The biggest storyline in the NFC South last year was the re-emergence of the Atlanta Falcons. We could write for days on all of the off the field issues that this team has had to go through over the last 18 months.
Owner Arthur Blank decided that his team and the image of this franchise needed to be changed.
It all started with the hiring of GM Thomas Dimitroff from the New England Patriots. He decided that this team needed a defensive minded coach. He hired Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Smith, who brought a much needed tough as nails approach for a team that, was in desperate need of some "tough love."
With the Falcons having the number three pick in the NFL Draft, they took what would eventually become the new face of the Atlanta Falcons Matt Ryan.
With the addition of Michael Turner at running back things were starting to look up for this once forgotten franchise. Along with Roddy White finally emerging as a true number one wide receiver, this offense was ready to take flight. The defensive side of the ball would also need a face lift that would start from within though.
Mike Smith was always known for fast, strong, and athletic defenses in Jacksonville. The biggest adjustment for him was taking a team that didn't necessarily have players with all of those attributes.
He was able to get the most out of his players from the beginning of training camp, and that showed in the regular season. If there was an issue with this team in 2008 it was the defense, the same may be said for 2009.
As far as the 2009 season outlook, I think there will be two very big questions to answer.
1. Will Matt Ryan have a sophomore slump, or soar to heights that no one would have expected in just his second year.
A. If the Falcons wouldn't have made the trade for Tony Gonzalez in March, I would have said that a sophomore slump would have been very logical. The addition of Gonzalez will not only help Matt Ryan, but could be even bigger for Michael Turner. Gonzalez will give the Falcons something that was missing in 2008, a viable target across the middle.
It's always been said that a quarterback's best friend is his tight end. If that is truly the case, Ryan and Gonzalez may very well be the new "BroMance" of the NFL.
2. Will the defense be the Achilles heal of the 2009 Atlanta Falcons, or will Mike Smith get the most out of this fairly young defense?
A. I personally feel that the defense is going to be the story of this team all season long. When you lose a Keith Brooking and Lawyer Milloy and don't replace them with equal or better talent, you’re going to struggle.
I don't see John Abraham being able to hold up for another full 16 game season, especially with the defense being less talented then last year. It's going to be time for Jamaal Anderson to step up and show why the Falcons chose him in the first round in 2007.
The pass defense will struggle all season as they use multiple starting line-ups to find there niche.
With all of this said, I think the Falcons of 2009 won't make the playoffs but they will make some major strides towards becoming a true contender in 2010. The defense is just too young to compete with the schedule the Falcons face in 2009.
These are just a few of the quarterbacks that this team will face this upcoming season. Brady, E. Manning, Brees, McNabb,Cutler, Romo, Pennington, and J. Campbell. This offense is going to score points, and score plenty of points they will.
It's just hard to play from behind in the NFL and this ill especially be the case for this team in 2009.
My season prediction is the Atlanta Falcons will be 9-7 and miss the NFL Playoffs.