Here we are, folks! Less than a month away from regular season football, and less than month until the Falcons kick off the 2011 season in Chicago. While they didn't exactly impress anyone with their performance in the NFC Championship game against Green Bay, the Bears certainly won't be a walk in the park either. The Falcons will need to show up big in week one to affirm to the rest of the league that this team will, in fact, live up to its preseason hype.
Record: Went 11-5 in 2010, lost NFC Championship game
Performance: 30th ranked offense, 9th ranked defense (2nd against the run)
Additions: WR Roy Williams, RB Marion Barber, DT Amobi Okoye, LB Vernon Gholston, OT Gabe Carimi
Losses: C Olin Kreutz, TE Greg Olsen, S Danieal Manning
While the Bears struggled to find offensive consistency, they had somewhat of a renaissance of the old defense that took them to the Superbowl in 2006. Urlacher, Briggs, and Peppers headlines a stout Bears D that kept them in almost every game. While Jay Cutler didn't exactly thrive in Mike Martz's offense behind a less-than-sturdy offensive line, he also wasn't as bad as in 2009. Hey, at least they got the better QB when they traded Orton (...right?).
Fast forward to 2011, and we find the Falcons opening up their season on the road against a tough, defensive-minded opponent. In many ways, I expect this game to be similar to last year's Steelers game: a touch, hard-fought, agonizingly low-scoring game. Field goals will play a big part in this one.
However, I feel like this year's Falcons offense will be one that teams just can't shut down for four quarters. With Roddy, Julio, Douglas, and a hopefully healthy Kerry Meier, teams will have their hands full deciding who to cover. Oh ya, that Gonzalez guy is still pretty good too. The defense can hem in Turner, true, but our revamped receiving corps outclasses a so-so Chicago secondary.
To conclude, while the Bears defense can keep this game close, I predict that a combination of some explosive wideout play and Brent Grimes' knack for picking off the mistake-prone Bears' QB will lead to a decisive Falcons' win to start off 2011 on the right foot. Don't worry, you'll get to see Mr. Cutler in all his pouting glory on a hi-def TV screen soon enough Falcons fans.