In 2009, we saw the unthinkable happen.
The New Orleans Saints finally won the Super Bowl.
While the city of New Orleans partied long and hard and wore out the concrete on the infamous Bourbon Street, one team was left to dwell in its own sadness after a disappointing 2009 season ended.
I'm talking, of course, about New Orleans' No. 1 rival, their across-state foes, the Atlanta Falcons.
Sure, it isn't as heated as it used to be, but given both teams have talented quarterbacks and explosive offenses that, when mixed together, provide an eyebrow-raising game full of touchdowns and great plays, the Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints rivalry is set for a very big 2010.
But why is it that all of a sudden the Atlanta Falcons are considered to be contenders once again?
In the past, 9-7 teams often undergo scrutiny and questioning in the offseason and analysts put forward the old and simple adage of "They really need to do well in the draft." While much of this is true for the Atlanta Falcons, it isn't the draft that is looking to be the talking point for Atlanta.
It's running back Michael Turner's healthy return from injury.
In 2009, Michael Turner posted poor stats by his standards. Injured midway through the season with a knee ailment, the Falcons noticeably felt the sting of not having their veteran running back around to keep their young and inexperienced offense stable, and as a result the offense struggled to keep moving the chains.
But Michael is back and he couldn't have chosen a more perfect time to make his triumphant return. After watching Michael for many years and developing a solid appreciation for what he brings to the game of football, it became clear that Michael isn't just your average "ground and pound" type running back.
He is just something else.
A combination of speed, power, strength, and overall enthusiasm for the team that surrounds him, Michael Turner reminds me a lot of Mark Ingram with the Alabama Crimson Tide. Loving football, and loving playing.
So what does Michael Turner bring to a rivalry that has been lacking a spark in the past year? Sure, he brings a great run game, but instead it's more important to realize that he simply boosts Atlanta's chances of beating the powerhouse-type team in the New Orleans Saints.
In the past five years, the rivalry has been fairly even. But now that New Orleans has a Super Bowl win under their belt and a convincing grasp on the NFC South, Atlanta must start out strong in 2010 if they have any hope of toppling New Orleans.
With that said, it is no guarantee that the Saints are going to excel next year. Hell, if Darren Sharper leaves, the Saints defense will be lacking in playmakers. However, for the most part New Orleans are solid favorites to take out the South crown.
As for Michael Turner, well, the league is his for the taking once again. In 2009 prior to his injury, it did seem that Turner was on the right track. Finishing up with 871 yards and 10 touchdowns, it was a shame that we didn't get to experience the Michael Turner journey for the full 16 games.
The other side of this story is since Michael Turner's absence, running back Chris Johnson is the favored man about the league, and unfortunately Michael Turner may have to take a backseat to the Tennessee Titans star.
Adrian Peterson is also worth mentioning here, but I do feel that his postseason display has taken him off of the map recently. Therefore, Michael Turner just needs to do what he does well.
Play football, smash it up, and just score points.
Matt Ryan missed him, Roddy White missed him, and the Falcons fans sure as hell ached for him when the Falcons were struggling. From 9-7 to possibly 10-6, or better yet 11-5? It's possible, and with Michael Turner back, the NFC South is back to how it used to be.
One thing is for sure, when we get excited about the Falcons, they don't deliver. Let's just hope a new decade, a new era and a new offense proves the old theory of "Atlanta are could be's" totally wrong.
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