NFL Week 8: NFC South- Shipyards

Doug Martin exploded onto the NFL scene last Thursday night.

When viewing the vessels of a shipyard, we see units that are being built initially or those that are retooling for an endeavor that requires additional equipment. In some instances like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the ability to navigate choppy waters has become easier with the addition of a new outboard engine in the form of rookie RB Doug Martin. Up until last week’s game against Minnesota, the offense was rudderless depending on a passing game that moved the ball in fits and starts. Bouyed by Doug Martin’ dynamic performance (135 yd rushing / 79 yds rec.) their offense rolled throughout in a dominating 36-17 performance. http://www.nfl.com/voting/players-air-and-ground/2012/REG/8?module=HP11_content_stream_voting_fedex#playerId:0ap2000000085516

In their last two games, Martin has gained 336 yards of total offense and scored 3 touchdowns. Something was discovered 3 weeks ago during the team’s bye week. Head Coach Greg Schiano must have been hit in the head and mistaken his young running back for Ray Rice, whom he coached in college. In that time he has turned to his rookie runner more and the team has averaged 34 points per game ever since as compared to 20.5 over the first four weeks. Undoubtedly the game is slowing for Martin who has adjusted to the speed of the NFL. With back to back games coming against the struggling Raiders and Chargers, who just lost to Cleveland (seriously?), this team could be 5-4 and winners of 3 out of 4 before they take on Carolina and Atlanta in pivotal divisional match-ups. If any of you have been following the feud between the Bucs and Atlanta, you will not want to miss that game.

Before we go there, lets take a look at the standings:

South Division

W

L

T

PCT

PF

PA

HOME

ROAD

DIV

CONF

STRK

LAST5

Atlanta Falcons Falcons 7 0 0 1.000 201 130 3-0 4-0 1-0 3-0 W7 5-0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Buccaneers 3 4 0 .429 184 153 2-2 1-2 1-1 2-4 W1 2-3
New Orleans Saints Saints 2 5 0 .286 190 216 1-2 1-3 1-1 1-3 L1 2-3
Carolina Panthers Panthers 1 6 0 .143 128 167 1-3 0-3 1-2 1-6 L5 0-5

Leaving the shipyard and headed for uncharted waters sail the Atlanta Falcons. What has been interesting over the last two months is how few want to recognize them as the best team in the NFC or the NFL for that matter. The key to becoming a champion in the NFL is winning the close games. Especially those against lesser teams who are hard to get up for, or in last week’s match-up with the Philadelphia Eagles, a wounded dangerous team desperate for a win. Over the last few years, games of the latter category gave the Falcons problems. This time they came out with purpose and were up on the Eagles 24-7 before Andy Reid’s team knew what hit them.

Michael Turner helped the Falcons control the tempo of the game with 24 carries.

Even more remarkable was the fact in 13 seasons, Reid’s team were 13-0 coming off of bye weeks. Although the Falcons have a 3 game lead in the division, they took this road game very serious and set the tone from the outset. Philadelphia’s big name secondary was lit up by Julio Jones who had 5 receptions for 123 yards and scored from 63 yards out. Matt Ryan was 22 for 29 for 263 yards and 3TDs and is having an MVP type season. Do you realize Matt Ryan had a career high 29 touchdown passes last year yet is on pace for 39 this season??

This was a big road win that showed how this team and coaching staff is maturing. Pundits and fans have scoffed at their early playoff exits of the last few years but this team is playing with a gritty resolve not seen in previous seasons. Last week’s game against the Eagles was the type of game the Falcons would inexplicably not show up. Exhibit A: Last year during the second half they could solidify themselves as legitimate Super Bowl contenders, yet lost a game to the Houston Texans and were swept by the New Orleans Saints in a five week stretch. Those could have been confidence building wins yet left the team doubting itself. That doubt showed in the 24-2 ouster in the playoffs by the world champion Giants.

However this year we have Exhibit B: They held off Peyton Manning and the Broncos in a Monday night thriller 27-21. They knocked back a Washington Redskin team which is a mirror image of who they once were 24-17 and now this win. These wins against quality teams are those that have you believing in yourselves by season’s end. Especially when you can step on a team that desperately needs a win and you perform that feat on the road. Naysayers will conclude they haven’t played other top-tier teams but that isn’t the Falcons issue. Just keep winning games and building confidence for the playoffs. Food for thought?? Once upon a time, there was a Miami Dolphin team that went 14-0 in the regular season and won the Super Bowl. They only beat 3 teams that year with a winning record…so don’t listen to the idiot pundits who miss this.

