Steve Wyche - Staff
Sunday, June 25, 2006
In adding three veterans to their defense (Lawyer Milloy, John Abraham, Chris Crocker), a pair of rookies at key positions (cornerback Jimmy Williams and running back Jerious Norwood) and Wayne Gandy to the offensive line, the Falcons appear to have augmented their roster enough to make a playoff push after missing last year's postseason.
But that's not necessarily so.
Many of their 2006 opponents --- including a gantlet of playoff teams from the NFC East and AFC North --- made similar improvements that could thwart the Falcons' moves.
Here's an early peek at the Falcons' new-look foes:
CAROLINA: Sept. 10, Dec. 24
The signing of wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson is going to take some pressure off Pro Bowl veteran Steve Smith and give quarterback Jake Delhomme more options. However, the re-signing of DeShaun Foster and drafting of fellow tailback DeAngelo Williams are what should concern the Falcons. Carolina rushed for 371 yards in its two victories over Atlanta last season. Defensive tackles Damione Lewis and Maake Kemoeato should make the Panthers' already strong defensive line more stout.
TAMPA BAY: Sept. 17, Dec. 10
The reigning division champs didn't make any huge splashes, with the re-signing of quarterback Chris Simms the most noteworthy. However, acquiring versatile linebacker Jamie Winborn adds to an already athletic defense. Once productive but recently injury-plagued wide receiver David Boston is looking for a rebirth to his career. Guard Davin Joseph, a first-round pick, could be a fixture for years.
NEW ORLEANS: Sept. 25, Nov. 26
Quarterback Drew Brees and versatile rookie tailback Reggie Bush could produce immediate changes, but Brees' uncertain health and Bush's adaptation to the NFL could put the projected turnaround of this underachieving franchise on hold for a while. The acquisitions of center Jeff Faine and defensive tackle Hollis Thomas could be stealth moves.
ARIZONA: Oct. 1
The acquisition of Pro Bowl tailback Edgerrin James brings instant credibility to the franchise. James, mixed with wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Bolden, could make the Cardinals very explosive and unpredictable. First-round pick Matt Leinart will sit behind quarterback Kurt Warner for at least a year, but two fellow draftees, guard Deuce Latui and Georgia tight end Leonard Pope, could be factors.
N.Y. GIANTS: Oct. 15
Sam Madison and Will Demps have been added to a secondary that was all but cleansed of last season's starters. Linebacker LaVar Arrington will get a chance to prove whether he's still got it or his best days are behind him. Tech linebacker Gerris Wilkinson joins a solid draft class that includes defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka and wide receiver Sinorice Moss.
PITTSBURGH: Oct. 22
The only real movement was in the headlines: Ben Roethlisberger's motorcycle accident and first-round pick Santonio Holmes arrest on charges of domestic violence. Holmes is supposed to ease the loss of receiver/kick returner Antwaan Randle El, but his alleged behavior isn't the type of stuff this franchise tolerates. Rookie safety Anthony Smith, whom the Falcons would have loved to draft, could help with the departure of starter Chris Hope.
CINCINNATI: Oct. 29
The recovery of quarterback Carson Palmer could determine how well things go for the upstart Bengals. Former Ravens backup Anthony Wright will compete with Craig Krenzel for the No. 2 job, leaving every reason for followers to be uneasy. Mammoth defensive tackle Sam Adams was brought in to occupy space so linebackers can make plays, especially against the run. Safety Dexter Jackson was signed from Tampa to help bolster the defense.
DETROIT: Nov. 5
The Lions' housecleaning left new coach Rod Marinelli to try to win with free-agent signees Jon Kitna or Josh McCown at quarterback. Free agency also brought in guards Ross Verba and former Falcon Barry Stokes. Rookie defenders Ernie Sims and Daniel Bullocks should be immediate contributors.
CLEVELAND: Nov. 12
Former Falcons offensive tackle Kevin Shaffer gets to prove if he can flourish outside of Atlanta's cut-blocking scheme and will get to test his mettle against Abraham. Shaffer is joined on the offensive line by stud center LeCharles Bentley, who will be snapping to first-year starting quarterback Charlie Frye. Wide receiver Joe Jurevicius provides size and sure hands. Georgia rookie DeMario Minter will compete for a backup cornerback job.
BALTIMORE: Nov. 19
This season should determine if veteran quarterback Steve McNair has anything left. After years of playing through injury and pain in Tennessee/Houston, he was acquired to resurrect an offense that has never seemed to match the Ray Lewis-led defense. Tailback Mike Anderson was brought in to spell Jamal Lewis, making snaps --- and a roster spot --- potentially tough to come by for former Tech running back P.J. Daniels. First-round pick Haloti Ngata was drafted to keep blockers off Lewis.
WASHINGTON: Dec. 3
Randle El should help the Redskins' return game, but it remains to be seen if he's in a system that will allow him to fully flourish like he did in Pittsburgh. Safety Adam Archuleta is a big hitter, but opinions are mixed about his overall effectiveness. Tight end Christian Fauria, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd and defensive end Andre Carter were added to bolster an already solid team.
DALLAS: Dec. 16
Wide receiver Terrell Owens could have the same effect he had on Philadelphia in 2004, when he helped them reach the Super Bowl, or he could have the effect he had on the Eagles in 2005, when he napalmed team chemistry and sank the season. Either way, one of the game's top playmakers will be looking forward to his rematch with Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who elevated his status against Owens last season. The Cowboys' signing of former Colts kicker (and, like Owens, lightning rod) Mike Vanderjagt, could make Dallas a Super Bowl contender.
PHILADELPHIA: Dec. 31
Sack specialist Darren Howard, who was with New Orleans, was brought in to ease some of the burden on Jevon Kearse. Backup quarterback Jeff Garcia could be vital insurance should Donovan McNabb take the beating --- Falcons defensive tackle Chad Lavalais delivered the blow to the midsection that began McNabb's woes in the season opener --- he took last season. Georgia guard Max Jean-Gilles was drafted to help prevent McNabb from taking such abuse again.