It just had to happen this way, didn't it?
A young Atlanta Falcons team, just having bounced back from the desertion of a coach and the arrest of a superstar quarterback, just had to draw the AFC East as their non-conference opponents.
OK, so the rest of the NFC South faces the same potentially disastrous fate, and it is our division's turn to face these terrors of teams. I guess you can't draw the AFC Worst (oh, excuse me, West) every year.
But right now, when we need to build upon the confidence gained from last season? When Matt Ryan will be trying to avoid the sophomore slump, Michael Turner will be facing defenses much better prepared to contain him, and the linebackers will be trying to recover from the departure of two starters?
Alas, the answer is yes, right now. For what it's worth, though, we may have the more favorable home-and-away configuration with the Beasts of the East (three of whom had winning records last year, need I remind you): We play the foregone conclusion of a loss on the road, meaning that two of three winnables are in friendly confines.
Week One: Miami Comes to Town
In so many ways, the Fins mirrored us last year. This was a team that was supposed to be rebuilding fairly slowly under the tutelage of a new head coach and general manager, but instead, they increased their win total by 10 games.
This was a team that was supposed to have a big question mark at quarterback and looked to host a competition for the role, but instead, Week One starter Chad Pennington served as one of the steadiest at his position in the league.
And finally, this was a team that, despite a wild-card round playoff loss, could only be optimistic about the future.
But what matters now is what happens when these two "twins" meet. It will be an intriguing battle of a debut for both sides, but I'm going to give it to my boys based on two seemingly small things: home-turf advantage and special teams.
The thing is, when looking at the Dolphin O vs. the Falcon D or vice-versa, the strengths of each squad match up with the strengths of the other, and the weaknesses with the weaknesses.
One might call into question the receiving game of Miami, but that's more or less made up for by the inexperience of the Atlanta secondary; and while the Dolphins' pass rush is tremendous, the addition of Tony Gonzalez gives Matty Ice a reliable bail-out option in trouble spots.
That's why it's going to be little things, like playing in the Georgia Dome on the first Sunday, that turn the tide in the Birds' favor.
The ATL has had all summer to bubble over with excitement following last year's promising but ultimately unsatisfying campaign, so expect them to turn out in droves and bring the noise.
And yes, playing in the air conditioning will benefit both teams, but not as much as playing in the South Florida late-summer heat would have hurt the Falcs.
Also, the importance of special teams should never be underestimated, especially not in this game. Miami PK Dan Carpenter and P Brandon Fields are both young and a little bit nervous, just the opposite of Jason Elam and Michael Koenen.
The sketchy Fin coverage units should fear breakouts by Jerious Norwood and/or Harry Douglas, but the Falcons' deep group doesn't have much to worry about with Ted Ginn Jr. and Davone Bess.
Prediction: Falcons 27, Dolphins 21
Week Three: Atlanta Tries to Dirty Up Foxboro
I, like so many of you, have no soft spot for the Pats. I tire of the dynasty talk, of the Brady drama, and of seeing the poorly-dressed Belichick and his ugly mug. But I'm not swayed by my emotions to the point where I pick against this team at their place.
It's pretty simple: Tom is healthy, and he's behind his same old tough-as-nails line. Those names that we all know so well from recent Super Bowls (Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Nick Kaczur) are going up against an athletic but overall green bunch; Jamaal's only been in the league three years, and Jerry is a rook, if you didn't know.
Our line is not the 2007 Giants line that brought the undefeated bunch back down to Earth, and beyond that, our tendency to run the ball plays right into New England's hands. You know they only allowed over 200 yards on the ground once last season, and over 150 only two times total?
Lighting the burner with Turner will be difficult, and, though I don't wish to belittle Ryan, he's nowhere near mobile enough to avoid the obscene number of sublime pass rushers that the Pats boast.
In other words, our defensive backs will get lit up by Randy and Wes, while out offensive stars meet their matches in Wilfork, Bruschi, and Thomas.
Oh well, at least we're playing them early, so we don't have to deal with that hideous Massachusetts winter weather. Why do you people live that far North, anyway?
Prediction: Patriots 28, Falcons 13
Week 15: Could a Falcon Burn a Jet?
Oh, this wacky sports media. Judging by the massive range of opinions on the Jets' potential for the upcoming season, one might guess that two different teams play home games in the Big Apple.
No, but really, the boys in green are being picked to finish just about anywhere in the division, and there's decent reason to believe they could take first or fall to fourth.
On the one hand, they were 9-7 last season despite Favre's collapse, and Thomas Jones and the O-line are a match made in heaven. An already great defense got even better with Rex Ryan taking over and bringing in several of his former players from Baltimore.
But then again, they're likely starting a rookie at the most important position. Yeah, we did that last season, but at least Matt had proved himself at the college level; Sanchez has done little to convince me that he can manage a USC game, let alone the battle that is an NFL contest.
Mark, if he's still on the field, will be so shaken by this point in the season that he'll probably just take a knee as John Abraham comes off the edge, right?
Hold your horses; I want to be optimistic about my Falcs as well, but the truth is this: Atlanta is only superior to the Jets in the one area of receiving, but that may well be negated by strong play from the N.Y. secondary.
You may not know Darelle Revis's name as well as you do Champ Bailey's, but dude's like white on rice when it comes to opposing wideouts.
That means Atlanta will be relying on the runs of Mike and Norwood, and electric as those two can be, they will have trouble as they attempt to pound through NT Kris Jenkins or evade ILB Bart Scott in the second level.
Meanwhile, Jones will scare us enough that we overcompensate and allow that same Marky-Mark I so doubted to connect with Cotchery and company.
The Falcons will display their mettle, but come away with little to show for it.
Prediction: Jets 21, Falcons 10
Week 16: Eff the Cold!
And now back to our regularly-scheduled Atlanta football. Why yes, it is rather comfortable indoors; you certainly wouldn't find me in a place like Buffalo this late in December.
Besides, football is America's sport, and don't the Bills actually play in Canada?
Not yet? Soon enough. The T.O. (that stands for "Terribly Ostentatious," no?) experiment is going to push these guys out of town, no matter how promising the rest of the roster is.
It's not that Owens doesn't provide the playmaking capability that the Bills so desperately need; he does. It's just that he tears locker rooms apart, even if he loves "his quarterback" so. Such controversy doesn't complement a rushing attack with its own fair share of drama.
Marshawn Lynch will be long back from his suspension by this late-season showdown; that's not my point. Fred Jackson and Dominic Rhodes can keep them treading water, anyways.
My point is that QB Trent Edwards needs no distractions as he tries to prove himself mentally capable of being an NFL starter, but instead of being surrounded by a calm, peaceful supporting cast, the men around him are popping up in headlines all over the place.
And on the other side of the ball? Why, there are no headlines at all. Not saying a defense needs a star—indeed, of any unit in professional sports, a football defense may need standout individuals the very least—but who, exactly, scares our passer? This pass rush is just limp.
Sure, as one moves back, CBs Leodis McKelvin and Terrence McGee come into view, but if fed a steady diet of Turner charges, over-the-tops to Tony, and sideliners to Roddy White, the Bills are going to be outmatched.
Besides, like I said, we aren't playing this game in Antarctica, or wherever it is these other guys have their home games.
Prediction: Falcons 35, Bills 21