Now we have to talk about Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. Looking at their record the quarterback is the first to get the blame when truth be told, Newton has given the team four 4th quarter leads this season. The fact their defense keeps letting the team down is what everyone is missing. Nevermind the frustrated press conferences of Cam Newton. Head Coach Ron Rivera may be sunk if his team gives up any more 4th quarter leads. It may be in the Panthers best interest to pick up a receiver before the trade deadline to help open up the offense. With Steve Smith (35 rec. 589 yards/ ZERO TDs) they have a good mid-range receiver. They need someone to blow the top off the defense to back the safeties back from the running game. Everyone knows the Panther offense can be defensed 20 yards and in. Once they can get a deep receiver this could open up the offense both running and passing. They still have time to right the ship…they just have some work to do.

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2012 NFC South Previews & Predictions

Second year wideout Julio Jones skies over a Ravens defensive back for a touchdown in last week’s preseason opener.

As the 2012 regular season beckons, many pundits and fans are looking for the Carolina Panthers to light up this division. There will be several young stars that will come to the fore in the toughest division in football, yet there will be one second year player who should take the league by storm. Oh you thought we meant Cam Newton?? He’ll do well but the player who is about to break out is WR Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons. His play so far in the preseason along with the maturation he showed toward the end of last year. Look out his star is on the rise.

No division in football has been as competitive from top to bottom as the NFC South. Since its inception in 2002, there hasn’t been a repeat division winner and again its the only division to have every team play for the conference championship during that time. Each team can run at you physically, Atlanta with Michael Turner (1,340 yards in 2011), thunderous LeGarrette Blount (1,007 yards in 2010), former Heisman winner in Mark Ingram, and former twin thousand yard rushers DeAngelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart in Carolina. Yet with last year’s emergence of Cam Newton and 2010’s Josh Freeman (25TDs to only 6 ints), each team fields better than average quarterbacks. This is before we get to record setting Super Bowl champion Drew Brees and 3 time playoff participant QB Matt Ryan. This division is stacked on offense…

However there are several questions moving into 2012. How will the Saints fare with the suspension of Head Coach Sean Peyton?? Will their game day adjustments suffer or will the overall gameplan be inferior?? Have the Panthers made enough moves to allow Cam Newton to star again or will he have a sophomore slump?? Which team was the real Tampa Bay Buccaneers?? Was it the 10-6 2010 team that was coming on at the end of that season or last year’s 4-11 debacle that got Head Coach Raheem Morris fired??

We’ll answer a few of those later in the article….as for our predictions

2012 NFC South Predictions

Atlanta Falcons 11-5 *

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-7

New Orleans Saints 9-7

Carolina Panthers 6-10

Now that the Saints signed Drew Brees to a long term deal: How will he fare this season without Sean Payton?? Payton and Brees have been lethal these last several years with game plans but they will suffer with game-day adjustments. There should be a drop off this season as Interim Coach Joe Vitt can’t put his stamp on the team. In a single season lame duck situation?? Not going to be good. More important, without their spiritual leader on defense with the suspension of Jonathon Vilma, this defense will give up points by the bushel and will behind in the race to win the south. As evidenced in Saturday night’s preseason game against Houston, this defense struggled in a 34-27 shootout. The Texans marched to two easy touchdowns while the starters were out there. Don’t forget the Saints were at home. How do you think they will fare when they are on the road this year?? http://www.nfl.com/gamecenter/2012082554/2012/PRE3/texans@saints#tab=recap&menu=highlights

They have a murderous schedule and will lose tie breaker advantages during the weeks of 12-15 where they face San Francisco, who beat them in last year’s playoffs. Then they face a stronger Atlanta Falcons team on the road, then travel to play the World Champion Giants in the cold, then come home to face a resurgent Tampa Bay Buccaneers team. Even though Tampa had a down year in 2011, they only lost 27-16 in New Orleans and defeated the Saints in the Superdome in 2010. At full strength with Coach Peyton, Jonathon Vilma on defense, the Saints would be in good shape against these ball clubs but with a coaching staff trying to keep the ship steady?? These are four losses waiting to happen and all to NFC teams. This is after they would have played the Packers at Lambeau in week 4, and the Philadelphia Eagle in week 9.  Too many in conference losses will doom the Saints this year.

Super Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.

