Michael Turner is one of several Falcons looking to bounce back in 2010.
The Atlanta Falcons have made franchise history with back-to-back winning seasons, including a rare postseason performance. Now coach Mike Smith has set the bar even higher for 2010 as he looks to improve on a 9-7 straight up record and a money-making 11-5 against the spread mark.
Smith has been nothing short of a miracle worker since his hiring in 2008. He inherited an NFL football team and franchise in disarray and was somehow able to salvage both for owner Arthur Blank.
There was the Michael Vick controversy that swallowed up the entire 2007 season. With Vick suspended and on trial, then-head coach Bobby Petrino gave the franchise another swift kick to the groin by quitting without notice. His ill-timed (and ill-willed) departure came 13 games into the season and one day after Vick received his prison sentence. Historians will duly note it wasn’t just any 4-12 season.
Enter Smith who spent his first nine years in the National Football League as an assistant coach, including a stint from 2003-2007 as the defensive coordinator in Jacksonville. He not only righted the ship. but guided the Falcons to an extraordinary 11-5 season in 2008 that ended with a playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals. For his efforts Smith was named “Coach of the Year.”
Falcons on Offense
What made the turnaround even more remarkable was that Smith did it with rookie quarterback Matt Ryan at the helm.
Ryan threw for 3,440 yards and 16 touchdowns while starting every game in his initial NFL football season. However his numbers dipped across the board last year.
Battling through a turf toe injury that cost him two starts, Ryan still managed 2.916 yards with 22 TD’s and a passer rating of 80.9. He also threw three more interceptions (14) in fewer games (14) than his rookie season when he started every game.
Ryan isn’t the only Falcon looking for a bounce-back season. So is running back Michael Turner who saw his 2009 production drop by nearly 50 percent. Tuner was virtually unstoppable in 2008 running for 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns, but tailed off dramatically to 871 yards and 10 scores.
He missed six NFL football games with a serious ankle sprain but the Falcons say he’s healthy again, and that should mean big improvement for an offense that ranked 13th in scoring (22.7) and 16th in total yards (340.4).
Catch us if you can
The Falcons have one of the premier receivers in the league in Roddy White. The former UAB star has had three consecutive seasons with at least 80 catches and 1,000 yards. Last season he pulled in 85 passes for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Michael Jenkins and Harry Douglas offer Ryan another pair of enticing targets while tight end Tony Gonzalez returns for his ninth NFL season and second in Atlanta. Gonzo had 83 catches a year ago, including six touchdowns.NFL football betting odds
Falcons on Defense
This is the side of the ball in which Smith excels. His 2009 NFL football defensive unit ranked 10th against the run (106.9) but was 28th against the pass (241.9). The Falcons used their top draft pick on Missouri OLB Sean Weatherspoon who many NFL personnel people considered to be the most complete LB in the draft.
Atlanta also signed free agent DB Dunta Robinson in hopes he can shore up the secondary.
Betting the Falcons
The Falcons boasted some impressive NFL football spread numbers in ’09 going 11-5 ATS that included a 6-2 home mark. Atlanta was 3-3 both SU and ATS in the NFC North.
It was a mixed bag for the Birds against the champion Saints as they went 0-2 SU but covered in both games. The Falcons were 9-7 to the 'under,' including a 6-0 record to the low side to close out the season.
The Falcons' season win total opened and remains at nine. Their odds to win the Super Bowl are listed at 30/1. Atlanta is 13/1 to capture the NFC and plus 200 to take the NFC North. It appears it’ll be a two-team race in the division with the defending Super Bowl champion Saints (-160) heavy favorites to make another deep playoff run.
Atlanta has high hopes for a third straight winning season but at some point the Falcons have to beat the Saints. Under Smith, Atlanta is just 1-3 versus New Orleans.