The Atlanta Falcons made national headlines on Tuesday with news that Peter King of Sports Illustrated picked the Falcons to win the Super Bowl. Really?
Don’t get me wrong, the Falcons are a good team. You don’t just go 13-3 in the NFL. But Super Bowl champions?
Since last season the Falcons have improved. The addition of Julio Jones takes pressure off of Roddy White, which was a must. Additionally, once he’s fully healthy, Ray Edwards should help strengthen a pass rush that his been non-existent in recent years. Well, at least with players not named John Abraham.
But, I’ll ask it once again. Super Bowl?
The Falcon’s problems last season stemmed from two areas. A lack of explosive plays on offense and a poor pass defense.
In regards to the lack of explosive plays, those close to the Falcons have given two explanations. Most agree that the Falcons needed a play-making receiver who could get open downfield. Some pointed to the possibility that Matt Ryan simply doesn’t have the arm strength to push the ball down the field. The answer is probably a combination of the two. The question is, though—has either problem been fixed?
Julio Jones will certainly improve the passing game, but does he really make that many plays down the field? In college, Jones had a knack for turning a ten yard pass into a 20 yard gain. But, for the ability he showed gaining yards after the catch, he never showed the body control with the ball in the air or the sure hands it takes to be a major down field threat.
Undoubtedly, this can partially be attributed to his quarterbacks. Don’t be fooled into thinking he’s Randy Moss though. I’m not saying he’s not a good receiver. However, those who watched him at Alabama know he didn’t have an extraordinary number of down field catches in his career.
As for Ryan, arm strength is a question. His quarterback rating of 91 ranked 11th among NFL quarterbacks last season. His yards per attempt of 6.5 ranked 27th in the NFL, behind quarterbacks such as Chad Henne, Alex Smith and John Kitna.
In his fourth season, Ryan will no longer be praised for his potential. Rather, he will now be compared to the NFL elite. Unless he can start pushing the ball down the field more effectively, elite will not describe him.
For the much more maligned Falcon’s defense, pass defense has been the issue. Once again, blame cannot be solely put in one place. Both the defensive line and backfield under-performed last season.
In his first season with the Falcons, Dunta Robinson admittedly didn’t play up to his standards. Brent Grimes, who’s been the subject of much criticism, was a pleasant surprise, being named to his first Pro-Bowl.
The secondary was young and inconsistent. But for my money, the defensive line was the bigger issue.
A good pass rush can make an average secondary look good and a good secondary look great. Last season, the Falcons' 31 sacks ranked 20th in the NFL. 13 of those sacks came from John Abraham who, at 33, isn’t getting any younger. Ray Edwards should improve the pass rush, but by no means would I call this defensive line dynamic.
Even with all these questions, the Falcons should be an improved team, although their record may not show it. They should be more explosive on offense, the pass rush should improve and a young secondary should play better.
Barring injury, the Falcons will make the playoffs and certainly have a chance to go to the Super Bowl. For those who think it's time to pencil them in, expectations need to be tempered.
Will the Falcons win a Super Bowl in the near future? The chances are relatively good. Will they win it this year? Maybe, maybe not.