Has there been a more electrifying rookie quarterback in NFL history than Cam Newton?? The Chancellor can only think of one and that was Dan Marino’s 1983 season. Yet a closer look and Newton broke the rookie record in week 1 with 422 yards against the Cardinals, rushed for 706 yards and 14 TDs (another record), while completing 60% of his passes for 4,021 yards (another record) and 21TDs. All as a rookie?? Yikes! That dwarfs Marino’s 20TD passes and didn’t start for Shula’s Dolphins until week 6 and was no threat with only 45 yards rushing. What is he going to do for an encore??

Once upon a time Tim Tebow was given the nod over Newton at the University of Florida. My how the tables have turned as the Panthers defeated Tebow and the Jets 17-12 last night in pre-season action.

The question is did they do enough to move up in the competitive NFC South?? They still have the “Cash & Carry” backfield of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart, who just signed an extension last week. Ageless Steve Smith revitalized his career with Newton’s emergence and may have a running partner in WR Louis Murphy who scored in last night’s game.  On offense the answer is yes, but on defense they haven’t done enough. They did get LB Thomas Davis back but they have to keep their fingers crossed he doesn’t injure his knee for a fourth time. They need all the help they can get on a defense that was 28th last year and finished 25th against the run. In this division that last stat will be what they need to improve and the draft only brought one lineman in 4th rounder Frank Alexander. New leaders have to emerge for the Panthers to make a  move up… that can happen in 2013. The problem is it’s still 2012 so they’ll improve just a few wins on offense as a team.

Former Boise St running back Doug Martin should rush for 1,200 yards for Tampa this season.

Now a team that will be the surprise winner in this division is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Last year this team dropped to 30th in the NFL in rushing and brought unnecessary heat on QB Josh Freeman. Team brass addressed that with 1st round selection RB Doug Martin out of Boise St. With the rushing attack under performing it also kept the Buccaneers defense from resting. In 2011 this was a run first, pass second team that went 10-6. Josh Freeman had the second lowest touchdown to interception ratio, 25TDs to just 6 interceptions, to a record setting Tom Brady. With the acquisition of WR Vincent Jackson from the San Diego Chargers to go along with TE Kellen Winslow Jr, WR Mike Williams and WR Arrelios Benn, this team has some big targets.

Speaking of Tom Brady, the Buccaneer defense made his life miserable in pre-season action Friday night. The Bucs pass rush harassed him all night and made him throw a pick six in a 30-28 win. Brady played into the 3rd quarter (unheard of in pre-season) and New England needed 2 4th quarter touchdowns to make the score close. One of the differences was the efficient play of Freeman and Doug Martin, who rushed for 53 yards on 13 carries and sat out more than half the game. This talent who has been a Taylor Blitz Time favorite https://taylorblitztimes.com/2011/08/02/2011-heisman-campaign-doug-martin-of-boise-st/ will tilt the balance of power for them from a tactical standpoint all year. They should return to form and match the 10-6 record of 2010. They’ll be ready to make a serious move in 2013.

However 2012 will belong to the Atlanta Falcons. They have built for this season for the last four and this is the year for the payoff. TE Tony Gonzalez can’t go forever and RB Michael Turner is about to turn 30. When the Falcons lost in last year’s wildcard to the New York Giants, it marked the second season in a row their season ended at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl champions. As a matter of fact, if you include the 2009 NFC Divisional playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals, 3 of the last 4 seasons has ended at the hands of the eventual NFC Champion. Its time for their maturation and ascend to a Super Bowl themselves. Head Coach Mike Smith and Matt Ryan have to prove they can win a playoff game. They are primed as a team talent wise to make a move.

Next up: NFC North

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NFL Week 2 NFC South: Will Someone Stand Up & Play Defense

Although this division has won one NFL championship in the last two years, its amazing how pedestrian this division is playing defense. With Cam Newton showcasing out of this world talent, it doesn’t bode well for the Panther’s division mates. The Saints finally showed up against Chicago but ask yourself : Was it the strength of the Saints defense or a Bears offense still searching for an identity?? Division favorite Atlanta won a shootout with the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night yet gave up 30 points for the second consecutive week. They cannot keep going at that rate and expect to win the division. A trip to Tampa to reprise last year’s bloodbath against the physical Buccaneers awaits.

