The Pulse Of The Fans – Things To Look Forward To On Offense In 2009

  1. Tony Gonzalez and his Goal Post Dunks

The best tight end is coming to Atlanta and will help the offense in the red zone.  The Falcons were proficient with their running game inside the 20-yard line, but their passing could use some help.  A fade route to Roddy White isn’t a bad option at all, but Gonzo over the middle will be another great option for Matty Ice.

  1. Jerious Norwood Getting To Shine

Norwood made great strides as a receiver in 2008 and I would agree that he would be a great tool to use in a 4-wide receiver set with him motioning out of the backfield.  I think he will get a few more carries to keep Turner’s number down, but their 3rd running back will get a few more touches as well.  Norwood has been very effective with kick returns and breaking runs on a tired defense in the 2nd half with the number of carries he had in 2008.

  1. Harry Douglas becoming the NFL’s best slot receiver.

I think it would be difficult to supplant a guy like Wes Welker or Anthony Gonzalez in terms of reliability, but Douglas definitely showed promise in his rookie year.  Douglas is very quick and put on some muscle in the off-season.  He’s a great punt returner to start with, and in 2009 will see a lot more snaps at receiver.  he had 30+ catches in 2008, and while I don’t see that number topping 50, he will have more clutch catches and touchdowns throughout the year.

  1. Top 5 Rated Offense

This is definitely a possibility.  On paper they have a great chance to be right there with a New Orleans, New England, Philadelphia, Indianapolis – all those teams you expect to be an elite scoring team.  The biggest thing it hinges on is the offensive line play.  If they can play at the level they played at in 2008, Ryan and the offense will be elite.  If they take a full step back, the offense will be top-15, but that’s about it.

Ovie Mughelli Called Out By ESPN

In breaking down the NFC South salary cap situation, Ovie Mughelli got some harsh criticism by ESPN recently.  The fullback has the 9th highest salary in Atlanta in 2009, which was called out as very high for a position of diminishing importance.

I will defend Atlanta and Mughelli for his salary in 2009 and his importance on the team.  Yes, the wildcat is seemingly taking over the NFL, but it’s not taking over Atlanta.  Norwood will have a few direct snaps here and there, but they are a traditional running football team.  Mughelli paved the way for Michael Turner to run for almost 1700 yards and 17 TDs in 2008.  Atlanta runs a lot of 2-back formations, so Mughelli is very important.  Also, he’s a good pass blocker, which will be crucial in 2009 when Tony Gonzalez goes into the secondary on 1st and 2nd down as a receiver out of the base formation.

Yes, the other fullbacks in the division are paid far less, but Mughelli was the best fullback on the market when Atlanta signed him years back.  Also, remember back when Atlanta wasn’t a good team to come to?  Vick had just left and the team was struggling to find an identity.  With Mughelli and Turner in the backfield, Atlanta found one in a hurry – run the football.

Rodney Harrison – Available For 2009

Unlike Marvin Harrison, Rodney is a more intriguing option for the Atlanta Falcons.  Erik Coleman is pretty locked in at the free safety position, but the strong side….who knows?

Yes, Atlanta just signed 2nd round pick William Moore and he is the future, but is he a starter in 2009?  Atlanta hopes so, but you have to have a back-up plan going into training camp.  Thomas DeCloud, Jamaal Fudge, Eric Brock and Antoine Harris are hardly known commodities on the roster.  Rodney Harrison could provide a valuable stop-gap in 2009 until Moore is ready for every-down action.

Rodney Harrison is one of the fiercest competitors in NFL history and would love one more chance at another title.  He’s lost a step or two, but Atlanta’s defense could use a veteran leader on the defensive side of the ball.  Other than John Abraham, middle linebacker Curtis Lofton (who was a rookie in 2008), is their on-the-field leader.  Harrison could play 1st and 2nd down if Atlanta was concerned about his speed covering the deep pass.  If the salary cap number works, Harrison would great insurance in 2009 on a one year contract.

Marvin Harrison – Still A Free Agent

They are past their prime, but still serviceable players in the NFL, yet no team has signed them yet. 

