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Online Falcons Lines & Predictions - Atlanta Falcons Future Odds - Free NFL Betting Previews

2006 Atlanta Falcons Season Preview

2006 Falcons NFL News - August 24th, 2006
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2006 NFL Previews - By: Tony Moss For MySportsbook.com

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In 2004, the Atlanta Falcons made a return to prominence. In 2005, one of the NFL's most legendarily mediocre franchises made a return to form. Hot on the heels of an 11-5 finish and trip to the NFC Championship in head coach Jim Mora's

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first year, few saw last year's 8-8 stumble coming. The Falcons had been pegged for ascendance following a successful offseason that saw them add key pieces like linebacker Edgerton Hartwell and wideout Roddy White. Quarterback Michael Vick, it was believed, would make great strides in the team's west coast-styled attack in year two. Even if they didn't find themselves in the Super Bowl, certainly the Falcons would for the first time in franchise history score back-to-back winning seasons, right?

Wrong.

Sure, Atlanta started hot enough, entering the second half with a 6-2 record that suggested big things were afoot. But back-to-back home losses to lowly Green Bay (33-25) and suddenly-resurgent Tampa Bay (30-27) sent the Falcons' ship listing, and by the time of their 44-11 humbling at the hands of the Panthers in Week 17, it finally capsized. Hartwell was lost for the season to an Achilles tear in game five, and White never emerged as a reliable wideout in his rookie year. Even Vick seemed to be perpetually stuck in neutral, showing no more acumen in running Greg Knapp's offense than he had in '04.

Like The Beatles' formation of Apple Records, what looked like a promising venture at the outset all devolved into an unseemly mess.

This year will bring an attempt by Mora's Falcons to clean up from that second-half catastrophe, in an effort to experience the kind of success an eventually difficult 2005 once promised.

Below we take a capsule look at the 2006 edition of the Atlanta Falcons, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2005 RECORD: 8-8 (3rd, NFC South)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2004, lost to Philadelphia, 27-10, in NFC Championship

COACH (RECORD): Jim Mora (19-13 in one season with Falcons, 19-13 overall)

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Greg Knapp

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Ed Donatell

OFFENSIVE STAR: Michael Vick, QB (2412 passing yards, 15 TD, 13 INT, 597 rushing yards, 6 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: DeAngelo Hall, CB (65 tackles, 6 INT)

OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 1st rushing, 27th passing, 14th scoring

DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 26th rushing, 14th passing, 18th scoring

FIVE KEY GAMES: at Carolina (9/10), Tampa Bay (9/17), at New Orleans (9/25), at Tampa Bay (12/10), Carolina (12/24)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB D.J. Shockley (7th Round, Georgia), RB Jerious Norwood (3rd Round, Mississippi State), WR Ashley Lelie (from Broncos), T Wayne Gandy (from Saints), DE John Abraham (from Jets), S Chris Crocker (from Browns), S Lawyer Milloy (from Bills), DB Jimmy Williams (2nd Round, Virginia Tech)

KEY DEPARTURES: RB T.J. Duckett (to Redskins), T Barry Stokes (to Lions), T Kevin Shaffer (to Browns), DE Brady Smith (released), S Bryan Scott (to Saints), S Kevin McCadam (to Panthers)

QB: Though he continues to give opposing defensive coordinators major headaches, many Falcons fans and NFL observers are wondering when, if ever, Michael Vick (2412 passing yards, 15 TD, 13 INT, 597 rushing yards, 6 TD) will become a consistent operator within the west coast offense. Vick's 73.1 passer rating last season was down from 2004's 78.1 showing, and his 13 interceptions were a career-high. A 3,000-yard, 20-TD season will be expected from Vick this season. Complicating matters for the quarterback is the fact that third-year pro Matt Schaub (495 passing yards, 4 TD, 0 INT) has looked poised in both preseason and limited regular season action since coming into the league. If Vick and the Falcons start slowly, expect there to be some whispers for Schaub to play. Seventh-round draft pick D.J. Shockley (Georgia) and free agent Bryan Randall were vying for third-string duties in the preseason, and the local favorite Shockley appeared to have the edge.

RB: Though the Falcons finished atop the league in rushing in both 2004 and 2005, the organization sought to break up the team's vaunted "DVD" rushing trio. Running back Warrick Dunn (1416 rushing yards, 29 receptions, 4 TD) and quarterback Michael Vick are both back, but bruising back T.J. Duckett (380 rushing yards, 8 TD), whose work habits were called into question and whose contract was set to expire after 2006, was dealt to the Redskins in a three-ay deal that netted wideout Ashley Lelie. A major element that hastened Duckett's departure was the positive feeling that many within the organization had for third-round draft choice Jerious Norwood (Mississippi State) as well as the presence of second-year man DeAndra Cobb. Norwood was impressive early in the preseason, and Cobb is valuable to the Falcons on special teams. Fullbacks Justin Griffith (21 receptions, 3 TD) and Fred McCrary (3 receptions) should both be on the opening-day roster as well.

