Here we sit, one week before the "warmup games" begin. In the editions to date of DDDB, I've broken down our AFC East and NFC East matchups, given you the heads-up on potential breakout players, talked (with myself) about Michael Turner's second-year production, and evaluated the impact of the Harry Douglas injury.
Before that (back when the column didn't sport this cool name), I gave everyone an earful about Tony Gonzalez, the coaching staff, the divisional rivalries, the linebacking corps, etc.
I doubt you need to hear again that Roddy White has ended his holdout (way to go, both sides), and I refuse to write on Michael Vick. It's not that he doesn't deserve to play or that his destination is unimportant; it's just that he's, well, not a Falcon anymore.
So what to write on until later this week, when it's time to preview our super-exciting preseason-opening showdown with the Lions?
Week Five: Down by the Bay
Hey, 49ers fans, you got your share of excitement back in the day. Take your decade in the doldrums like men, OK?
I say this completely tongue-in-cheek, of course, as for all the talent that's on this roster, San Fran should be reemerging by now. Despite a strong finish to last season and a new offensive coordinator that fits the personnel better, '09 will not be when the pain ends.
Jimmy Raye has a philosophy that suits these players a heck of a lot better than Mike Martz's schemes did, but the fact remains that Shaun Hill (or Alex Smith, or J.T. O'Sullivan, or maybe just Steve Young's left arm) is not a suitable quarterback for a playoff team, or even an 8-8 team.
Besides, who's he going to throw to? A pile of money with googly eyes that the team saves by not signing Michael Crabtree?
John Abraham will have his way with an O-line that is too young in spots and unreliable in others; heck, maybe even Jamaal Anderson will get some penetration.
I've always liked Frank Gore, but if you can look me in the eye and say that he alone will manage to move the ball downfield against our decently deep defensive line and LBs Mike Peterson and Curtis Lofton, I'll still not believe you.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, the Burner will get to at least the second level on most rushes, as the S.F. D-line focuses way too much on pass rushing. Sure, Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes will do a decent job stopping him, but only after he's picked up six or seven.
By this point in the season, Matt Ryan will be comfortable enough with his targets to mix up over-the-tops to Gonzo with mid- to long-range bombs to Michael Jenkins and Roddy White. He'll be "picking apart" underachieving Nate Clements, old-as-dirt Walt Harris, and a generally bad-in-coverage safety unit, anyway.
Sorry to be so down on you, Niners, but this is the way it's going to be. The Dirty Birds are going to come to your place and show you just how far ahead the NFC South is.
Prediction: Falcons 35, 49ers 10
Week Six: More Like the Chicago Chipmunks
Sorry, just had to include a quote from one of the funniest movies of all time (first to identify it gets a pat on the back!). Seriously, this Bears team is even better than last season, when they proved they weren't very far removed from their '06 Super Bowl runner-up incarnation, but I see them coming up just short when they have to play us in the Dome.
I'm so tired of the talk it hurts to type the name, but Jay Cutler (ouch!) truly is a huge step up. Any personality or mental issues aside, he is the type of talent Chi-town has been searching for at QB for quite some time now, and him plus another productive season from Matt Forte could really equal a great offense to go with that classic Bears D if...
He didn't have the same problem as the multi-headed signal caller in San Fran, in that he has no one to pass the ball to. Don't get me wrong; I know Devin Hester has the ability to be a No. 1 and am a firm believer in SEC talent like Earl Bennett, but, um, hello guys, is anyone home?
A lack of targets means this offense is just too easy to predict; I could definitely see them punishing us on a few plays, but unless Cutler has instilled new confidence in his wideouts and Forte gets all the blocking he needs, they're going to be just too inconsistent to score more than three times on us.
Meanwhile, Turner will be just effective enough to keep these still-very-good Bears 'backers honest. Of course, none of them can handle Tony G on their own, so that'll keep things open as well, but I'm fairly sure Michael will get his against an unstable (Dusty Dvoracek) and increasingly one-dimensional (Adewale Ogunleye) defensive line.
A bit of a disclaimer, though: He must watch out for Tommie Harris, but you knew that already, didn't you?
The Bears' secondary is obviously the Achilles' heel of the D, as both corners and one safety are all injury concerns, and FS Josh Bullocks never impressed in the Big Easy. Much like Hester, Nathan Vasher has the physical tools to succeed, but he's not capitalizing. Bad news is, unlike Devin, Nate won't directly benefit from the arrival of Cutler.
Turner will at best just get to triple digits in rushing, and Matty only might sniff 200, but the varied attack and the stops on defense will be enough for the Falcons to overcome.
Prediction: Falcons 31, Bears 21