Marvin Harrison is one of the finest wide receivers in the history of the game.  In the span of a couple years, Harrison has gone from Peyton Manning’s favorite target and perennial 100-catch guy to unemployed after battling injuries.

Is Harrison a guy that will catch 80 passes in 2009 in a starting role?  Probably not.  But he is a guy that can be a great veteran presence for young guys and play the slot making some key 3rd down catches.  The question is will he want to do that after years of being a star?  My gut says he just loves playing the game and wants another championship.

Will Atlanta be in the hunt for Harrison?  Probably not.  They are loaded at receiver and Harrison on the field would mean a guy like Harry Douglas or Tony Gonzalez would be on the sideline – not what they are looking to do in 2009.

Matt Ryan – Fantasy Football 2009 Advice

It’s very difficult to keep your emotions out of our fantasy football draft.  Yes, everyone has their favorite teams and players, but loving a player in real life is different than making a good fantasy football decision.  If you are looking to have a lineup that you like the most – you probably won’t win many championships.  No one is advocating drafting all the stars from your team’s rivals, but there is a happy medium.

Matt Ryan is a prime example in 2009.  Atlanta fans love him after a great rookie season and the look of an NFL star quarterback.  That can easily persuade a fantasy player to reach for a guy like Ryan on draft day.  I’ve actually seen owners try to get as many players from their favorite team as possible.  Other than the 2007 Patriots, that probably wouldn’t be a good strategy. 

Ryan is a winner on the field and very valuable to the Falcons in 2009 and beyond, but not an elite fantasy football player.  Here’s why: The Falcons are a team that is committed to the run and will win most of their games by Matt Ryan throwing under 30 passes a game and controlling the clock.  That’s even more important in 2009 with a young defense to protect.  Just with a lot fewer attempts and a strong running game, Ryan is lower in the rankings than Aaron Rodgers, Matt Schaub and Donovan McNabb.  Ryan is a good value in the middle of the draft, but using a 5th round or higher selection is not ideal.

Breaking Down The New Orleans Saints’ 2009 Schedule

The Saints were arguably the best last-place team in the NFL in 2008.  They were a high-flying offense, but weak on defense and inconsistent on the ground.  In 2009, New Orleans benefits from playing Detroit and St.Louis as their “strength of schedule” games, but with the volatility of the NFL, last year’s laughing stocks can be this year’s playoff team.

The Saints’ toughest opponents (Giants and Patriots) are in the Superdome, which is a plus, but having a stretch of 4 road games in 5 weeks late in the year could be their biggest hurdle in 2009.  The Saints get a nice warm-up game against Detroit at home to start the year (this is like those Ohio State vs. Ohio early season match-ups in college football!).  Atlanta had the same opening in 2008, which led to a career-starting highlight of Matt Ryan to Michael Jenkins for a 62-yard TD that still gets a lot of play.

The big key for dome teams is where and when their road games are on the schedule.  The Saints play Phiadelphia and Buffalo early in the year, so they will avoid a harsh winter there.  The only real danger is a December game in Washington DC.  The Saints will have a real shot at the playoffs and 10+ wins with their schedule.  Like I said, the 4-road game stretch will be their biggest challenge against St.Louis, Tampa Bay, Washington and Atlanta.  Their “break” in the middle of all the travel is hosting the Patriots.

Breaking Down 2009 Carolina Panthers’ Schedule

Carolina received a 1st place schedule thanks to a 12-4 finish in 2008 with games against Minnesota and Arizona.  Vegas has the Panthers with 8.5 wins in 2009 for all the bettors out there.  Here’s a few highlights from their upcoming schedule:

The Panthers open up with a difficult 3-game stretch before their week 4 bye – at home against the Eagles, then on the road to Atlanta and Dallas (Monday Night).  Carolina, with 2 or more wins, could be an NFC early favorite, or be 0-3 with a slow start.  After easier games against Washington, Tampa and Buffalo, the Panthers get another gaunlet of games against Arizona, New Orleans and Atlanta.  After the Falcons, Carolina must turn around and play Miami on Thanksgiving. 

