An early look at NFC’s Super Bowl picks: Falcons are No. 2

A slimmer Michael Turner and more experienced Matt Ryan could be primed for a Super Bowl run.

A slimmer Michael Turner and more experienced Matt Ryan could be primed for a Super Bowl run.

If a certain quarterback from Kiln, Miss. — who remains one of the NFL’s all-time leaders in touchdowns, yards and vogueing — doesn’t play this season, the Minnesota Vikings will drop from being a Super Bowl contender to just a playoff team (maybe).

I’ll avoid typing the quarterback’s name because I understand we’re all at our limit, and have been since the Drama King’s first heart-wrenching, tearful, yes-I-really-mean-it-this-time goodbye press conference in 2008.

Which of these NFC teams will reach the Super Bowl?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

But the potential ripple effect in the NFL from his retirement can’t be overstated. Here are the absolute five NFC teams that can go to the Super Bowl this season. I know this for a fact because I think even had former Falcons great Jeff Van Note convinced of my top five during our conversation at Falcons’ practice Wednesday. Either that or he was just worn down by the 217-degree temperatures or I was starting to hallucinate.

The NFC’s top five teams (assuming the diva retires).

1. GREEN BAY: It’s easy to forget Aaron Rodgers was in only his second year as a starter, yet he threw for 30 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. The Packers are also strong on defense. So what happened last season? They lost twice to the Vikings, which was the difference in them having home field in the playoffs. They had to travel to Arizona and lost a bizarre game that was closer to pinball than football — 51-45 in overtime. They won’t have to worry about Kurt Warner (five touchdowns) if they play again.

2. FALCONS: I know what you’re thinking: a little high. (The team, not me.) But no (to both). First of all, I think you can rank these five teams in almost any order. Here’s what stands out to me: The defense will be significantly improved. It will be more aggressive and get burned less often, given the additions of cornerback Dunta Robinson and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, as well as the return of defensive tackle Peria Jerry and safety William Moore from season-ending injuries.  (The team’s broadcaster, Wes Durham, had a great analogy: Jerry and Moore are like redshirt freshmen.) The offense will benefit from Matt Ryan being in his third year,  when young quarterbacks often take a big step up, and a more motivated running back, Michael Turner, who is in far better condition than a year ago.

3. DALLAS: Tony Romo got a lot better last year when Terrell Owens wasn’t in the huddle. Probably not a coincidence. Dez Bryant will either turn into one of the NFL’s greatest receivers or be a complete grease fire. The Cowboys have talent, but they also have weaknesses. The pass defense was surprisingly average statistically (20th overall) despite two Pro Bowl cornerbacks (Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman). I also question whether Keith Brooking can again play at the level he did a year ago. Also, something is wrong when a team this talented gets absolutely bulldozed in the second round by Minnesota (34-3). That shows a possible lack of mental toughness,  an indictment of coach Wade Phillips.

4. NEW ORLEANS: It’s difficult to criticize a team that just won the Super Bowl. But it’s noteworthy that no NFC South champion ever has successfully defended its division title. As for the league title, the run through the Super Bowl and the parties that follow can wear mentally on players. The offseason is shorter. It’s difficult to recapture the same fire and chemistry. Opponents are all suddenly gunning for you. A lot of things went right for the Saints last season. They’re still very good, but logic says they’re just not going to be great again.

5. NEW YORK:The Giants won their first five games last season and then forgot how to stop anybody. They went 3-8 down the stretch, allowing 40 or more points five times. They’ll be better this season. They signed free agent safety Antrel Rolle for $37 million and added veteran safety, Deon Grant. A number of the pieces from the Super Bowl team three years ago are still in place.

So there’s my top five in the conference. What do you think? Am I overrating the Falcons or do you agree?

NEXT POST: Rookie Sean Weatherspoon. If other NFL scouts considered him such a loudmouth and borderline obnoxious, why are the Falcons so high on him? I think you’ll enjoy the comments from general manager Thomas Dimitroff, Weatherspoon and teammates.

