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The Atlanta Falcons and their New Found Hope: Part 3

There’s a recurring theme in the fans’ glowing comment: Thomas Dimitroff and Coach Mike Smith, both hired by owner Arthur Blank to right the wrongs of the 2007 season. Smith’s impact has been just shy of miraculous. Not since Dan Reeve’s magical 1998 season has the Falcons’ fanbase been so behind a coach. The fans demonstrated as much when after a sideline ruckus between DeAngelo Hall and Coach Smith erupted during the Falcons Redskins game, a fine was levied against Smith. A group of fans raised thirty-five hundred dollars to "pay Coach Smith’s fine." The money ended up going to charity and the first ever NFL fan-based charitable organization was formed. A similar incident, this time between Coach Smith and Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Bryant, occurred in 2008. Smith has shown himself numerous times to be supportive of his players, and in the case of the Bryant and Hall incidents, willing to defend his players and his team. Yet, despite this guard dog-like demeanor on the sidelines, he’s a saint everywhere else.

"He's always so sweet to the kids at the weekly [Falcons] Live show. He leans down and talks to them on their level," recalls Kerri Leland. "When he speaks, he’s always so positive and never negative about his team or opponent."

Dimitroff started his first year as GM with a slam-dunk of a draft, which saw five of its seven rookies stay with the team and contribute from the outset. His next major move? Sign legendary tight end Tony Gonzalez, who factored heavily in the Falcons’ wins in 2009. While Dimitroff’s second draft may take some time to grade due to injuries, it’s apparent that he has a wonderful eye for talent. Having been a scout for the New England Patriots before earning his position over a web-cam chat with Blank, this is to be expected.

Of course, with all of this newfound confidence comes heightened expectations for the 2010 season. J. Michael Moore certainly sees a rosy Falcons future.

"The Falcons will certainly contend for a division title and, if healthy, can make a run into the playoffs. Look at what the team did in the face of so many key injuries in 2009 — won three straight to finish 9-7. Logic demands the expectation for a better finish if the team can stay healthy."

Hannah Yachoe, a Falcons fan in Germany, agrees.

"I think we definitely will reach the playoffs [this] year. We are going to get better and our schedule isn't [as] tough as [it was] in 2009."

The playoffs are a recurring goal amongst the fans I’ve spoken to. Almost all of them are expecting a playoff appearance. Some are even expecting more. Adam Younker, a Georgia native, sees a championship berth sooner rather than later.

"I look for the team to be competitive for a wild card berth, at the least.  I think the Super Bowl is a real possibility."

Tom Quist takes Adam’s enthusiasm to the next level.

"The Falcons will win the division, win the conference, and win the Super Bowl.  My expectations are very high, because this team has serious potential."

Tom Owen and Ed Kelly, both foreign fans, have kept their expectations a bit more tempered. Ed is confident, but doesn’t fail to mention the determining factors of success.

"From a Falcons' perspective, provided the draft goes well and the injury situation is less disastrous than it was this year, I'm pretty confident that we'll make the playoffs one way or another - and once we get there, who knows what could happen."

Tom’s expectations are even more cautious, and certainly dourer. Notice, though, he’s still seeing the team in the playoffs.

"I can definitely see an improvement on last year if we can keep healthy and get Ryan back on track. I see a 10-6 playoff appearance, losing the division to New Orleans once more."

Fan Clint Monahan’s thoughts are a little more succinct.

"The Falcons are going to be in the playoffs."