The city of Atlanta is filled with a buzz not felt since the days of Jeff George.
Optimism rings in the air after the most succesful sports year in recent Georgia history. Two of their teams managed first round losses in the playoffs, and the Bulldogs managed to stop their nosedive from the rankings long enough to beat up on a second rate Big 10 team at a third rate bowl game.
Their new coach, Mike Smith, had one of the most successful first years for a coach in Falcons history, reminding everyone of recent NFC South rookie coaches Jim Mora Jr., Jim Haslett, and Sean Payton, who translated their early successes into Golden Ages for their franchises.
Matt Ryan's hot start has to remind Falcons fans of another home town rookie who hit the ground running, Jeff Francoeur. As we all know, Francoeur improved on his hot start and has become one of the most feared batters in the greater Atlanta Metro Area. Ryan hopes to have similar success.
Michael Turner carried the Falcons on his back in 2008, rushing the ball over 400 times, hearkening back to the days of Terrell Davis and Jamal Anderson. The embodiment of the term "War of Attrition" managed an impressive 1700 yards along with all those clouds of dust, but the numbers could have been even bigger.
Almost 700 of his yards came against the stout defenses of the Rams, Chiefs, Raiders, and Rams, and if only the rest of the teams he'd played had defenses of that calibre, the sky would have been the limit.
Thomas Dimitroff decided to bring in a new tight end to help bolster an offensive line made up of mostly people off the street, wisely choosing 33-year-old Tony Gonzalez.
Gonzalez has been a perennial Pro Bowler since entering the league in the middle of the Clinton Administration. Not only is he another weapon for Matt Ryan, but he brings experience unparalleled by any other Falcons players, most coaches, the owners, and a majority of the fan base.
On the defensive side of the ball, Dimitroff seemed so confident in the old maxim "Addition by Subtraction" that he didn't feel the need to actually replace the players he cut.
In an effort to get younger on the defensive side of the ball, the Falcons said goodbye to longtime fan favorite and home town hero Keith Brooking and brought in the youngest 32 year old in the league, Mike Peterson.
Starting on the other side will be Coy Wire, a player who helped anchor the dominant Bills defenses of the last six years.
In the secondary, the Falcons braintrust has decided to eschew experience, leadership, and talent in favor of youth. Some would say their secondary isn't "good," but optimists will point out that there isn't another in the league with more potential for improvement.
The names Von Hutchins, Decoud, and Grimes are sure to keep defensive coordinators all over Atlanta awake at night in 2009.
On the defensive line, the addition of Peria Jerry adds a new dimension to the defense. At Mississippi, Jerry showed he could be a commanding presence when wearing street clothes on the side line, a skill he'll need to utilize in the NFL.
Dimitroff and Smith are confident he'll recover from his first NFL injury, sustained on the first day of minicamp, because he has so much experience with them from college.
Mike Smith rightly received praise for the way he handled John Abraham in 2008. Abraham is simply too valuable to risk sustaining an injury while trying to tackle a running back.
Jamaal Anderson, the 8th overall pick in 2007 and entering his third season, hopes to maintain his consistent average of one sack a year.
The rest of the NFC South looks primed for the taking. The Panthers decided not to upgrade at all, and instead brought back 21 of 22 starters that won 12 games in 2004.
The Saints decided to spend their offseason upgrading their defensive personnel and coaching staff, allowing their offense to possibly fester and rot away.
In their illustrious 42 year history, the Falcons have never had back to back winning seasons. In their defense, they've only had nine previous chances to do so. The Falcons broke a trend in 2008, becoming the first team in the history of the NFC South to not win the division after finishing in last place the year before.
Maybe they can break another one in 2009.