Reasons to be Cautious:
Steven Jackson – I love Steven Jackson and think he is (and has been), one of the best “Pure RBs” ever. With that said, RBs seem to hit a wall at 30…which as of July 22nd, is exactly Jackson’s age. To say he has some mileage on his tires would be an understatement. Jackson is the NFL’s active leader in rushing yards (10,135) and carries (2,395 – 400+ more than the next RB…Willis McGahee) and also has 407 career receptions as well (3,324 yards). Most of which was done on artificial surfaces. Jackson has averted the major injury in his career and despite nagging injuries, has played at least 15 games in each of the last 4 seasons. However, at some point, this workload will catch up with him – Atlanta is hoping it is not 2013. History says they are flirting with Father Time.
Mike Smith – He is a great regular season coach, but for a guy with a .700 career winning percentage in the regular season, his 1-4 postseason record is inexcusable (especially given the fact that he has been the #1 overall seed 2 times). His only win came thanks to a miraculous comeback (aided by an opposing coach’s brain cramp – I’m looking at you Pete Carroll). Success is gauged by postseason success, so by that standard, Smith’s teams have underperformed greatly.
The Defense – A half-way decent defense would make this team terrifying. They don’t have it. In 2012, the Falcons visited stadiums around the NFL with the 24th overall defense (in yards) and 23rd in passing. Not good when you are in a division with Drew Brees, Sean Payton, Cam Newton, Doug Martin, etc. In fact, the Falcons defense got weaker in 2013. They swapped a good veteran CB (Dunta Robinson) for a rookie CB (Desmond Trufant), and they replaced Abraham (10 sacks) and with Umenyiora (6 sacks).
On paper, I love the Falcons. However, I still do not trust Matt Ryan nor Mike Smith in big games. Ryan’s comeback against Seattle in 2012 was amazing and maybe it will spark a change going forward. But lest we not forget, going into that game, Ryan’s postseason record was 0-3 with 3 TDs, 4 INTs and 0 playoff games with 200+ yards. If not for Seattle’s brain cramp in the last 31 seconds of the Divisional round in 2012, we would be discussing a Coach and QB with .700+ regular season winning percentages and 0-4 playoff records (0-2 as the #1 overall seed)! As it stands, they are 1-4 and 1-2 at home as the #1 seed.