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2007 Season Previews
Atlanta Falcons (Last Year: 7-9)
Veteran Additions:
QB Joey Harrington, FB Ovie Mughelli, WR Joe Horn, OT Leander Jordan, G Toniu Fonoti, OLB Marcus Wilkins, CB Lewis Sanders.
Draft Picks:
FB Jason Snelling, WR Laurent Robinson, TE Martrez Milner, G Justin Blalock, C Doug Datish, DE Jamaal Anderson, DT Trey Lewis, OLB Stephen Nicholas, CB Chris Houston, CB David Irons, S Daren Stone.
Major Subtractions:
QB Matt Schaub (HOU), FB Justin Griffith (OAK), FB Fred McCrary, WR Ashley Lelie (SF), WR Jerome Pathon, TE Eric Beverly, G Matt Lehr, C Austin King, DE Patrick Kerney (SEA), OLB Ike Reese, MLB Edgerton Hartwell (CIN), CB Jason Webster (BUF), CB Chris Cash, CB Kevin Mathis, S Lance Schulters, K Morten Anderson.

Offense This Year: One of the funniest things I heard recently involved ESPN columnist Len Pasquarelli, or "Len Pasta Belly," as ProFootballTalk.com often dubs him. Pasquarelli, already renowned for his "Move on or Move Out" tactics, was a guest on Colin Cowherd's radio show. While talking about the Michael Vick situation, Cowherd asked Pasquarelli if the Falcons had a contingency plan. Pasquarelli responded with a tirade regarding the falsehood of the Trent Green-to-Atlanta rumors. After this lengthy rant, Cowherd replied, "Gosh, so the Falcons have no contingency." Pasquarelli nearly went into a feeding frenzy. He yelled, "They do have a contingency! He's named Joey Harrington. That's why they signed him!" Cowherd wisely remained silent on the matter, as Pasquarelli was undoubtedly eyeing him up as if he were a triple quarter-pounder with cheese.

Ladies and gentlemen, you're unbiased ESPN reporter. Right. If Len weren't biased he might have said something like this: "Well, the Falcons have Joey Harrington, which means they're doomed to go 4-12." Or maybe Len should have mentioned the fact that Harrington threw more picks (15) than touchdowns (12) last year, while completing only 5-of-17 passes for 20 yards and two interceptions at Buffalo, and 7-of-15 throws for 42 yards against the Jets in December. Harrington's Thanksgiving Day performance was just a flash in the pan; anyone could have done that against the woeful Lions.

Of course, everything changes if Michael Vick is found innocent and isn't suspended by Roger Goodell. But it's pretty difficult to see Vick going unscathed, given that the feds found the remains of Lassie and Old Yeller on his property. Even if Vick is completely guilt-free, which I seriously doubt, he still should be suspended for being stupid enough to associate himself with those who participate in dog fighting. I know guilt by association doesn't fly in the court of law, but it certainly can in Goodell's office.

Assuming Vick is gone for at least 10 games, the Falcons will have to rely on the running game. Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood have prospered in the past, but that was with Vick. Defenses couldn't concentrate on either runner because they were afraid of Vick's scrambling ability. Now, those same stop units will clog the box, forcing Harrington to beat them. I think it's safe to say the 32-year-old Dunn will struggle, while Norwood won't have much luck matching the 6.4 yards-per-carry average he maintained in 2006.

If Harrington's under center and the ground attack is shut down, the receivers will have to carry this offense. Alge Crumpler is one of the premier tight ends in the league; he notched 780 yards and eight touchdowns last year. Crumpler was Vick's only reliable target in 2006 - Roddy White led all wide outs with 506 yards - but that won't be the case for Harrington. Atlanta signed Joe Horn, who has been an outstanding receiver in this league for a long time. That said, Horn recently celebrated his 35th birthday. It wouldn't surprise me at all if his skills and stats continue to erode this season.

The offensive line is also in shambles. It's hard to believe that a quarterback as electrifying as Vick was sacked 45 times in a single year. How is that possible? How many times will Harrington be pinned to the ground in 2007? I hope the Falcons have a contingency plan beyond Harrington.

Defense This Year: As I pointed out in last year's season preview, the main reason Atlanta was able to reach the NFC Championship Game in 2004 was because of its defense. The team accumulated 48 sacks and was ranked 13th against the run. In 2005, however, the Falcons registered only 37 sacks and were ranked 31st versus ground attacks. Atlanta fixed the latter problem last season, as they were eighth in that category, limiting opposing runners to just 3.9 yards per pop. The pass rush remained an issue, however, as the defense repeated its 37-sack performance.