WR/TE: When it comes to the Atlanta receivers, there is a chicken-or-egg argument at play. Is the lack of production from the Falcons wideouts due to the struggles of Michael Vick, or are Vick's problems based in large part on the lackluster work of the receivers? Either way, more will be needed from this group in 2006. Former first-round picks Michael Jenkins (36 receptions, 3 TD), Roddy White (29 receptions, 3 TD), and Ashley Lelie (42 receptions, 1 TD with the Broncos) will have to be a consistent complement to trusty tight end Alge Crumpler (65 receptions, 5 TD), who is himself attempting to recover from offseason knee and shoulder surgeries. The season-ending knee injury suffered by top possession receiver Brian Finneran (50 receptions, 2 TD) on the first day of training camp left a void at the No. 3 receiver, one that Lelie, a deep threat in a similar mold as Jenkins and White, will be hard-pressed to fill. The final two or three receiving spots were a battle between veteran Jerome Pathon (1 reception), rookie Adam Jennings (6th Round, Fresno State), and intriguing 6-foot-5 free agent Kevin Youngblood. Filling out the depth chart behind Crumpler will be fellow tight ends Eric Beverly and Dwayne Blakley (4 receptions, 1 TD).

OL: There is a major change along the line, as the team obtained the Saints' Wayne Gandy via trade to man the left tackle slot following Kevin Shaffer's free agent defection to the Browns. Gandy will combine with holdover starters in left guard Matt Lehr, center Todd McClure, right guard Kynan Forney, and right tackle Todd Weiner to try and protect Vick and open holes for the running backs. Depth in the trenches figures to be offered by holdovers Frank Omiyale, Austin King, and Ben Claxton, along with fifth-round draft choice Quinn Ojinnaka (Syracuse).

DL: A Falcons pass rush that was already regarded as one of the league's toughest to contain got better following the offseason addition of John Abraham (58 tackles, 10.5 sacks with the Jets), who steps immediately into the end slot vacated by the departed Brady Smith (8 tackles, 3 sacks). Abraham and Patrick Kerney (53 tackles, 6.5 sacks) should prove tough to handle off the edge, and Rod Coleman (40 tackles, 10.5 sacks), arguably the league's best pass-rushing tackle, should benefit from the arrangement as well. The fourth starter will probably be tackle Chad Lavalais (25 tackles, 2.5 sacks), an unsung run-stopper who started 14 games last season. Atlanta is as deep on the d-line as on any area of the team, as holdovers Chauncey Davis (28 tackles, 1 sack), Antwan Lake (16 tackles, 3.5 sacks), Jonathan Babineaux (31 tackles, 0.5 sacks), and Darrell Shropshire (13 tackles, 2 sacks) have all played significant NFL minutes.

LB: The Week 5 ruptured Achilles suffered by Falcons middle linebacker Edgerton Hartwell (22 tackles) had major negative ramifications for the Atlanta defense. The injury forced rookie Michael Boley (63 tackles) and second-year pro Demorrio Williams (127 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 INT) to learn on the job, and forced veteran Keith Brooking (115 tackles, 4 INT, 3.5 sacks) into an uncomfortable position in the middle. Hartwell is back and healthy, and Boley played well enough to keep his job on the strong side, leaving Brooking and Williams to battle for duties on the weak side. The loser of that battle will be the top backup, and will join a reserve unit that also projects to include special teams ace Ike Reese (31 tackles) and Jordan Beck, a 2005 third-round pick who missed all of his rookie year with a broken foot

DB: Mora made significant offseason changes to a secondary unit that was both battered and disappointing in 2005. In are strong safety Lawyer Milloy (106 tackles, 1 INT, 1 sack with the Bills), free safety Chris Crocker (81 tackles, 2 INT, 2 sacks with the Browns), and rookie Jimmy Williams (2nd Round, Virginia Tech), all of whom could be in the starting lineup in Week 1. The one holdover under that scenario would be DeAngelo Williams (65 tackles, 6 INT), who has an obvious attitude problem but was the unit's best playmaker a year ago. Looking to reclaim jobs after missing most of 2005 due to injury are cornerback Chris Cash (12 tackles) and safety Kevin Mathis, who will have to battle for time with holdovers Jason Webster (79 tackles, 1 INT) and Omare Lowe (20 tackles). Allen Rossum (10 tackles) doesn't offer much as a cornerback, but will make the team as a return specialist. That leaves youngsters Cam Newton (3 tackles) and Nick Turnbull to fight for what is likely to be the final roster spot.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Michael Koenen (1-2 FG, 42.3 avg.), who handled both punts and kickoffs last season, could become the first NFL player since the Rams' Frank Corral in 1981 to serve as his team's primary punter and place-kicker. If Mora is uncomfortable with Koenen handling both, the team could bring in a veteran kicker via the waiver wire. Allen Rossum (8.5 punt return avg., 22.6 kickoff return avg.) last year failed to score a touchdown off a return for the first time since 1998, but is expected back. Rookies Jerious Norwood and Adam Jennings are among those with a chance to take over those duties if Rossum fails to offer a spark. Elsewhere on special teams, Derek Rackley is going into his sixth season as the Falcons' long-snapper.

PROGNOSIS: The Falcons always seem to fare better when less is expected of them (see: '98 Super Bowl run, win at Lambeau Field in '02 playoffs, '04 NFC Championship appearance, etc.), and given the talent present within the NFC South, Atlanta will be encouraged to know that it is seen as something less than a lock to make the postseason. Carolina looks to be the natural pick to win the division, Tampa Bay comes off an NFC South title and playoff appearance, and New Orleans, with Reggie Bush, Drew Brees, and a real homefield now in the mix, is a major "x" factor. Which means Mora's squad gets to fly under the radar a bit, not that people aren't fully aware how much talent is present on this team. If the passing game can make more of a contribution, the offense will run at an elite level. If the additions of Abraham, Milloy, Crocker, and Jimmy Williams, as well as the renewed health of Hartwell, all have the desired effect, the defense could be mighty dangerous. We're guessing there will be enough improvement that the Falcons will be a major player in the division and Wild Card races, and a little luck in a wide- open NFC could even result in a Super Bowl appearance.


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