NFC South Team W L T  Pct PF PA Net Pts TD Home Road Div Pct Conf Pct Non-Conf Streak Last 5
New Orleans Saints 1 1 0 .500 64 55 9 7 1-0 0-1 0-0 .000 1-1 .500 0-0 1W 1-1
Atlanta Falcons 1 1 0 .500 47 61 -14 6 1-0 0-1 0-0 .000 1-1 .500 0-0 1W 1-1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1 1 0 .500 44 47 -3 5 0-1 1-0 0-0 .000 1-1 .500 0-0 1W 1-1
Carolina Panthers 0 2 0 .000 44 58 -14 5 0-1 0-1 0-0 .000 0-2 .000 0-0 2L 0-2

All that withstanding, the Buccaneers could prove to be the early season favorite if they can knock off the Falcons this Sunday. Last year these two played in the most physical game of the season.  One with so much hitting that the personal foul calls caused Roddy White of the Falcons to be pulled out for awhile by his coach and saw  Tampa QB Josh Freeman get a personal foul call after an interception. Even the cheerleaders left that December game sore. Get some nachos, beer, popcorn and get ready for this one. We promise you this will be the game to watch because these two teams hate each other. Who are we leaning toward?  Check in later this week, right Falcons Jennifer?? She’s a little biased by the way.

New Orleans is still in a state of flux after giving up a plethora of yards to the Green Bay Packers in the opener along with 42 points. The “Who Dat” nation better learn how to tackle before the Panthers and Cam Newton come to town. If you can’t bring down DeAngelo Williams and Jonathaon Stewart, you’ll hate having to bring down a 250 lbs quarter back who has set the NFL on it’s collective ear. When he first threw for 422 vs Arizona, most of us scoffed “well that was the Cardinals”.  Then the Panthers threw for over 400 yards against the defending NFL champions and now you have to say “OK Cam Newton is for real”. Others would think it’s premature, we don’t. Ever since the midway point of last year’s college season,we knew he was going pro, so you know defenses were gearing themselves for him. He had some growing pains against the Packers with 3 interceptions, but face it, he bounced back and almost tied the game in losing 31-24. So here the Panthers are, a defensive football team who now wakes up after two weeks not taking care of their end of the bargain.

Ron Rivera’s defense is the reason this team is 0-2, they didn’t know what they had on offense. Now that they do, expect more solid game plans and wins to mount up. Has there been a more dangerous 0-2 team than this one?? Face it there isn’t a lot of film on Newton and they still have Williams and Stewart to help pound the rock before we get to a rejuvenated Steve Smith.  Do you realize after 2 weeks Steve Smith has 14 rec. for 334 yards and 2 touchdowns?? He’s the wrong guy to let him start “feeling it”. If you project those numbers over a full season, that would be 112 receptions and 2,672 yards and 16 TDs. This is the wrong time for the NFC South to forget how to play defense. Seriously!! After losing a close tussel to the world champions, Carolina is licking it’s chops looking at the rest of the division and the lack of defense being played. Seriously, has an 0-2 team ever been this optimistic when looking at the rest of their schedule??

2011 Atlanta Falcons Preview

The 2010 season was a banner year for the Atlanta Falcon franchise.  Although it ended in disappointment, they came back to dethrone the defending Super Bowl champion Saints and reclaim the NFC South, as they won in 2008 also.  They have a nucleus of talent that is still young and growing, they just happened to run into a buzzsaw in Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs.  They were beaten in the playoffs by the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers who made two herculean interceptions by Tremond Williams to turn the tide, one of which returned for a halftime touchdown, iced the game. Yet through the 2010 season we learned about this team. They were battle tested in facing Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the AFC, then the Eagles, Packers, Seahawks, and split with the Saints.  Thats right 7 playoff teams and thats before we bring up the season sweep of the 10-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers that kept them from the playoffs.  This team has won 2 of 3 division titles in the toughest division in football, the NFC South.  So where do they go from here?? What do they do for an encore??

Quarterback: This team is set at quarterback for many years to come in Matt Ryan.  Not only does he pass the eyeball test, “Matty Ice” is going to be one of the faces of the NFL through his play over the next decade barring injury.  His third season was a fruitful one completing 357 of 571 passes for 3,705 yards, 28 TDs and only 9 interceptions.  If you only saw his playoff game and saw that late 2nd quarter interception that put the Falcons behind by two scores at the half, you’re short changing one of 2010’s best pressure qbs.  He led drives to take the lead in 7 games last year, most notably, games 3 and 4 in the upset win of New Orleans and San Francsico to get the Falcons season underway.  Then rose to the occasion to do the same in what many thought could be a Super Bowl preview against the Baltimore Ravens in week 9 on a Monday Night.  The 26-21 win with the last second touchdown pass to Roddy White will be the calling card of his career until he wins a playoff game or a Super Bowl.