It's a shame this Vick dog fiasco had to go down because the Falcons were having a very solid offseason. They spent the No. 8 overall selection on defensive end Jamaal Anderson, whom I think has a great shot at winning Defensive Rookie of the Year. Opposing offensive coordinators will be focused on John Abraham, who missed eight games in 2006, so Anderson should have the luxury of single coverage early on. Assuming Abraham is completely recovered from his injury, the Falcons' sack total should be back in the high 40s.

With a superior pass rush, Atlanta's secondary should instantly improve. But that didn't stop general manager Rich McKay from adding personnel to the corps. McKay acquired cornerbacks Lewis Sanders (via free agency) and Chris Houston (through the draft), which will allow Jimmy Williams to move to free safety. The Falcons' defensive-back unit was already comprised of shut-down corner DeAngelo Hall and veteran strong safety Lawyer Milloy. It seems as though Atlanta could have one of the elite secondaries in the NFL when all is said and done.

I also see no reason why the Falcons can't be one of the top teams against the run again. Defensive tackles Grady Jackson and Rod Coleman are exceptional at clogging running lanes and allowing the linebackers to roam freely. Keith Brooking has volunteered to move inside, allowing both Michael Boley and Demorrio Williams to start. Boley and Williams are considered to be among the league's brightest prospects at outside linebacker.

Schedule and Intangibles: Like the Panthers and Saints, the Falcons can't seem to win at home; they're 44-44 at the Georgia Dome since 1996, finishing just slightly above teams like the Lions and Cardinals. They were only 3-5 as hosts in 2006. Really, what's up with NFC South teams sucking in their own house? ... Atlanta failed to return a punt or kickoff for a touchdown for the second year in a row. That needs to change. ... Are the Falcons really going with Billy Cundiff as their kicker? He has a lifetime percentage of 72.3! ... Perhaps Michael Koenen can be the kicker. He's already one of the league's top punters. ... Atlanta has the luxury of battling cupcakes like Minnesota, Houston, Tennessee, St. Louis, Arizona and the New York Giants. Then again, any game could be a struggle with Joey Harrington at the helm.

Additional Reading: Endless Banter coming soon.

Positional Rankings (0-4 stars):
Quarterbacks
Offensive Line
Secondary
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams
Receivers
Linebackers
Coaching


Divisional Rival History:
Carolina Panthers: The only time the Falcons beat the Panthers the past two years was when the latter didn't have Steve Smith.
New Orleans Saints: For years, the Saints had trouble beating the Falcons because Aaron Brooks couldn't find a way to beat his cousin, Michael Vick. I guess it's no coincidence that New Orleans swept Atlanta immediately after Brooks left for Oakland.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Vick was just 2-5 against Tampa Bay's defense prior to last season. I say we throw out any game Bruce Gradkowski started.

Fantasy Football:
Michael Vick: It appears as though the authorities botched the Michael Vick investigation, allowing the Dog Marauder to get away with whatever he did. Doesn't mean Vick's own linemen will block for him, however.
Projected Stats: 1,900 passing yards. 15 passing TDs. 650 rushing yards. 2 rushing TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 262.

Warrick Dunn: Warrick Dunn turned 32 in January, so he's at that age where things start going downhill. His yardage dropped from 1,416 in 2005 to 1,140 in 2006. Jerious Norwood will undoubtedly steal more of his carries.
Projected Stats: 900 rushing yards. 150 receiving yards. 4 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 129.

Jerious Norwood: With Warrick Dunn getting older, Jerious Norwood will get more opportunities to carry the ball.
Projected Stats: 850 rushing yards. 175 receiving yards. 4 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 126.

Alge Crumpler: Should be one of the first tight ends taken in your fantasy league.
Projected Stats: 800 receiving yards. 6 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 116.

Joe Horn: Joe Horn missed six games and still had more receiving yards (679) than any Atlanta wide out. That said, Horn has broken the 1,000-yard barrier only once since 2002. Playing with Vick or Harrington won't change matters.
Projected Stats: 650 receiving yards. 4 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 89.

Roddy White: Had 99 yards against Cleveland, 104 versus Dallas and 90 at Philly. During the same period, also had one reception against Carolina, New Orleans and Baltimore, and no catches at Detroit and Washington.
Projected Stats: 600 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 78.

Michael Jenkins: Somehow caught seven touchdowns in 2006. Can you say fluke? Had only seven receptions the final four weeks of the season.
Projected Stats: 525 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 70.

Billy Cundiff: Ugh.
Projected Stats: 12-19 FG (1-2 50+). 17 XP.
Projected Fantasy Points: 57.

Atlanta Defense: One of the top defenses in the league, but could become tired if they're on the field the entire game.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Top 10 Defense.

Analysis: Increase my projected record to 7-9 or 8-8 if Michael Vick isn't suspended. If he is, there will be too many distractions and inept play at quarterback to overcome. It certainly won't be a season to remember for Falcons fans, despite what Len Pasquarelli has to say.

Projection: 4-12 (4th in the NFC South)


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