Allow me my one sentence of complaining...
"It plain stinks that the Falcons got dealt such a difficult schedule the year after an encouraging turnaround!"
...and that's it.
DDDB is not about griping, and besides, that's how I started off my first edition of the column (lamenting the dicey docket my team stares down at the moment).
I'm not saying one wouldn't be justified in feeling just the tiniest bit intimidated by having to face the NFC East as your in-conference non-divisional opponents.
And heck, considering we've got that matchup in the same season that we're playing the AFC East, I mean, I'd be within my rights to rant for a page or two...
No. Instead, I will give credit where credit is due (NFC East teams, y'all are darn good) and jump right into the real football talk.
Week Seven: Let's Go See America's Team
Perhaps the best way to wrap up my personal feelings towards the Cowboys is with some Jack Johnson lyrics:
Must I always be waitin', waitin' on you? / Must I always be playin', playin' your fool?
Every year I'm sure the 'Boys are going to capitalize on their talent, take the NFC by storm, and play to their ability all the way to February.
And every year, I'm wrong; I'm left waiting until the next year to see if they can pull it together, and in the meantime, I look rather foolish (as I did this past winter, considering I proclaimed them Super Bowl Champs in the preseason last year).
For that reason, I'm done riding high with these horse-riders. Dallas hasn't gotten any worse from last year, but if there's one thing they've proved to me, it's that they will have entire games in which they simply cannot get things done.
And even though the game's at their place, they won't get it done against my Dirty Birds this season.
It's not that I overestimate the loss of Terrell Owens, though I don't see his departure making the team significantly better, as some do. To me, Roy Williams and Jason Witten will step up enough that the team breaks even in the passing game.
This run game is still something fierce, so it's not that that's going to allow Atlanta to win, either.
Barber gets a lot of up-and-down treatment by the media due to inconsistency and injury concerns, but with Felix Jones and Tashard Choice both behind him and both a year older, the Cowboys will be plenty effective on the ground.
What is going to decide this contest is the lines—specifically the D-lines, and the special teams.
The fact of the matter is, even if Jamaal is playing like a lump at this point (I wouldn't expect him to be on the field much in that case, but we're talking worst-case scenario here), our boys still will have more energy.
Meanwhile, so-so coverage units matched up with Douglas and Norwood always spell trouble, and return-by-committee (who is it, Dallas? Austin? Jones? Crayton? Jenkins?) will at most hit one "home run" against solid Atlanta defenders.
With much respect to Dallas, as I like how the team is cleaning up its image and remaining very talented, I'm going to say the Falcons do this thing in the Lone Star and make Brooking wish he hadn't left.
That being said, I pray our O-line is still intact when we face the boys in blue. I know about the nightmare that is Ware.
Prediction: Falcons 28, Cowboys 24
Week Nine: This is the Real Color Red
To me, the 'Skins are sufferers; they've crafted plenty good squads, especially over the last few years, but always been cruelly selected by fate to experience a weird, inopportune slide or to have a divisional rival jump out of nowhere and overtake them.
Washington fans are probably about ready to choke me at this point, so I'll get along with it: I'm a bit fond of this club, but I won't let my feelings cloud my judgment. They have the least realistic shot of making the playoffs of all the NFC East teams.
Of course, that certainly doesn't mean they don't have a shot; it just means, there are reasons why they're being picked for the bottom of the barrel in this savage division.
They've got a young quarterback who only some (among which I happen to be one, but I digress) believe in. It's odd, because Jason Campbell is clearly an intelligent, collected person, yet his play comes off as bipolar.
In Week Nine, he could be going up or going down, but he will definitely be in flux; on the other hand, the Falcons rush will be all the more in-synch by that point.
Their receivers, whether for lack of quality QB play or individual slumps, have not been putting up the numbers they're capable of.
Chris Cooley will seemingly always do what he does well, but Santana Moss lost a lot in the second half last season, and Randle El is showing his limitations more and more these days.
That lack of threat will allow the safeties of our still-coalescing secondary to key in on the run and simplify things.
The Falcons offense will want to use and reuse the drop and over-the-top passes to Tony Gonzalez, as the D.C. 'backing corps isn't particularly great (especially in coverage), and no one in the secondary can match Tony's size.
Meanwhile, Albert Haynesworth and Michael Turner will wage a war that I think will eventually go to the cerebral and selective Burner.
I'll certainly admit that I'm nervous about Peria Jerry trying to clog up Clinton Portis, but I find solace in the fact that Mike Peterson will be making a lot of on-field calls and getting Nicholas to where he needs to be. We've always got Lofton after them, too.
