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Formerly fruitless Falcons may fly high in 2012

Posted: June 4, 2012 3:23 p.m.
Updated: June 6, 2012 5:00 a.m.

With the start of the NFL season less than 100 days away, the proverbial clock is now ticking for every franchise hoping for success in 2012.

Teams will be shuffling roster spots, making trades, signing free agents, and trying to make all the necessary moves to win more games than they did last year.

As the players and coaches get ready on the field, the fans will be playing prognosticators, predicting hot topics like the quarterback set to have the best year, the first coach that will be on the hot seat, and of course, which team will win the Super Bowl.      

Last season, the soothsayers at Sports Illustrated picked the Atlanta Falcons to go all the way, ultimately winning Super Bowl XLVI over the San Diego Chargers.

That obviously didn’t happen as those dreams were quickly dashed in January when the eventual champion New York Giants squashed Atlanta 28-2 in the opening round of the playoffs.

This year, the Falcons are still seen by most as strong contenders for a postseason berth, but not much beyond that. However, Atlanta can exceed those expectations if they can work off the building blocks that have been in place since 2008.

For the past four years, the Falcons have been considered a successful franchise despite a lack of playoff triumphs. In each year since the disastrous 2007 season, Atlanta has won more games than they’ve lost – an historic accomplishment for a franchise that for 42 years held the record for most years without consecutive winning seasons.      

With the hiring of Mike Smith, the drafting of quarterback Matt Ryan, and the signing of running back Michael Turner, the team has put together the pieces necessary for success.

But is it enough for the ultimate prize -- winning a championship?

Atlanta obviously needed to up the ante this offseason after getting thumped in the first round last year by the Giants. They lost out on resigning linebacker Curtis Lofton, who actually went to the “dark side,” inking a 5 year deal with the New Orleans Saints. Former pro bowl full back Ovie Mughelli and wide receiver Eric Weems also left, leaving gaps to fill in both Atlanta’s offense and defense.

The hole left by Lofton’s departure was not exactly shored up, but the defensive side of the ball should be greatly benefited with the addition of pro bowl cornerback Asante Samuel. Samuel, formerly with the Philadelphia Eagles, will certainly strengthen the defensive back core along with Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes.

Likely filling in at full back will be fifth round draft choice Brady Ewing, a product of the Wisconsin Badgers. Ewing, known for his blocking skills, will be a welcomed addition along with new center Peter Konz, a fellow Badger and the team’s first choice in the 2012 draft.

Atlanta actually fell from first to 26th in the league in fourth-down conversions last season, but with the acquisitions of Ewing and Knoz, the team should improve in that area.

Despite Weems heading to the Chicago Bears, the Falcons still have plenty of options for Ryan at wide receiver. Harry Douglas, Julio Jones, and Roddy White still lead a talented group of players for the fifth-year starter to throw to.

With so much individual talent, it’s difficult to decipher the roots of Atlanta’s problems. Ryan seemed to dip somewhat last year, but still had solid statistics, finishing in the top 10 in overall yards and passer rating.

To get beyond the collapses of previous years, the Falcons will need to get through division rival New Orleans, and likely the Giants and Green Bay Packers as well to have any chance at a championship. Those NFC teams have all won Super Bowl rings recently and still have the pieces in place to make another run.

If the Falcons can learn from the successes of other franchises and fix their own past mistakes, then the Lombardi Trophy may be swinging through Atlanta in 2012.

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