June 6, 2012; Flowery Branch, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons players break the team huddle on the field during organized team activities at the Falcons training facility. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE
Despite keeping several free agents, hiring two new coordinators and upgrading in areas of need, the Falcons are still sit on the playoff's edge in the eyes of many. Is this fair, or simply the product of an intimidating NFC?
Power rankings are always a tricky thing. Easy to formulate, easy to talk about, but hard to back up in a lot of cases. A few teams usually get shafted, and in this case the Falcons fit into that category.
What matters, however, are not the actually rankings. Is there actually cause to worry? Is there an easily foreseeable problem that could hinder this team down the road in December and January (assuming they make the playoffs again)?
Last season, we know it was the offensive line. That was painfully evident as early as week one when the Bears sacked Matt Ryan five times, recovered two Atlanta fumbles and held the team to zero offensive touchdowns. And even then, we knew that it was a problem without a quick fix.
Heading into 2012, PFT again cites the offensive line as a potential problem area. I'd have to disagree: an apparently "healthy" Sam Baker (he was well below 100% all season) combined with the addition of Peter Konz would hopefully improve the two weakest positions on the line.
Another concern, however, is the age of this team and their ability to continue producing late in the season. Stalwarts like John Abraham and Michael Turner have been excellent for the Falcons, but how long can we rely on Abe to post double-digit sack totals and Turner to rush for 1300 yards? Atlanta will need players to step up in both areas at some point, guys like Jacquizz Rodgers and Ray Edwards.
Finally, what we have to consider is the strength of this year's NFC. With the Packers, Bears, Lions, Falcons, Saints, Panthers, Giants, Eagles, Cowboys, 49ers and Seahawks, that's 11 teams that could potentially vie for six spots. A few teams are getting left out.
Still, the one major factor I see working in Atlanta's favor is the New Orleans Saints' offseason fiasco. Several columnists and writers have predicted the team will be "just fine" without its head coach... and its infamous defensive coordinator... and its star middle linebacker.
Yes, they still have Brees and a very impressive offense. But is that good enough to win 13 games again? I wouldn't count on it.
Coaching changes (or lack thereof) can have a bigger impact than most think. Hopefully the Falcons see such results after hiring Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan this offseason. To me, those were perhaps the most underrated decisions of the offseason.
With training camp less than a week away, only time will tell.