Team: Atlanta Falcons
Record: 11-5 Home: 7-1 Away: 4-4 Division: 4-2
Coaching Staff – A
First year head coach Mike Smith has been truly outstanding and has an excellent chance of being named NFL Coach of The Year. Emmitt Smith, Paul Beadreau, Ray Hamilton, and Bill Musgraves are all outstanding football coaches and I'm amazed that none have ever been considered a front runner for a head coaching job.
Offensive Line – B-
The team offensive line has been a big surprise to many, but I've got to tell you, every offensive front coached by the veteran Boudreau show immediate improvement and in time become among the best in the league. Rookie Sam Baker a starter on the left side has been impressive. Justin Blaylock who plays along side of the aforementioned Baker is a versatile performer who has improved greatly in just his second season. Right tackle Tyson Clabo has improved greatly under the tutelage, but is at best a journeyman performer.
Wide Receivers / Tight End – A-
Roddy White has both size and speed and has quietly developed into one of the top receivers in the game over the past two seasons. Michael Jenkins is a solid complimentary receiver while rookie Harry Douglas is a dangerous punt returner and developing receiver. Brian Finneran, can't run a lick, but when the club needs a key reception, this big inside receiver over the years.
Running Backs – A
Michael Turner was my personal choice for the league's MVP award in 2008 and has been the key to the team's reversal of fortune. He shows speed, balance, runs with power, is durable and is very productive. Jerious Norwood is a very solid back up in this league and a threat to take it to the house.
Quarterback – B-
Matt Ryan was an outstanding college football player, but I never dreamed that he would come this far so fast. He is certainly poised beyond his years, was an accurate passer, kept his composure in the heat of battle and has made big plays in critical situations. I not only see a big future for hi, but I also player who is as advanced far quicker than some of the greatest quarterbacks of all time at a similar stage of development.
Defensive Line – D+
The defensive front is somewhat shaky, but former Jets defensive end John Abraham is one of the best pass rushers in the game. The sand in the hour glass may be nearing the end for mammoth inside player Grady Jackson. Once an impossible force on the inside he and his teammates have really struggled to contain the running game inside.
Linebackers – B-
Will backer Keith Brooking an eleven year veteran of the NFL wars has had one of his most productive playing seasons. Rookie Curtis Lofton, who has blossomed under the tutelage of Brooking is a big hitter who takes on and can defeat big people. Mike Boley makes plays and is an intricate part of the linebacking corp. Former Bills linebacker Coy Wire is very smart and an excellent special teams players.
Secondary – C
The Falcons Achilles Heel in the playoff round may well be the secondary where only cornerback Chris Houston is a home grown performer. Safety Lawyer Milloy is a big, savvy, experienced player very good playing instincts, but at 35 years of age, he no longer has the foot speed to consistently come off the hash or cover the tight end down the field. Domonique Foxworth has played very well since being acquired this season from the Denver Broncos. Erik Coleman is a physical down hill player.
Special Teams – B+
Both Harry Douglas and Jerious Norwood are extremely dangerous kick return men in spite of the fact that they combined for only one touchdown return on the season. Punter Mike Koenen numbers were rather pedestrian particularly when one considers the fact that more then half of his kicks were indoors. Jason Elam is a veteran kicker who can make pressure kick in critical situations. Overall the return teams have been adequate to good
Injury Factor – Knock on wood, but for the most part the Falcons' key personnel on both sides of the football have been relatively injury free.
Team Offensive MVP – Michael Turner has done it all for the Falcons on the season.
Team Defensive MVP – The veteran Keith Brooking and the rookie Curtis Lofton make a tremendous amount of plays particularly in the running game.
Top Rookie – Matt Ryan
Top Free Agent – Michael Turner
Team Strength – Running Game, Receivers, rookie quarterback
Team Weakness – Defensive front
Final Word – Just when you think the Falcons are ready to go into the tank, this young club gets off the deck and continues throwing punches. There is some room for improvement, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, but this team is for real.