UPDATE: Here’s the link to the Weatherspoon column.

Recent posts

Hawks dropped the ball on not signing Shaq

♦ Braves trying to keep it going with team of moving parts

Favre’s retirement (really? finally?) is opening for Falcons

How long can Braves keep extending Troy Glaus’s lifeline?

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

119 comments Add your comment

robertussen

August 4th, 2010
11:19 pm

we’re looking like a real contender

cattle dawg

August 4th, 2010
11:20 pm

cattle dawg

August 4th, 2010
11:23 pm

Its the Cowboys year.. Romo will finally break through , and be a top tier qb.

Willy

August 4th, 2010
11:24 pm

When are you or Mark NOT writing a column?

robertussen

August 4th, 2010
11:27 pm

cattle dawg

August 4th, 2010
11:29 pm

Is it just me or does mat ryan look kinda special in that picture? I do worry bout brooking at lb this year. Im not sure if he can keep up the bizarro brooking from last year.

JJ

August 4th, 2010
11:36 pm

Jeff had a long break a few weeks ago, but yeah they spend 24/7 on the AJC

david

August 5th, 2010
12:12 am

217 degrees–wimpy–come out here to the AZ where its 116 for real and see what you get. yeah, its a dry heat–like an oven

Jimmy

August 5th, 2010
12:47 am

Yes, Mark and Jeff do spend a lot of time on these blogs.
I think they either have no life…or they want to get paid.
Maybe both.

Jimmy

August 5th, 2010
12:55 am

In years past, I’ve been burned badly every time I pick the Falcons as contenders.
They’d win one year and I’d say, “Man, we’re on our way up! Perennial Super Bowl contenders!”
Then they would fail to have a winning season the following year.
But this year…this is our first year after the curse!
We have had two back to back winning seasons!
This is a new day!
So I will make a bold prediction….
Drum roll please…
The Birds will play football this year!

What can I say…I’ve been conditioned…like Pavlov’s dog.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Fantasy Tackles, Jeff Schultz. Jeff Schultz said: An early look at NFC’s Super Bowl picks: Falcons are No. 2 http://bit.ly/dtoJOc [...]

Eric

August 5th, 2010
1:06 am

The Falcons certainly have never had as good a look at a title going in as they do this year. I feel like if they don’t make it in the next two to three then they may never make it….

bg3003

August 5th, 2010
4:21 am

12-4+good team and coaches – curse \ injuries x anything < (or equal to) a mediocre defense = super bowl champions!!!! c'mon ppl this is 1st grade math!!! (or 5th grade english who knows!) lol

Benjamin

August 5th, 2010
5:52 am

I think you’re overrating our Falcons, but man, I hope you’re right. ;)

FalconUGAFan

August 5th, 2010
5:53 am

I’m inclined to say that are a bit high. We are banking on alot of things going our way. People staying healthy (which never happens) and we don’t have the guys to step up in all areas to fill in. But it would be nice. Realistically I think the order is thus.

1. Green Bay (Duh)

2. Dallas (Romo is improving and they did go to 2nd round)

3. New Orleans (Hard to count out anyone led by Brees and Payton)

4. Atlanta (Improving but still needs a little more time)

5. New York (This is essentially the same squad that won SB in 07, might sneak up on folks)

dz01

August 5th, 2010
6:49 am

Super Bowl? Not, I hope we make the playoffs.

saintsfan

August 5th, 2010
6:52 am

Wow!!!! wishful thinking. One thing is for certain you guys have big dreams.

Karl

August 5th, 2010
6:58 am

If everyone stays healthy (which is the key) they have a real shot at the NFC title. Personally, I think Matt Ryan is going to have a monster year – just a hunch.

Coach

August 5th, 2010
7:13 am

You guys do this every year, what are you doing, trying to sell newspapers or season tickets, either way you always go overboard with your hometown predictions. Now, lest be just a little realistic for just a moment.

