Ah, week one of the NFL season. The time when everybody's team has a shot at the title, last year's performance be damned. When your 0-4 preseason record can be safely forgotten and your 4-0 preseason record can be trumpeted as the harbinger of greatness. The calm before the storm that will smash your (pro football-related) hopes and dreams on the shoals of mediocrity.
Going into 2008, the Falcons were expected to lose just about every game, including some scrimmages against Georgia high schools. They went 11-5, made the playoffs and had the coach and offensive rookie of the year. You know what that means: over-inflated expectations. Cap'n! Iceberg right ahead!
The Falcons have a brutal schedule this season. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I believe every team they play won the Super Bowl last year.
Their defense is young. The right cornerback can't buy beer yet. The middle linebacker gets excited when the happy meal toy changes. Don't get me wrong; I think they're on the right track and they are going to be good sooner rather than later. But "sooner" means week 7 or so, which is too late to do anything meaningful playoff-wise. Next year, watch out.
First up is the Dolphins, the leagues other cinderella from last year. They're also fairly young and talented. Defensively they're ahead of Atlanta. Offensively they're solid, but not in the same league (ugh, pun alert) as the Falcons. Here's how I see it going down:
Atlanta starts fast, putting up 10 points in the first couple of possessions. The defense starts well, all hopped up on, uh, adrenaline. Falcons up by 10 early. Then the wheels come off the defense's little red plastic wagon. By the time the crying jag is over, the Dolphins are up 14-10.
Matt Ryan sees the writing on the wall, even if the young defense wrote it in crayon: the offense needs to win a shoot-out. They initially rise to the occasion and things seesaw. We go into the 4th quarter with a score of 27 -24, uh Falcons why not.
Then Tony Sparano[*] breaks out his new weapon. Known last year for the Wildcat, where multiple pass/run threats are in the backfield and the quarterback lines up in crazy places (at wideout, the press box, etc.), Miami now has a defensive counterpart: the Cougar.
Miami takes the lead 31-27 and then after the ensuing kickoff the defense consists entirely of hot, over-35 women with more plastic than most shoulderpads. They surround Matt Ryan on every play, thrusting room keys, phone numbers and measurements at him, completely disrupting his rythym. Dolphins win.
[*] Their were no where near enough Tony Soprano jokes made last year about Miami's head coach. Shouldn't he dress like a don? Smoke cigars and wear a pinkie ring? Feed some ducks in a pond outside the stadium?