From 2007, the saddest season on record, to 2008, among the happiest seasons ever: Was it really that easy? Just hire a new general manager and a new coach and sign a new tailback and draft a new quarterback and go from 4-12 to 11-5? This fall is when we find out. This fall we’ll learn if the Falcons are — borrowing a book title from the noted author Arthur M. Blank — built to last or just another one-year wonder. Other questions along that line:
• Is Matt Ryan really that good? So good he’s impervious to a sophomore jinx? So good he can make full use of all the accessories now at his disposal? Did his arm get tired near the end of last season, or did he reach the limit of his capacity?
• Will Michael Turner carry the ball fewer times with the addition of Tony Gonzalez? Will Mike Mularkey be tempted to run it less and throw it more? Given the rebuilding ongoing with the Falcons’ defense, shouldn’t the Falcons run it even more to keep their D off the field? Will Falcons ever make Jerious Norwood more than a curio?
• Will Roddy White’s contractual issues become more than a talking point? Will White gripe if he sees the ball less because Gonzalez is aboard? Will Gonzalez, as tight ends often do, become Ryan’s default receiver? Will Harry Douglas supplant Michael Jenkins as the No. 2 wideout?
• Is Sam Baker, who looked solid at left tackle before getting hurt last season, really an NFL-caliber left tackle? Is the offensive line as effective as Turner made it seem? Is Paul Boudreau, who coaches the O-line, the smartest guy on a staff laden with smart guys?
• Can John Abraham stay healthy? (Will we ever stop asking if John Abraham can stay healthy?) Who rushes the passer besides Abraham? Isn’t this the put-up or shut-up season for Jamaal Anderson? Is Chauncey Davis ready? Will rookie Lawrence Sidbury become the team’s second-best pass rusher? Can Peria Jerry fill the considerable breach left by Grady Jackson’s departure?
• Can Curtis Lofton make every tackle? Will Curtis Lofton have to make every tackle? Does Mike Peterson have anything left, or is he the new Ed Hartwell? Should the Falcons have drafted a linebacker higher than in Round 6?
• Is second-year man Chevis Jackson a starting cornerback? Is rookie William Moore a starting safety? Is Von Hutchins, injured last season, more than a nickel back? Will Thomas Dimitroff again need to find defensive patches during training camp, as happened last season with Domonique Foxworth and Jamaal Fudge last season? Of the five defensive starters who left, will Foxworth be missed most?
• Is Mike Smith the next great NFL coach? Was his just a case of beginner’s luck? Didn’t Jim Mora also look savvy for a year? Will Smitty find it tougher to manage higher expectations? Will he be able to right his team if it doesn’t get off to a flying start?
• Will the toughened schedule undo the Falcons? Won’t it be rather different not playing Detroit in Week 1 and Kansas City in Week 3 this time? Given the team’s heightened profile, won’t every loss be magnified in a way that no loss in 2008 was?
• The question of questions: After 43 years in business, is this franchise finally going to post consecutive winning seasons?
Bradley says: The Falcons will go 10-6 — yes, that would constitute a second consecutive winning season — and win the NFC South.
(For your reading pleasure — or perhaps displeasure — the other two installments of my All-Football Friday are available online. Here are the questions facing Georgia Tech, and here are those facing Georgia.)