No NFL Team is going to cooperate with your predictions, therefore, I hope none of the Falcon Players read your article because the last time I checked the Falcons did not even win the NFC South or even make the playoffs. So lets start by wishing they play well within the division and compete well with the 2 other divisions they are scheduled to play. If they can beat New Orleans both games during the regular season then that would mean they can win the NFC South.

The second season known as the playoffs presents even greater challenges, therefore, they will again have to play exceptional well every week to make it to the NFC Championship Game and then ultimately the Super Bowl.

Super Bowls are not won in the Press, therefore, lets just settle down for a moment and win the NFC South 1st and besides all teams look good during the first week of practice and get hometown cooking from the local press. Just think, your predictions change too much for me to actually take you serious.

Junkndatrunk

August 5th, 2010
7:14 am

Go Falcons!!!

My View

August 5th, 2010
7:15 am

I think the skins should replace the giants. If their offensive line improves Shanahan and McNabb will pay great dividends. Also the Vikes should be no.1 because “Diva” will show up two weeks before kickoff.

ormewood

August 5th, 2010
7:16 am

Falcons might be about right. Giants at #5 are too high. I would go with Vikings at that spot, even without Favre. With Favre, maybe fourth.

Dr. Warren

August 5th, 2010
7:20 am

10-6. I think Ryan is a bigger question mark than everyone thinks. This year will tell us the true story.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

August 5th, 2010
7:24 am

Me thinks the Falcons have a great shot at the SB barring severe injuries. Schedule plays into our favor and we have all of our returning starters on offense coming back, including Douglas.

Tracy

August 5th, 2010
7:41 am

One problem with this.. You have to beat the Saints to get there. Good luck with that.

Matt the Brave

August 5th, 2010
7:42 am

Last year, the only thing that I wanted out of these Falcons was to win 9 games. They did that. This time, I just want them to make the playoffs and hopefully win one of those games when they get there. I still think that we’re one season away from the Super Bowl, but I’d be very happy if they made it all the way this year!

Raj

August 5th, 2010
7:44 am

Jeff
Is this really your own list or did you take John Clayton’s list in espn.com and just changed it up a little to give your own flavor to the column?

http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/columns/story?columnist=clayton_john&id=5434060

Truth teller!!!

August 5th, 2010
8:04 am

Falcons fans have lost their DAMN MINDS!!!! And Jeff Schultz must have been riding in the car smoking with Babinauex if he thinks the Birds are that good!!!

Mikey in the SAV

August 5th, 2010
8:09 am

1- Vikings ( with the Diva )
2- Saints
3- Cowboys
4- Packers
5- Falcons
6- G-Men
7- Skins
8- Eagles
9- 49ers
10- Panthers

robertussen

August 5th, 2010
8:16 am

as raj stated, jeff isn’t the only one that thinks the falcons are one of top teams in the nfc and the nfl. lots of people are high on the falcons and matt ryan having a stellar year.

Sports Review

August 5th, 2010
8:17 am

[...] An early look at NFC's Super Bowl picks: Falcons are No. 2Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Which of these NFC teams will reach the Super Bowl? But the potential ripple effect in the NFL from his retirement can't be overstated. …NFC South Wednesday Wrap Up: Watch Saints Front SevenFanHouse [...]

Elvisinthehouse

August 5th, 2010
8:18 am

Falcon in the superbowl? I don’t think so,lets not forget this is the state of Ga were no sports team is good.

Elvisinthehouse

August 5th, 2010
8:22 am

It took peyton manning the best QB probably of all time 10 years to do it and people have the nerve to think ryan can do better? @robertussen,your right a lot of people is HIGH speaking of the falcons so they need to puff puff pass the deception.

mountain_jim

August 5th, 2010
8:23 am

I forsee an NFC champ game with Atlanta vs Dallas, with Atlanta crushing Dallas to finally pay them back for that 78 collapse game.

