Reasons To Believe
1. Armed And Dangerous - Matt Ryan threw for 4,177 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2011 as Atlanta ranked fourth in passes attempted. A team that was once reliant on their running game has opened up the playbook throwing to Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. Jacquizz Rodgers is a dynamic back that can catch swing passes and take them to the house. The Falcons offence has all the elements to finally compete with the likes of Green Bay and New Orleans.
2. From Weakness To Strength - Asante Samuel joins a secondary that finished 20th in the NFL against the pass. By acquiring Samuel via trade, the Falcons now have three corners - Samuel, Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson - to help combat passing attacks. Samuel may be on the downside his career, but his presence helps bump everyone a notch down the depth chart, ultimately upgrading Atlanta's secondary.
3. Take It Easy - No one knows exactly how difficult a schedule will be before the season starts, but on paper Atlanta might owe the schedule makers a gift of some sort. Prior to their Week 7 bye, the Falcons face the all four teams from the AFC West, as well as the Redskins and Panthers. Not to set the bar too high, but there is a chance Atlanta reaches their bye week undefeated.
Reasons To Doubt
1. Who's On Deck? - If Ryan is sidelined at any point in the year, Luke McCown would be thrust into the starting lineup. Chris Redman was released in camp and the team brought in McCown to serve as the new backup. McCown will take some time to learn the system, but he is a slight upgrade on the departing Redman.
2. Centre of Attention - Curtis Lofton is no longer manning the centre of Atlanta's defence after leaving the team in free agency. That could be a significant loss considering Lofton was a dependable tackler and a leader on the defensive side of the ball. Third round pick Akeem Dent will get the first chance to start, with veteran Mike Peterson there as a safety net.
3. Down To A Flicker - Turner was well worth the free agent contract the Falcons signed him for to lure him away from the Chargers in 2008. Turner has averaged more than four yards per carry and scored double digit touchdowns ever since he arrived in Atlanta. However, those days may be coming to a quick end in 2012. Turner faded badly down the stretch last season, aside from a huge output against a Buccaneers team that had given up on their coach. The Falcons will need the younger, quicker Rodgers to step up and help keep the run game productive.
What To Expect
Even with Turner falling off, the Falcons are more than capable of challenging for the NFC Championship. New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter plans to set the passing attack loose to maximize the talents of the team's skill players. Assuming the defence is able to hold their own, Atlanta should return to the post-season and put up more of a fight than they have in their last two playoff outings.