The Atlanta Falcons are one of those teams, similar to the Houston Texans, that can go right back into the elite of the NFL in 2014. Injuries to both Roddy White & Julio Jones & Stephen Jackson getting used to the new offense coming over from the St. Louis Rams, derailed the Falcons run back to the NFC Championship game, where they were in 2012 before losing to the eventual SuperBowl 47 champion San Francisco 49ers.
On offense, the team has Jones & White back fully healthy & they are without question, the best receiver duo in the entire NFL, hands down. Brandon Marshall & Alshon Jeffery are close, but Jones & White are incredibly explosive down the field & have proven it on a consistent basis, week in, week out.
In the running game, this will count as the official start of the Stephen Jackson-era in Atlanta. Jackson never got going last year because of learning the offense & some rough injuries. This year, Jackson should be able to get his legs back, along with having help from Jacquizz Rodgers, being the scat back out of the backfield & catching screen passes to push the offense & also be a bit of an extension of the running game.
Of course, the man getting the ball to these playmakers will be 6th year quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan has now become the franchise player with the Falcons & with his extension, Ryan is going to have much more pressure on him to be able to get to the NFC Championship Game again & possibly further. Ryan is one of the greatest home regular-season quarterbacks of the modern-era, but he has to show that he can get further in the playoff run & Ryan will have to show that he is on the level of Drew Brees & Cam Newton in his own division. Hopefully having a consistent running game & few injuries will help Ryan take that next step into elite-level territory.
On defense, let’s be honest, the Falcons are absolutely terrible, & it doesn’t look as though the team got much better. Osi Umeniyora was not as big of a factor last season as the Falcons would have hoped with only 7.5 sacks, the 3rd lowest of his career, & the Falcons secondary hasn’t stopped anyone, as they were ranked 31st against the pass last season & 21st against the run.
If the defense continues to allow big points, especially to teams like the Saints & Carolina Panthers, the Falcons are going to be an 8-8 team & the questions about the defensive efforts will continue & Ryan, fairly or unfairly, will get most of the blame.
I see the Falcons being better because the offense should be much healthier, but this is not a playoff team right now.