Crazy-A Falcon Fan

August 5th, 2010
8:23 am

Atlanta at # 2 is definitely a homer pick. Green Bay and New Orleans belong with the remaining teams you picked as well as the rest of the NFC as long-shots. Turner weight loss will cost the team some yards. I don’t see him banging like his first year. He has no viable backup. It’s not a good sign that our over-paid free-agent signee, Dunta Robinson, has a early hamstring injury. Why do the Falcon’s still have Finneran on the team. I could go on and on, but because I have a job and life I don’t have time to write a dissertation to support my claim.

bigeasy830

August 5th, 2010
8:27 am

Great post Dr. Warren. This year will tell if Matt Ryan is as good as he is hyped up to be. And, if he is then the falcons will be contenders. I still believe you all needed another WR and a better back up RB and i am still not sold on your pass rush. If Ryan have a great season and if your pass rush is goos then the Falcons may go 12-4, but I believe matt Ryan is not that good and your pass rush will suck and you gave too much money to a CB that did not have one INT last year, therfore 6-10 for 2010. My Steelers will crush you in game one, Carolina and New oreleans will sweep you and the Beangals will embarass them.

Ted Striker

August 5th, 2010
8:35 am

I need to pictures of cheerleaders before I can validate your rankings. You never write, you never call, you never send pix of Megan Fox in compromising situations.

robertussen

August 5th, 2010
8:44 am

well elvis they can pass it this way for the victory celebration. by the way, didnt you die on a crapper. i think the smell is getting to you if you can’t see this team has a real shot.

buckblue

August 5th, 2010
8:46 am

Next thing you are going to predict is that the Kentucky Wildcats will win the SEC and play for the CFB National Championship?

2 Words……DREW BREES

Come on Elvis

August 5th, 2010
9:06 am

well, maybe Matt Ryan doesn’t have to be a playoff choker like Manning. History does tell you that his numbers(Manning) are very average in the playoffs. As I can recall, Eli Manning, Roethlisberger, and numerous others have done it quicker than the so-called best QB.

Kashi

August 5th, 2010
9:07 am

ITS TIME TO BRING CHAMPIONSHIP TO ATLATNA AFTER A LONG DROUGHT

The Bees Nees

August 5th, 2010
9:14 am

Where is the Countdown this week?

Doubters

August 5th, 2010
9:14 am

You mean to tell me that you don’t think the Falcons have a shot of beating the Saints? I mean last year the Saints won both games by a combined total of 11 points. An eight point loss in NO and a 3 point loss in ATL. To me, that sounds like they played with the all-world team even though the Falcons defense wasn’t even that good last year. So, imagine an improved defense and offense.

by the way

August 5th, 2010
9:16 am

The Vikings were a 10 win team the year before Favre and still are a threat with or without him because they have something that most teams don’t have. A devastating pass rush that can cause havoc to a lot of QB.

Clay

August 5th, 2010
9:20 am

cattle dawg, I don’t think the Cowboys will win the NFC with Tony Romo, who is “top tier” in pay only. I don’t dislike him, but just feel sorry for him in playoff games.

The bigger the game, the more he shrinks.

letigre

August 5th, 2010
9:25 am

Do you expect this “homer” poll to reflect anything but the Falcons as favorites? If you do, then your world is very, very small.

PMC

August 5th, 2010
9:25 am

Did the Packers do much to improve that line? They are going to get Rogers killed if they aren’t careful.

Purple people

August 5th, 2010
9:34 am

Minn will still beat the pack again. And win the NFC

BigTimeTECHFan

August 5th, 2010
9:55 am

1. Falcons
2. Bears
3. Eagles
4. Cowboys
5. Saints

Clay

August 5th, 2010
10:03 am

I’m with Dr Warren. Ryan was less than average last season. Sophomore jinx? Don’t know if he was the problem, or the play-calling.

Hopefully, if Turner and Harry Douglas get back to form, and somebody replaces Jenkins, who cannot be depended on, maybe Ryan gets better.