2009 record: 9-7 (Second in NFC South)
Michael LombardiFalcons are explosive, but must get the Michael Turner of 2008. Their defense will be good at home, but can they play well on the road?
GM Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith's years with Atlanta. They originally set out on a three-year plan, and while the first two years went better than many analysts expected, this is the first time in the Dimitroff/Smith era that the Falcons have title expectations.
The former first-rounder has been viewed as a bust due to his failure to consistently produce impact plays throughout his three-year career. A move to defensive tackle has invigorated Anderson, however. While the jury is still out on whether he can play at a high level as an interior defender, the Falcons are holding out hope that he can emerge as a quality starter.
Michael TurnerThe anchor of the Falcons' offense possesses an excellent combination of speed, power and explosiveness as a runner. He excels at gaining tough yardage between the tackles, and his physical style sets the tone for the offense. While injuries forced Turner to miss five games a season ago, he reported to camp in outstanding shape and has shown flashes of recapturing the big-play form that made him a Pro Bowler in 2008.
Ryan is worth itMatt Ryan's mediocre 2009 numbers might have some fantasy owners wondering about his potential at the NFL level. That could make him one of the best draft bargains in the league. He should improve with two seasons under his belt and could develop into a fantasy starter in 2010.
Three pivotal games
Sept. 26 at New OrleansThe Falcons played the reigning division and Super Bowl champs close in two games last season, but lost both contests. Had Atlanta won those two matchups it would have claimed the NFC South title. The Falcons' first chance to show the Saints they are ready to overtake them this year comes at the Superdome in Week 3.
Nov. 11 vs. BaltimoreThis will be the Falcons' first 2010 appearance on national television (Thursday night on NFL Network) and gives them a chance to show they are not only a contender in the NFC South, but are also one of the league's elite teams. In order to do so they must beat the Ravens. And oh yeah, Matt Ryan vs. Joe Flacco should be interesting.
Nov. 28 vs. Green BayMany analysts expect the Packers to be a major threat in the NFC, and the Falcons will have another opportunity to show their wares in this Week 12 tilt. The game comes between two road games against the Rams and Bucs, both of whom are coming off last place finishes and feature young quarterbacks. Atlanta's defense will likely get a much bigger test vs. Aaron Rodgers.