Ryan has worked hard on his footwork within the pocket.  He always keeps his feet set for to throw and doesn’t throw off his backfoot which caused some balls to sail on him in his first two years.  Another quality he’s worked on is not staring down his receiver allowing the defender to get a jump on his throws.  The playoff interception was an aberration because he was scrambling to that half of the field with time running out and should have thrown it away. Little more improvement and we’re looking at a perennial NFC Pro Bowl quarterback.  Its just time for him to win a playoff game.  Clearly on the rise…Super Bowl quality

Offensive Backfield: One of the NFC’s best and most physical rushing attacks with Michael Turner and Jason Snelling.  They are still scratching their heads in San Diego over why they didn’t re-sign Turner who used to spell LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego, opting for the undersized Darren Sproles…yet i digress.  Turner has been a constant force for this Falcons team since his arrival.  In 2010 he was 2nd in the NFC and 6th in the NFL overall with 1,371 yards rushing with a gaudy 4.1 yards per rush average.  Turner is only 3 seasons removed from a career year of 1,699 yards rushing and may be able to best that mark this year.  He’s not much of a threat as a receiver with only 12 catches yet with the Falcons play action passing attack he’s utilized more as a pass blocker.  He can push the pile and fall forward for the extra yards that sustain drives.

With Turner going into his 8th season there is a chance he could start slowing due to hits piling up on that body.  Enter Jason Snelling.  Most teams have a second running back that comes in with a slightly different running style than the starter, not here.  Snelling comes in with his 223lbs. and slashes into the hole and physically finishes off runs the same as Turner.  In his five years he has averaged 4.1 yards per rush and the Falcons can run for a tough 3rd and 2 attempt with either back.  A luxury many teams don’t have.  Running downhill is what this team does.

Rushing attack from time to time is too centered in power football and needs a little bit of wiggle.  Could see a third down back or a scat back to add to their arsenal of backs.  A draft could be used here to pick up a wildcard type of player to provide a little explosion to the mix.  Especially once the bruisers have softened up the underbelly of opponents defenses.  If they stand pat, still an impressive backfield.

Receivers: It all starts with Roddy White, the best receiver in the NFL.  He led the league with 115 receptions for 1,389 yards and 10 TDs.  A Pro Bowl starter and 1st team All pro performer that has a volatile streak is actually the emotional sparkplug for this team.  From time to time the coaches reel him in a little bit but they know they can’t turn him into a church-mouse.  His personality and fight permeates this team and propels his play and if you curb that, the team would go flat.  Coming off 4 straight 1,000 yard seasons this was no fluke.  White is in the prime of his career and should be catching Ryan passes the rest of the decade.  Michael Jenkins is a solid receiver who disappears at times during games. However he had 41 receptions and averaged 12.3 yards per receptions to keep the chains moving.  He only scored twice and needs to break more plays for the Falcons.  At receiver the Falcons could use a boost here in the draft..

Tony Gonzalez showed up as the all time leader in receptions for an NFL tight end and didn’t disappoint with a 70 reception season for nearly 700 yards and 6 touchdowns.  He gave Matt Ryan the safety valve necessary to stay calm in the pocket and get into a passing rhythm week after week.  The Falcons hope to coax another season out of Gonzalez that could propel both to their first Super Bowl victories.  At least that is the plan.  Receiver is great with a little room for improvement from Jenkins or a rookie to step in and help.

Offensive Line: Aside from C Todd McClure, the remaining 4 linemen have 5 years or less on their resume, with McClure entering his 11th.  Not one of the five starters for Atlanta missed a start in 2010 and their performance bore this out.  They were 3rd in the NFL with only 23 sacks allowed while paving the way for 497 carries and 1,891 yards and 14 TDs.  Although the rushing total was only good enough to rank 12th, only the New York Giants and the New England Patriots could boast more rushing yards and less than25 sacks allowed.

