So I watched the Falcons through their uninspiring preseason and was starting to think, “Maybe I overclubbed.” (I’d picked them to go 10-6 and win the NFC South.) But now I find I’m only one among many gushing pundits. To wit:
• Pete Prisco of CBSsports.com ranks the Falcons the NFL’s seventh-best team and the third-best (behind the Giants and the Eagles) in the NFC. Writes Prisco: “They will be in a lot of shootouts in 2009. The offense will be better, but there are issues with the defense, especially the secondary.”
• ESPN.com has them eighth in the league and also third in the NFC. Writes Mike Sando: “A year of seasoning for Matt Ryan should put the Falcons in better position. Coach Mike Smith’s even keel also seems helpful.”
• The idiosyncratic Gregg Easterbrook, who writes the Tuesday Morning Quarterback for ESPN.com, goes all haiku with his predictions. He has the Falcons finishing 10-6 — second in their division behind the Saints — and offers this versified preview:
Lost Vick, got better.
Food for thought, Philly Eagles.
• Clifton Brown of Sporting News lists the Falcons only 14th in his power poll, but the magazine itself has them going to the NFC title game (and losing to the Giants). And SN’s Vinnie Iyer mentions three Falcons among his breakout performers: Ryan, guard Harvey Dahl and punter Michael Koenen.
• On FoxSports.com, the Sports Xchange sounds an uncommon dissenting note, picking the Falcons to go 7-9 and miss the playoffs.
• Writing for ESPN’s Insiders, Rob Weintraub of Football Outsiders has Jerious Norwood “trending up” and Ryan “trending down.” (Link requires registration.) Writes Weintraub:
“After putting forth the finest rookie season by a signal-caller since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, odds are he won’t become Dan Marino circa 1984, either. Our projections see Ryan tossing a couple more touchdown passes, but his completion percentage and net yards per attempt are both likely to fall off.”
• Finally, Peter King of SI.com, who had already picked the Falcons to finish 10-6 and win their division, amplifies a bit: “I trust [Thomas] Dimitroff and Smith will figure out how to fix a bad defense. The Falcons were a nice Cinderella story last year, fueled by the precocious Ryan. But an offense that exploded [259 points in 2007, 391 in 2008] hid the league’s 24th-rated unit, and in the offseason, Dimitroff did major surgery.”
Most of the above writers, in my view, sound the proper notes. The one thing with which I’d disagree is Weintraub’s elevation of Norwood. I’ve been waiting for Norwood to have a big season since I was a wee lad, and now I’m on Social Security (or thereabouts). That’s one I’ll have to see to believe, and I mightn’t believe it then. (When you get my age, your eyes go, too.)