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What Lies Ahead For The Atlanta Falcons?

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The Falcoholic's look at one potential scenario for the Atlanta Falcons after the team dropped to 4-7.

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After the loss to the Browns, we more or less understand how these Falcons stack up against most teams in the NFL. They're neither talented or well-coached enough to beat great teams, but they can hang in against average-to-terrible teams and, by virtue of keeping the score close, win some of those games.

Having had a few days to digest the loss to the Browns and the team's 4-7 record, I believe I have a rough idea of how this season will shake out.

Win two more games: I can't see the Falcons finishing at 4-12 for the second straight year, mostly because they still have a home game against the Panthers and winnable games against the Cardinals and Saints left on the docket. I also can't see them pulling off a miracle upset at Green Bay or at home against the Steelers, and one of those winnable games seems likely to turn into a loss, given the way the Falcons have been playing.

I predicted coming out of the bye that the Falcons would 4-4 the rest of the way and still believe that, in other words. Going to guess the Falcons win against the Cardinals and in the last week of the season when they host the Panthers, with every other game likely falling as an L.

Mike Smith will be fired at season's end: That 6-10 season coming on the heels of a 4-12 season will seal Mike Smith's fate, if it hasn't already been. Smith has been incapable of getting this team to play at a higher level for 60 minutes no matter what kind of danger his job is in, and whether that's entirely or partially his fault depends on your perspective. For the purposes of this article, what matters is his record the last two seasons, and a 10-22 mark or worse isn't likely to fly with Arthur Blank.

Smith will land on his feet elsewhere, but his firing will lead the Falcons to more or less clean house in the coaching staff. From there, the Falcons could elect to also clean out the front office and start fresh or take the route I'm about to say is a little likelier.

Thomas Dimitroff will be retained: I'll readily admit that this is a coin flip, something I've been saying since about the fifth week of the season. Yet I think Dimitroff will get a second shot with a new coach that Blank has some input on, though there may be some shake-ups with the scouting staff. High-profile mistakes in clock management and suboptimal play from clear talents like Matt Ryan and Julio Jones probably will doom Smith in a way that might spare Dimitroff.

The new coach will be a big name: Again, this is regarding Arthur Blank's clear preference for a big name coach in the post-Jim Mora era, even if he didn't come up with one. Mike Smith was an ideal coach for this team early on in his tenure, but Blank and perhaps Dimitroff will want to go in a different direction with their next hire, and that likely means a splashy coach with an NFL track record. No one knows who that will be, but if Jim Harbaugh becomes available I'd have to think he'd be on the list.

The Falcons will allow most of their free agents to walk, cut Steven Jackson and make only one defensively-minded free agent splash: My guess is that Sean Weatherspoon may return on a cheap, incentive-laden deal, Corey Peters will be retained if he can't find a big payday elsewhere and Antone Smith comes back. Beyond that, this will likely be a fairly significant purge of players who are no longer deemed essential. Jackon getting cut is almost a foregone conclusion.

The Falcons have a full complement of draft picks and will likely attempt to use them to build around a nucleus that includes Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and some of the young defenders with promise, particularly Desmond Trufant. There will be a few mid-level signings and depth additions, of course, but there will only be one big free agent splash, and I suspect that splash will come at linebacker, where the Falcons are starved for talent and depth beyond Paul Worrilow and Prince Shembo.

No major trades will be in the offing: The team has dabbled in blockbusters like Tony Gonzalez before, but that kind of move is something you make when you think you're a couple of pieces away. The Falcons no longer can claim that illusion.

2015 will be a transitional year. The Falcons will hope to compete again in 2015, there's no question. With a new head coach and some fairly noteworthy roster changes, however, it's unlikely they'll be a top-tier team again immediately. In all likelihood, 2015 will wind up being what many of us thought 2008 would be: A year where the Falcons are competitive but still figuring things out.

The team would like to be good again before the new stadium opens up, and certainly by mid-2015 or early 2016 you would expect players like Ra'Shede Hageman, Jake Matthews, Dezmen Southward, Shembo and next year's rookie crop to be hitting their strides. If all goes well, the 2016 Falcons will be a quality, radically different team, but that's way off in the haze of the future for now.

What path forward do you think the Falcons will take?