Lets face facts, this is a quality line whose cohesion and youth should serve them well in what will be a dogfight in football’s best division.  For the Falcons to reach Super Bowl XLVI this line will need another great year from this offensive line.  Sam Baker (T) and Justin Blaylock (G) man the left side and keep blindside blitzers off of Ryan.  Each one of them are entering only their 3rd year.  Harvey Dahl (RG) and Tyson Clabo (RT) are each entering only their 5th seasons.  This is arguably the best line in football and should continue to improve.  Coach Mike Smith knows his team wins or loses it in the trenches and the heartbeat of this team is the offensive line.  Super Bowl Caliber

Defensive Line: This defense had a decent year in the statistical sense but its totally misleading.  John Abraham had a good year with 13 of the 20 sacks garnered by the defensive line.  However they could use more force at defensive tackle and here is the dilemma:  Although the defense ranked 10th against the run, this team ranked 25th in yards given up per rush with 4.6.  Thats terrible.  Jonathon Babineaux and Corey Peters need to eat up those blockers yet not get pushed off the ball so much.  More pressure is needed from the defensive end opposite Abraham, Kroy Bierman’s 3 sacks is nowhere near enough for a starting defensive end in a 4-3 defense.  Could see several draft picks used on the defensive line although Peters at DT was a rookie.  Abraham is going into his 11th year and has had injury issues throughout his career.

This team’s defense relies on their offense running the ball after getting a lead and controlling the clock to keep them off the field. However as evidenced in the 48-21 divisional playoff loss to the Packers, if the defense can’t force teams off the field on their own the wheels can come off quickly.  This also happened in Philadelphia early in the season in a 31-17 loss.  Spend a couple draft picks to bolster this defensive line. Coaxing another year out of this line as it is wouldn’t be wise…not against up and coming Tampa Bay and the dangerous Saints in the division.  They have to get better. This defensive line is below average…they achieved through smoke and mirrors last year

Linebacker: Curtis Lofton had a solid 2010 at MLB and finished with a team leading 118 total tackles.  He was able to get 2 sacks and force 3 fumbles.  However too often opposing linemen were able to push through the Falcon front and gobble up the smallish linebacker (6’0 /244lbs.) which is a two fold issue.  He has to shed blockers a little better if the defensive front doesn’t improve.  He has good range but what most teams will do is run directly at the Falcon middle until they prove they can stop it.  Steven Nicholas has good speed and range and finished the season with 78 total tackles yet only 1 interception and no sacks.  Needs to make a few more plays like he did in the 1st quarter of the playoff loss when he chased Packer WR Greg Jennings down and forced a fumble 25 yards downfield.  An amazing play.  Solid and strong on the outside should get a few more interceptions facing tight ends.  Mike Peterson is going into year 12 and should give way to the younger Sean Weatherspoon, last year’s 1st round pick, who did start 5 games in place of Nicholas last year.  Either he or Nicholas needs to move in and replace an aging Peterson and get a little more athleticism on the field.  Falcon linebackers are solid but not spectacular…if Weatherspoon can get on the field and pan out…this could change.

Secondary: A funny thing happened here last year.  After making a splash with the free agent signing of CB Dunte Robinson, the play of CB Brent Grimes improved dramatically.  Grimes went to his first pro bowl after leading the Falcons with 5 interceptions, highlighted by a game clinching interception in a week 12 showdown with Tampa for first place. Grimes finished second on the team with 87 tackles showing he will support the run. Tremendous season for the other cornerback.  Robinson only finished with 1 interception and needs a better second season in Atlanta.  Of course the company line is he was getting used to the Falcon system yet was last seen struggling against the Packers.  He definitely needs a bounce back year and he should.  He’s only entering his 6th season and is a physical corner.  He gains some humility from watching Grimes become a prime time player could propel this team into having the best set of cornerbacks in the NFC.  Two young safeties in William Moore and Thomas McCloud have played solid but not spectacular.  Moore tied for the team lead with 5 interceptions.  A very good secondary and if the Falcons can muster a real pass rush can be Super Bowl quality.

Overall: This is the team that will make the pilgrimmage up north to take on the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field for the NFC Championship Game.  The Falcons were 13-3 last year yet they need to improve on the defensive lines and the other wideout needs to make a few more plays.  Yet how they play now it would bode well in Green Bay.  Aaron Rodgers isn’t going to throw for 400 yards in below zero weather outdoors as he did in last year’s domed playoff game.  Stranger things have happened and a piece of history to take with you is that in 2002 the Atlanta Falcons went to Green Bay and won a playoff game in the snow.  The first ever post season loss at Lambeau….ever.   Just sayin’….

Next: Baltimore Ravens