Atlanta Falcons 2009 Season Preview
by Badger of Predictem.com
2008 Record 11-5 (9-7 ATS) Lost in Wild Card Round to Arizona, 30-24
Stadium: Georgia Dome
Head Coach: Mike Smith (2nd Season 11-6)
Current 2009 Super Bowl Odds 20-to-1
Training Camp Site: Atlanta Falcons Training Facility, Flowery
After a 2007 season where the Atlanta Falcons lost both franchise
quarterback Michael Vick and head coach Bobby Petrino to embarrassing
controversies, its safe to say their surprising Wild Card playoff
run in 2008 makes things even steven.
The Falcons drafted quarterback Matt Ryan, who produced one of the
best Rookie of the Year seasons ever by a quarterback, turned over
the roster and quickly transformed a 4-12 team into an 11-5 team in
head coach Mike Smiths inaugural season. They did lose in the first
round of the Wild Card playoffs, but they gave Arizona their stiffest
test before bowing out 30-24.
Now that the tables have turned so fast, Atlanta is talking about
trying to win playoff games in 2009, instead of still trying to win
back their respect.
Whos In/Whos Out
Atlanta made headlines in April when they acquired veteran tight end
Tony Gonzales from the Kansas City Chiefs for a second-round pick in
The Falcons allowed three key veteran leaders on their defense walk
away in free agency in the offseason, losing linebacker Keith
Brooking, safety Lawyer Malloy and tackle Grady Jackson. The loss of
Brooking, who played 11 seasons in Atlanta before he was lured away
by the Dallas Cowboys, is the hardest one to swallow and will be felt
in the locker room no doubt.
That is why they went out and sign veteran linebacker Mike Peterson
to try and fill the void left by the loss of Brooking. Peterson
played five seasons under Smith in Jacksonville and is very familiar
with the scheme, which is why they feel he can move from the middle
to weak-side linebacker and play along with Curtis Lofton.
Draft Class 2009
Defensive tackle Peria Jerry from Mississippi was taken with the 24th
pick in the first round to play the one-gap position and eat up
double teams. Hes obviously expected to be the starter at the
position vacated when they let Jackson walk.
Safety William Moore was picked in the second round to try and be the
replacement for Malloy, but that is less of a guarantee.
The rest of the Falcons 2009 Draft lacks the marquee names, but a few
of them (3rd CB Chris Owens, 5th CB William Middleton) could
catch on as role players.
Ryan was simply spectacular straight out of Boston College for the
Falcons last season, completing 61.1 percent of his passes and
throwing for 3,440 yards and 16 touchdowns. More importantly though,
he showed poise and skill beyond his years and gave Falcons fans
everywhere reason to believe again.
But lets not forget that it was another huge offseason pickup last
year that was equally as important to drafting Ryan, and that was
signing Michael Turner. Turner ran for 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns
as the Falcons ground attack racked up 152.7 yards a game (2nd in
NFL). Jerious Norwood averaged 5.1 yards per carry and 9.4 yards per
catch as Turners primary backup, which has offensive coordinator
Mike Mularkey looking for more ways to get the two of them on the
field at the same time.
As of press time Pro Bowl wide out Roddy White is still holding out for a new contract, but its only a matter of time before its done.
White, who had 1,382 yards and seven touchdowns in a breakout 2009
season, will no doubt benefit from Gonzales running underneath routes
and vicea-versa. Harry Douglas and Michael Jenkins (15.5 ave., 3 TD)
form a solid crew on passing downs for Ryan.
The offensive line could become a problem now that Jeremy Newberry retired just before training camp opened. Newberry was signed in the offseason to provide depth, but a chronic bad knee finally forced him
to hang them up for good.
The Falcons defense in 2008 was solid but unspectacular, finishing
the season ranked 11th in points allowed (20.3 ppg) but 24th in yards
allowed (361.2 ypg). This years unit will be younger, especially in
the secondary, which could make things hard for the Dirty Birds in 09.
With Jerry providing a stop-gap at tackle, the Falcons hope to
improve on their 25th-ranked run defense (127.9 ypg) and allow Lofton
and Peterson to make tackles. John Abraham and Eric Coleman add pass
rush and presence to the defensive line too.
The secondary will have a training camp battle for the corner
position opposite Chris Houston, with second-year guys Chevis Jackson
and Brent Grimes and veteran Von Hutchins involved in the mix. Either
way the youth movement will be looking to improve on their 21st-
ranked pass defense (220.4 ypg).
Norwood finished the year with a 25.7 yard average on kickoff
returns, busting a long of 92 yards but never taking one all the way.
Even so, hes still one of the leagues biggest threats to take it to
Douglas could emerge as the NFLs top punt returners this year, since
he had an 11.9 yard average and one score in 19 returns in 08.
Jason Elam was steady and productive as the kicker, hitting 29-of-31
field goal attempts including 1-of-2 from 50-plus. Punter Michael
Koenen had two punts blocked last year and finished with a 37.5 net
average, so he has room for improvement in order to match the level
of consistency of Elam and make the Falcons unit top-notch.
2009 Falcons Schedule
Sept. 13 MIAMI DOLPHINS
Sept. 20 CAROLINA PANTHERS
Sept. 27 at New England Patriots
Oct. 4 Bye
Oct. 11 at San Francisco 49ers
Oct. 18 CHICAGO BEARS
Oct. 25 at Dallas Cowboys
Nov. 2 at New Orleans Saints
Nov. 8 WASHINGTON REDSKINS
Nov. 15 at Carolina Panthers
Nov. 22 at New York Giants
Nov. 29 TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Dec. 6 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Dec. 13 NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Dec. 20 at New York Jets
Dec. 27 BUFFALO BILLS
Jan. 3 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Odds and Projections
Normally when teams go through worst-to-first scenarios they are able to take advantage of friendly odds and post solid against-the-spread
numbers for bettors, but the Falcons were barely a juice-covering 9-7
ATS in 08. The Falcons also played under the total in 9 of their 16
games last season.
With their current listing of 20-to-1 odds to win the 2009 Super Bowl the Falcons are an attractive middle candidate in a typical short-
middle-long futures betting scheme, but I just dont think their
defense will be strong enough to make it cash in. Ryan is the type of
player that could be worth the chance though.
Another reason I think it will be tough on the Falcons is their
schedule. The Falcons get their first two games at home, but those
games are against Miami and Carolina, and are followed by a road trip
to New England. Their road schedule also features two games in Giants
Stadium and a trip to new Cowboys Stadium, a tough task for a young