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2009 Will Be A Tough Year For The Atlanta Falcons

Absence makes the heart grow fonder...
--
Thomas Haynes Bayly

If that quote holds true, you all must now rank me slightly above your first-born children in the order of affection. I could make up some elaborate story about how I single-handedly battled ninjas in the sweltering deserts of Mercury, but the simple explanation is that I've been busy and suffering from a little post-season malaise. Now that it's out of the way, expect normalcy to rear its ugly head around here again.

I thought we'd start with 2009, a season that seems critical to determining the identity of a young Falcons team. I'm well aware that our team and every team we're set to face will likely look a lot different after the draft and free agency have rolled up, but I think it's instructive to take a look at our chances of ridding ourselves of the stigma of never having back-to-back winning season.

It's not an easy slate next year. We'll get the Giants, the possibly retooled Cowboys, and difficult games that are mercifully at home against the Redskins and Eagles. The Patriots are notoriously a pain in the ass to play on their own turf, and we'll also draw the Dolphins and their own Coach of the Year candidate Tony Sparano. Throw in our divisional competition and you've got a schedule without a lot of easy games coming up.

Personally, I think that a lot is going to depend on where Comrade Dimitroff takes us in the off-season. If he manages to legitimately improve the defense and add a little bulk to the offensive line, I'm reasonably confident the Falcons can find 9 to 10 wins and pull off a playoff berth. If the Falcons stay in the same gear as last year, my predictions are on much shakier ground.

What would you guys project? Can the Falcons repeat their amazing season, or should we temper our expectations?