Anyone who has read my posts about the Braves knows about my recently-evolved outlook on my favorite teams and sports and heck, even the world in general.  There is so much negativity out there and too many things bringing us down, so I’ve chosen to take a more positive approach to how I support my favorite teams, to how I let the games and the trends affect me.  As the NFL season, and particularly training camp, approaches, I’m trying to continue my newfound optimism, in particular with my expectations about our Falcons.

I, personally, am excited about the upcoming season.  My enthusiasm for the dirty birds is high.  Like many sports fans in the ATL, as my interest in our Bravos wanes as their season slips away and mind-numbing trades are made, my interest in all things Falcon continues to climb.  In my first post about the NFC South, I mentioned that I feel our division to be wide open.  My optimism still partly stems from my “up-for-grabs” opinion, but much of it simply comes from the fact that the season is almost upon us and that the Falcons seem to be heading in the right direction. The attitude that I’m sensing around this town is upbeat.  I’ve never been one caught mouthing the words “rise up” (my many Buc fan friends would tar and feather me), but I’ll be the first one right now to state the good vibes I’m feeling about our Falcons being the team to close on this “wide-open” division. 

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There are two main reasons why I’m feeling a little giddy about our chances.  They are the offense and the defense.  I hope nobody was sipping on a beverage while reading that last line, particularly the part about the defense, as I don’t want to be responsible for anyone choking.  I’ll start with the defense so that I may quickly try to squelch the laughter.  To borrow an over-used cliché, the only way to go with this unit is up.  When you rank dead last in 2014, you can’t possibly remain there.  Improvements have been and will continue to be made.  A high first round draft pick was used to address a glaring deficiency (pass rush). A gung-ho defensive minded coach with an impressive track record was hired, bringing with him a legacy of highly-ranked defensive units in Seattle, New York, Miami, San Francisco, and the University of Florida.  Simply another season under the belts of some young players has to signal an uptick in this group, especially if Coach Quinn is able to work his magic to get a little more out of some thus far underachieving talent.  My biggest fear with the defensive unit is how quickly a newcomer like Vic Beasley will be expected to play like a hall of famer.  One of the most difficult issues I deal with as an optimistic fan of the NFL is how quickly a guy can be judged and/or written off.  I see highly-touted players having a rough go of it in their first few professional games, and I quickly hear ridiculous statements from broadcasters, “expert” analysts, and fans like “I told you he couldn’t make it at this level” or “His college success obviously didn’t translate to the pros”.  Give these young guys a chance.  Geez.  I’m sure glad nobody wrote off Peyton Manning after his dreadful first season in which he tossed 28 picks and had a QB rating in the low 70s.  In my efforts to give folks like Coach Quinn a chance, like at least several years to prove himself, I also can’t help but feel like the time could be now with the division we’re in.  Why not now? 

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I feel even better about the outlook of this offense.  The results of recent acquisitions to upgrade the offensive line won’t be known until they play the games, of course, but at least the effort is being made.  The receiving corps has the potential to be one of the scariest in the game.  We all know what Julio can give us, and I still believe Roddy has something left in the tank at his “advanced” age of 33.  I am looking forward to seeing how quickly rookie Justin Hardy can contribute as the third receiver, and Leonard Hankerson has sleeper potential, if he can avoid the injuries that have plagued his young career.  While still a position with a little bit of a question mark, TE also has the chance to be better than expected.  Jacob Tamme may not have anyone forgetting about the good ol’ days of Tony G, but he certainly gives Matty Ice a better outlet than anything he had to work with last season.   Overall, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan should be able to spread the field rather nicely with this diverse group.  The biggest unknown with this offense is, of course, the RB position.  With Steven Jackson (finally) out of the way, here’s hoping the upcoming training camp will help one of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman establish himself, although I wouldn’t mind seeing a change of pace type situation play itself out during the regular season.  While I personally would like to see Freeman step up and claim the job outright, I still wouldn’t feel too bad if Coleman turns out to be the guy.  Seeing how Freeman gained more receiving yards than rushing yards in 8 of last season’s 16 games, a platoon with Freeman dominating passing situations may not be all that bad.  Last but certainly not least when discussing the offense is Matt Ryan.  The disappointing past few seasons have overshadowed some pretty darn good seasons by the signal caller, so any kind of an offensive line improvement, coupled with talent at the skill positions, should translate into his continued success. 

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So, is the division there for the taking right now?  I surely believe so.  The biggest threat, I feel, is Carolina, and that’s a battle that likely will go down to the end like last season.  The way I see it, there are 2 directions a Falcons fan like myself can go.  Path 1 involves finding every reason in the world to doubt our chances and then whining about it when our low expectations are fulfilled.  I’m choosing to take Path 2, which involves focusing on the positives and putting a lot of stock into the potential that is there.  Dare I say, Rise Up!