Washington largely has the same roster that made the '07 playoffs, and I loved that team, but this contest being in the Dome tips it our way for sure.
Prediction: Falcons 34, Redskins 17
Week 11: Scratching and Clawing at the G-Men
So that we're clear, I would have preferred to see 19-0 in my lifetime. You know, just something to tell the grandkids...
But the Giants are an awesome team. Maybe not quite as good as some of you fanboys think, but I'm hard-pressed to come up with an NFC squad that is clearly "superior."
Most of the talk is about the D, and rightfully so, but when I think of this NY team, I think more of the trenches.
Not to take anything away from LBs Antonio Pierce and Michael Boley (*cough*traitor*cough*) or CBs Webster and Ross, but the four men on the front and the five that mirror them on O are the true superstars.
From LT Dave Diehl to underrated C Shaun O'Hara over to the two ends your QB ain't never gonna forget, Tuck and Umenyiora, it's the big guys who have the big names and do the big work on this roster.
I'm not saying there isn't a little skill, too. Having someone with the last name "Manning" at QB is a blessing, no matter if he's the older or younger, and you should know that by now, naysayers.
And while one might think the three-back system took a hit with Derrick Ward leaving, they're actually just as prepared with either Andre Brown or Danny Ware picking up some slack.
And I could go on, get into the coaching staff, but perhaps I ought to actually address the matchup...
There are some things to take to heart, Falcons faithful. Any "weakness" of our secondary will be difficult for the Giants to expose, considering their hodgepodge of receivers.
Of course, by Week 11, they'll likely have things hammered out, but we're still better off than if a concentrated Plaxico Burress were on the field.
And also, I'd give Turner a decent chance at breaking out on a few in this game; the interior of NY's defense is just slightly softer than the outside, and if Mike can make it to the second level and past a LB (likely Danny Clark, a good run stopper), he'll just need to blow by two baby safeties (Phillips and Johnson) to see the end zone.
But as they say, reality bites, and those two things are not going to be enough to make Atlanta triumphant in Giants Stadium in late November.
I'm not positive NY will even match last year's 12-4 regular season record, but they'll be a better team because they'll have fewer distractions. That will allow them to avoid the late slump they suffered in '08.
In other words, we could very likely be the first casualty of a seven-game win streak that they end their regular campaign on.
Prediction: Giants 24, Falcons 10
Week 13: Fight Between "Birds of a Feather"
I think everyone knows the Eagles have some things to work out. By the same token, I think everyone knows that should the Eagles work out just half of those things, they're gonna be good—like NFC-Championship good.
The team needs to know exactly where Donovan McNabb's head is at. I for one am not terribly concerned; he's a dynamic talent with a dynamic personality, but he is not a diva ala former partner T.O.
And even if he is a bit disgruntled (still steaming over the benching? The word is that maybe he is, maybe he isn't), he's still got the potential to be a top-five quarterback.
By Week 13, Philly will have their answer, and the Falcons secondary will have their young hands full trying to figure him out.
The team also needs to know just how much they can get out of a young receiving corps. It was good to see DeSean Jackson play as well as he did in his first pro year, but he needs help. The last time the Eagles were truly set at receiver was in '04.
Then again, considering who they had back then, were they really set? They can't strike rookie receiver gold twice: Maclin will not be a star right away. The Falcons can outperform them catching the ball.
And finally, the Eagles must ask themselves just how much they will miss veterans Tra Thomas and Brian Dawkins.
I don't feel so bad about losing a 13th-year tackle when the projected group of five all have either five or six years' experience, but I'm not so sure Asante Samuel or Quintin Mikell can set the tone for the D the way Dawkins did.
But again, this is Week 13 we're talking about. Things will largely be sorted out. Either that, or the Eagles will have wasted tremendous potential.
The thing about this late-season Atlanta—Philadelphia match-up for me is the well-roundedness of the Eagles' D.
Home-field won't be enough when there are just no glaring holes, except for maybe the aforementioned leadership, but when has Andy Reid ever let a unit run willy-nilly?
I have full faith that we can rotate the offensive attack to accentuate situational strengths, but I do not think we'll actually punch it in enough times to have more points on the board than Brian Westbrook puts up.
Of course, he could be hurt (though that would be just awful), in which case we could manage. As long as he's clicking, though, the Philly offense will click enough to notch just a few more.
Prediction: Eagles 24, Falcons 21
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