Matt Ryan is 20-10 as a starter in his first two seasons under center. That's a .667 winning percentage for you math majors. He is 12-3 at home, minus the Tampa Bay game in which they won, but he didn't finish due to injury. If you look at the Falcons' schedule, most of their toughest games will be in Atlanta against the likes of New Orleans, Green Bay, Baltimore and Cincinnati. They will face Philadelphia without Donovan McNabb, Arizona without Kurt Warner and Pittsburgh without Ben Roethlisberger in week one. Ryan plays well under pressure, most notably both games at Giants Stadium last season when he threw clutch touchdowns to Tony Gonzalez. With the home crowd behind him in what could be his toughest games of the year, the Dirty Birds stand a good chance of getting those "12 or 13 wins" Ryan says he envisions them getting.
The 2009 season ended, and the new year of 2010 began on a good note when the Falcons defeated lowly Tampa Bay on the road, thus giving the team its first consecutive winning seasons in franchise history. That is a stunning and remarkable stat considering they've been in the league since 1966, the same year as the inception of the Miami Dolphins who they ironically beat in week one last season. Head coach Mike Smith stressed to his players and the media that this was the first win of the new year and they should consider themselves undefeated in 2010 so far. His sideline spat with Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall and his awesome headphone-slamming rant versus the Saints (disputing a bad pass interference call that eventually ended up costing the Falcons 7 points) were two great ways for the team to buy into and rally behind their now third-year coach. As I previously mentioned, their schedule is much more favorable, with a bye in week 8 and only one opponent coming off a bye in the Bengals. In 2009 they faced the Giants, Redskins, Cowboys, and Bears all coming off byes, eventually adding up to having the NFL's fourth toughest schedule. This year, they face only one Pro-Bowl quarterback, minus Aaron Rodgers' selection due to injury, in Drew Brees.
Want more irony? You probably don't, but here it goes. Guess what the final score was of the Falcons' last game of the 2009 season, and first of 2010? If you guessed 20-10, you get a smiley sticker! I think Atlanta running back Jason Snelling knew what he was doing when he rushed for a first down inside the Tampa Bay 25-yard line, then slid down to kill the clock with about 2:20 to go. The score at the time was 17-10 and moments later former Buccaneers kicker Matt Bryant booted the Falcons into the history books.
With these facts and some not-so facts presented here to you, it's a tough argument to counter. The Falcons will definitely need to beat the Saints at least once and finally down Carolina in Charlotte after losing there the last couple of seasons. Their road record must improve. Injuries happen, but they will try to avoid the season-ending ones that hurt them in important places last season. The offense is experienced and seasoned and can put up points, but the defense will need to force turnovers like New Orleans did at an alarming rate last year. There is a lot of 'ifs,' but one thing is for certain: The Atlanta Falcons are ready to make a serious power move.
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