falteam

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Last year: 4-12, tied for last in NFC South

Acquisitions: Devin Hester, Jake Matthews, Tyson Jackson, Bear Pascoe

Departures: Tony Gonzalez, Asante Samuel, Thomas DeCoud, Jeremy Trueblood

Already critical injury: Sean Weatherspoon

Vegas 2014 win total over/under: 8.5 wins

Verdict: UNDER

dimitroffbike

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Five things that have been kind of watchable during Falcons “Hard Knocks”:

– Ricardo Allen’s swollen testicle story time.

– Tyler Starr’s kid making fun of his dad on the field.

– Mike Smith wearing mandals in the office.

– Mike Smith trying to swear.

– Mike Smith chiding players for fighting then telling them to fight more but calling it “being physical”.

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Fan forecast by Steven Godfrey:

In six seasons under head coach Mike Smith and G.M. Thomas Dimitroff, the Falcons salvaged Roddy White, groomed Matt Ryan, landed Tony Gonzalez in his prime and sold the house for Julio Jones. That wins you 5 Super Bowls in a 7-on-7 league, but concerns in niche areas like “pass protection” and “run blocking” and “the whole goddamn defense” have somewhat muted the success of this franchise

That and the bore-you-to-tears play calling. No self-respecting Atlanta fan wants to admit this, but the fantasy of Sean Payton calling plays for Atlanta’s offensive weapons is a tawdry, forbidden fantasy we allow ourselves now and again. Dirk Koetter replaced Mike Mularkey as offensive coordinator to much acclaim, but that’s only because he calls screen passes. Oh my! /blushes

To compensate for last year’s 4-12 implosion, Atlanta hired another G.M. ostensibly to just evaluate line talent, and then spent their first round pick on tackle Jake Matthews. He’s now plugged in as a Week 1 starter on the left side because of the freshly re-injured Sam Baker, premiere false start machine and a former first round pick from USC. He’s the Matt Lienart of first round USC lineman busts, but that’s a comparison that makes you feel like you’re being too hard on Matt Lienart, which in turn is another reason to hate Baker.

Dimitroff is almost prescient in his ability to create the worst ROI possible on veteran free agent signings. Remember Ray Edwards? Dunta Robinson? Of course you don’t, because you’re not a Falcons fan. The current flavor is Steven Jackson, who spent 2013 nursing a hamstring and notching a career-low 3.5 yards a carry behind the aforementioned putrid line. He’s already injured heading into ‘14, so expect rookie Devonta Freeman to permanently win the starting job no later than Week 5.

Defensively this team is finally committed to playing a 3-4 with actual 3-4 personnel, except with a lot of rookies and no safeties. The Falcons don’t really have safeties and didn’t sign any top free agent safeties. Just… didn’t. The best linebacker on the roster is Sean Weatherspoon, and he’s out for the year. Osi Umenyiora is still the best chance this team has to pressure passers like Drew Brees, but he’s being saved exclusively as a third down option due to age. He’s the Steven Jackson of the defense!

These are all the bad things. The one good thing – the best thing – is that Ryan can throw the ball very well to the best pair of receivers in the league. Expect White to move into the slot this season and replace the retired Gonzalez. The most interesting storyline of training camp should be the 3 and 4 WR spots, but ceaseless major injuries across the roster feel like we’re just prepping for another 2013 season.

The Falcons will always have a chance at the playoffs if Ryan, Jones and White are all healthy and have time, but without some kind of revelation on defense they’ll never win the title needed to substantiate this franchise.