Jones and Roddy White, surefire Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez and one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Matt Ryan. They replaced Michael Turner with Steven Jackson, a back who although is 30 years of age, has been one of the most talented offensive players in the league for the past several years. He just hasn't been able to show it while buried on the abominable St. Louis Rams' offense.
Let's take the time to examine what folks are firing up on Twitter about these Falcons. ESPN's Cris Carter, a respected analyst for ESPN Countdown, seems to believe that the addition of Jackson has made Atlanta's offensive standing in the NFC very clear.
The era of Ryan and head coach Mike Smith has ultimately pushed the Falcons into the top tier of NFL contenders. They now look at this season as Super Bowl or bust. At this point, anything less is unacceptable.
But I'm not so sure they'll have it so easy in winning their division, either.
The Saints themselves were considered perennial contenders every year, until a disastrous 0-4 start in 2012 derailed them. They were lost without the leadership of Payton, and they'll be a tougher challenge this year for the Dirty Birds.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers brought in Darrelle Revis to counter Atlanta's high-flying aerial attack, and Carolina will ride the continued development of Cam Newton. The NFC South isn't getting any easier.
Falcons season prediction: 11-5 http://t.co/oYglf2irl6— Pat Yasinskas (@PatYazESPN) August 28, 2013
And there's no better expert than ESPN's NFC South blogger Pat Yaskinas, who believes the tougher schedule will yield just a 11-5 record for the Falcons.
We've talked a lot about the Falcons' offense, but what about their defense? They are relying on two rookie corners in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, but have beefed up the front line with the addition of Osi Umenyiora. While this is an infusion of talent, it remains to be seen whether the marriage of youth, talent and Mike Nolan's scheme can make pundits pay even a little attention to the defense when talking about this team
But if the offense is good enough, all you need to do is get into the playoffs, divisional champs or not.
CBS' Pete Prisco has nothing short of a man-crush on the entire Atlanta roster and is pretty much penciling them in for a run at the Lombardi Trophy.
Can the addition of Jackson, Umenyiora and two young rookies really put Atlanta over the hump? And by hump, we mean the other beasts in the NFC. You can make an argument that the San Francisco 49ers, who beat them last year in the Championship game, are on their level, if not better.
Could Bengals-Falcons work be a Super preview? Don't laugh.— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) August 6, 2013
Add that to an improving division that includes the Saints, Panthers and Buccaneers, and as good as the Falcons are, they won't be short of stiff competition. There is still an overwhelming amount of support for the 'Birds in the Twitterverse, though.