Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Three quick hits on the Atlanta Falcons:
1. There's not going to be any sophomore slump for Matt Ryan. The quarterback is too good for that and he's also come back bigger and stronger than in his rookie season. His play on the field has looked even better than last year, when he was surrounded by a very good offense. Now, tight end Tony Gonzalez has been added to the mix and that means Ryan will only get better.
2. Quietly, the Falcons coaches will tell you they're seeing a completely different player in linebacker Stephen Nicholas from last year. That's a very positive thing and it's a reward for coach Mike Smith, who cut a deal with Nicholas to allow the linebacker to spend time with his seriously-ill son. Nicholas' son is healthy now. The Falcons believe Nicholas is ready to step into the starting job and thrive.
3. Running back Michael Turner had a phenomenal first season with the Falcons. But the team realizes it doesn't want him carrying anywhere close to the 376 times he did last year. They want to keep Turner fresh for the entire season. They'll try mix in Jerious Norwood a bit more, but they don't want Norwood carrying too big a load. With more pass plays to the tight ends suddenly in the playbook, the Falcons suddenly will turn to passes to Gonzalez to absorb some of Turner's carries.