Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Falcons in 2012.
Dream scenario (13-3): Let’s note right up front that that dream record would also include at least two postseason wins, which would be a first in the era of coach Mike Smith, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and Matt Ryan. In their time, the Falcons have played the days after Christmas exactly like they’re the days after Christmas. There’s been a huge letdown when January has rolled around.
That’s putting an enormous amount of pressure on the Falcons. But that might be a good thing. Smith has said postseason failures have caused him to rethink how he does a lot of things. There’s little doubt those failures played a role in the hiring of new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, moves that might get the Falcons over the hump.
There are a lot of scouts and coaches around the league who believe Ryan was held back by former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and the defense never established any sort of identity under Brian VanGorder. The Falcons can score with any team if Ryan is allowed (and has time) to throw the ball downfield to Roddy White and Julio Jones. Nolan is preaching about the need to be more aggressive on defense.
Nightmare scenario (8-8 or anything worse): Let’s face it: The only way the Falcons are a .500 (or worse) team is if they have several major injuries or a huge implosion. This is a team that is loaded with individual talent on both sides of the ball. Or so it seems.
When coordinators go, head coaches and key players tend to lose their insulation. If Koetter can’t get more out of Ryan than Mularkey did, the Falcons suddenly have a huge issue at quarterback. If Nolan can’t get guys like Ray Edwards and Dunta Robinson to do more than they did for VanGorder, then maybe it’s not all about the coordinators or offensive and defensive schemes.
Owner Arthur Blank has said Smith isn’t on the hot seat, no matter what happens this season. But I think Smith is at least entering the same territory Tony Dungy once did in Tampa Bay. Smith is being labeled as a nice guy who can win a lot of games in the regular season but can’t win in January. If this team doesn’t win a playoff game, Smith officially is on the hot seat. If this team somehow fails to even make the playoffs, Blank might be forced to rethink his statement. This team is too talented not to win.