I feel only three things can derail the Falcons season, and at this point none of them seem so dire that I have a pessimistic outlook. And by derail, I mean make the team a lot less competitive than most people and experts think. While we haven’t gotten into the full swing of 2009 NFL predictions, but come August, I expect the Falcons to be the hot, new sexy pick for many experts and analysts as representing the NFC in the Super Bowl next year. So not living up those expectations aren’t really what I’m talking about. I’m more in the mindset of things that could go wrong that could keep the team out of the playoffs and/or make them finish a few (or several) games under .500.
1. Injuries – The Falcons have stayed relatively healthy the past two seasons and you wonder if they can continue that stretch for another year. Every season there is always at least one team that is a strong playoff contender that misses the boat in January because of injuries. Last year, it’s easy to figure the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars were those teams. The Patriots lost the best player in the league by the name of Mr. Brady. And the Jags had three of their starting offensive linemen injured, making their offense which was already a one-trick pony in terms of running the ball, unable to consistently perform that trick.
At this point, any serious or long-term injuries to either Matt Ryan or Michael Turner I think could significantly hurt the team’s offense. While their backups (Redman and Norwood) shouldn’t be completely lost if forced to be long-term replacements, their presences in the lineup would make the team fairly one-dimensional in terms of either running or throwing the ball.
Also injuries on the defense could be catastrophic. Few expect the defense to be great anyways, but an injury here and there could really stretch an arguably already thin defense even further.
Which leads me to my next point of:
2. Defensive Collapse – I don’t forsee the Falcons defense being strong, but if the offense is up to par, they only have to be decent. Keeping the opponent under 20 points really is all that is probably necessary to win most games if the offense is as good as most people expect. And if the offense is as good as Trent Dilfer expects, we might only have to keep opponents under 30.
The lynch pin for the defense probably will be another healthy year by John Abraham. It seems doubtful with so much youth on the defense, that any of the young guys will be ready to be that steady impact playmaker that Abraham was last year. The defense obviously fed off Abraham last year, and will probably need to do so.
But if the Falcons defense winds up being pretty bad this year, then even if the offense is “Dilfer-good” then getting into shoot-outs isn’t exactly what this coaching staff wants to do. Nobody wants to be the ’08 Broncos reincarnated.
And this leads me to the final, and probably least likely…
3. Bad Coaching – There were many times last year where fans and analysts could second-guess some of Coach Smith’s decisions late in games. Really the only way this because a glaring issue this year if those opportunities arise almost every week. To me, this is a remote possibility. While I think there will certainly be times when Falcons message boards are abuzz with questioning and debating some crunch-time decisions, I don’t think it will be to a degree where we will say it cost us the season. It may happen in two or three games, but hopefully those won’t be two or three wins needed to get this team into the playoffs.
Obviously, there’s a possibility for a perfect storm of these things and ruining the Falcons season. In the past, I might have been so pessimistic to expect this. After all, it is the Falcons we are talking about. And somewhere the football gods must be scheming to continue the dreaded curse of not winning in consecutive years. But those were the old days. I think all three of these issues may hurt the team at various times, but I wouldn’t say they will plague us this year. In the end, and I must note it’s not even the 4th of July, I think the Falcons will make the playoffs at least as a wildcard and break the curse.
After all, I think the football gods will have their hands full with T.O. in Buffalo this year, and continuing to stick it to Cleveland, and will just skip over us.