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High Expectations For a Rare Breed of Atlanta Falcons

Ricky DimonCorrespondent IMay 26, 2009

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 30:   Running back Michael Turner #33 prepares to enter the game against the San Diego Chargers during their NFL Game on November 30, 2008 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

The words “Atlanta Falcons” and “losing” have gone hand and throughout the years. Save for brief period of excitement during the Michael Vick era, season after season the Falcons have been expected to finish under .500.

Until now.

Football fans won’t make the same mistake they made heading into last season in terms of discounting the Falcons. The Sporting News predicted in Atlanta to finish 1-15. It was only off by 10 games.

If the Falcons enjoyed debunking myths of their perceived atrocity last season, they won’t be able to the same this time around. Instead, the Falcons will be dealing with expectations of a different sort.

This season, the Falcons are being hailed as potential Super Bowl representatives out of the NFC. It’s safe to say that I am not alone in expecting Atlanta to reach the playoffs.

I, for one, am not willing to go beyond that with my expectations. If you expect something to happen, it means you will be surprised if it does not come to fruition.

Yes, I will be surprised if the Falcons miss the playoffs. Will I be surprised if they don’t win the Super Bowl? No. Will I be surprised if they don’t make it to the Super Bowl? No.

So I expect them to make the playoffs. Would I be surprised to see them reach the Super Bowl and even win the thing? Absolutely not. But I certainly don’t expect it as a probability.

For a moribund franchise such as that of the Atlanta Falcons, however, expectations to simply qualify for the playoffs are nothing short of colossal. But this 2009 team merits such hopes.

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The Falcons are coming off a season in which a new coach (Mike Smith), a new quarterback (Matt Ryan), and a new running back (Michael Turner) led them to an 11-5 record and an improbable berth in the playoffs.

Atlanta was even seconds away from winning the NFC South and getting a first-round bye, but John Kasay of the Carolina Panthers kicked a game-winning field goal in Week 17 to wrap up the division for his team.

As a result, the Falcons had to settle for a wildcard and go on the road in round one of playoffs, falling to eventual NFC Champion Arizona.

After a plethora of moves in the offseason, Atlanta looks poised for similar success in 2009. The corps of Atlanta’s offense—featuring Ryan, Turner, and receiver Roddy White,--is back. Not only that, but the team is welcoming future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez into the fold. Gonzalez will instantly become the franchise’s best tight end ever.

If the Falcons are unable to live up to lofty expectations, it will be a direct result of getting outscored in too many shootouts. Atlanta is going to score its points. But will it score enough?

The defense is heading into this season with myriad question marks. Gone are linebackers Keith Brooking and Michael Boley, safety Lawyer Milloy, defensive tackle Grady Jackson, and cornerback Domonique Foxworth.

From where will the answers come? Veteran Mike Peterson was signed to restore order to the linebacker corps, Peria Jerry was drafted in the first round to replace Jackson, and the Falcons picked safety William Moore in the second round to shore up the secondary.

Pressure will be on John Abraham and the defensive line to stop the run and terrorize opposing quarterbacks. If other teams have time to throw the football, Atlanta’s secondary is going to get feasted upon.

If the Falcons fail to reach the playoffs this season, they will only be able to look at themselves. No other team in the NFC South can compete with Atlanta’s talent.

The Panthers lost no critical players following their NFC South triumph in 2008, but they added little and are getting older. New Orleans boasts a record-setting quarterback in Drew Brees, but the Saints’ offense is not as balance as Atlanta’s and the defense has never been able to stop anyone. The Bucs, meanwhile, are making no secrets about being in complete overhaul mode.

When Gonzalez was traded to the Falcons in early April, he asked a rhetorical question rarely—maybe even never before—heard in the history of the Atlanta Falcons. “Who wouldn’t be excited to join that team,” Gonzalez remarked.

Seriously, when was the last time a player truly looked forward to being an Atlanta Falcon? Well, now they are. And it’s because the Falcons have their destiny in their own hands.

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