Once again, the Falcons will open their season on the road against a tough and underrated opponent.
Last year, it was an ugly loss to the Bears at Soldier Field. This year, Mike Smith's crew squares off against a Chiefs team that has received little hype so far. But they should be getting attention: they're dangerous, especially at home.
2011 Finish: 7-9 (missed playoffs), No. 27 offense, No. 11 defense
Notable Additions: RB Peyton Hillis, CB Stanford Routt, OT Eric Winston, TE Kevin Boss, NT Dontari Poe (draft pick)
Notable Losses: CB Brandon Carr, DT Kelly Gregg, RB Thomas Jones, FB Le'Ron McClain, LB Demorrio Williams
The Chiefs of last season were a team of ups and downs. A slew of injuries and a stagnant offense were among their chief (get it) ailments.
Todd Haley very quickly wore out his welcome in Kansas City, and his late-season firing would leave room for Romeo Crennel to take over as interim and finally full-time head coach.
Crennel, almost as underrated as his team, will continue to lead a defense that was sixth in passing yards allowed and finished just outside of the top ten. A unit that held the then-undefeated Packers to 14 points in a week 15 victory.
Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles and former SEC star Eric Berry will all return healthy. They made some nice acquisitions with the signing of guys like Routt and Winston, along with drafting the massive and high-upside Dontari Poe out of Memphis.
All in all, they are a team poised to break out this season, and should present a surprising challenge to the unfamiliar Falcons fan on Opening Sunday. But despite having home-field advantage, the Falcons should once again prove that they are excellent at beating teams they are supposed to.
Cassel, for all his success in 2010, was little more than inconsistent in 2010. If the Falcons can maintain pressure either via blitz or with their interior linemen and force him play the dink-and-dunk game, they'll have a much better shot at winning.
On the other side of the ball, cornerbacks Routt and Brandon Flowers should present some stiff competition for the Falcons receivers. But with a much weaker linebacking corps by comparison, the Falcons should be able to steal a throwback victory from Arrowhead by keeping it on the ground with Turner and Rodgers.
It'll be tough. It'll be ugly. It'll probably be low-scoring. But the Falcons will pull away with a win over a Chiefs squad that's much better than people seem to think.