There are two big-time cold weather games on their schedule in December with New England and the Giants.  The Panthers will definitely earn a playoff spot with a closing 4-game stretch of the Patriots, Vikings, Giants and Saints.

2009 Vegas Betting Line For Atlanta Falcons

The Vegas line for 2009 season wins has been set for the NFL recently.  These are the guys that make millions on sports betting – these guys are good at setting these lines.  My first observation was that a ton of teams, especially in the NFC, were between 7-9 wins for the over/under.  That’s basically saying “we don’t really know who is going to make the playoffs and the conference is a muddled mess.”

The NFC South has 3 teams with 8 wins or more.  Carolina and New Orleans are at 8.5 with Atlanta at 8 wins.  I was doing some research and some of the most accurate predictors of NFL success for an upcoming season are the strength of schedule (meaning you have a much better shot at improving with an easier schedule) and the way you beat a strong schedule is with a great quarterback. 

The NFC South plays the NFC East and AFC East this year – which makes it tough for any team to win 12 games or more.  Plus, they play each other which accounts for 14 of their 16 games.  New Orleans and Atlanta are both capable of great quarterback play – counting on Jake Delhomme in Carolina is a stretch.  The Panthers had a far easier schedule in 2008 and I expect them to fall back some in 2009.  The games of each team’s schedule based on their 2008 finish are:  @SF and @Chi for Atlanta, vs.Det and @STL for New Orleans, and vs.Minn and @Ari for Carolina. 

I would expect the NFC South champion in 2009 to have 10 wins with the schedule difficulty where it is.  Obviously the Saints have the easiest games with Detroit and St.Louis.  It’s hard for me to believe that with all the additions and another year under the same regime and Matt Ryan with a real off-season, that Atlanta slips 3 games to 8-8 in 2009.  If I were a betting man, I would put my money on the over with Vegas.

Atlanta Falcons – Worst Draft This Decade: 2000

I was tempted to go with the 2001 draft with all the damage of Michael Vick and what the trade gave up to acquire the pick, but I will refrain.  After all, Vick did some good things for Atlanta in making the playoffs and beating the Packers in Lambeau, while the 2001 draft also featured bargains like Crumpler in the 2nd round and Kynan Forney in the 7th.

2000 was selected as the weakest draft this decade.  Every other year featured at least one notable player that made an impact for the franchise.  In 2000, two years removed from the Super Bowl, Atlanta selected Travis Claridge in the 2nd round, a player relegated to the CFL after a few seasons in the NFL.  Mark Simoneau was the 3rd round selection, a player with some success in New Orleans after little in Atlanta (all the more reason to negatively impact the draft of 2000…going to a rival!). 

The rest of the draft showing little to nothing in return and Atlanta went on to have another losing campaign in 2000.  Thank goodness those days are long behind us.  Thanks, Thomas Dimitroff!!

Roddy White Makes ESPN’s Top 10 Players Ready For Stardom

Roddy White was the lone Falcon on the list for ESPN.  Atlanta fans would say he was a star in 2008, but the list implies on a broader, more national scale.  The collection of guys are known in their local markets quite a bit, but not by the casual football fan.  Other notables on the list include former Falcon Matt Schaub, John Carlson of Seattle, and Chris Johnson of Tennessee.

Fantasy football players already know about all the offensive guys on the list because part of the game is knowing most of the offensive players in the NFL.  For the sake of the blog, I will focus on Roddy White.

White was key to the success of Matt Ryan in 2008 and caught more of his team’s passes than any other receiver in the NFL.  Just put on the tape of the playoff game against Arizona to see how much Ryan looks for White.  He had a similiar season in 2007 with Joey Harrington and Chris Redman throwing him passes – that’s how good he’s become.  In 2009, it will be even more difficult to stop White in the Atlanta offense with Tony Gonzalez added to a group of Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood, Michael Jenkins and Harry Douglas.  Good luck, defensive coordinators.