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The Falcons And Texans Are Two NFL Teams On The Rise

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A lousy 2013 season hasn't dimmed 2014 expectations for either Houston or Atlanta.

Thomas B. Shea

You could, if you wished, draw a few parallels between the Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons in recent years. A shaky one, but a workable one.

The Falcons have been the more successful franchise over the last five-to-six seasons, but it's fair to note that both Houston and Atlanta were terrific teams in 2011 and 2012, each grabbing playoff berths off of excellent records (12-4 for the Texans, 13-3 for the Falcons in 2012). The Falcons could hang much of that on an opportunistic defense and strong offense, while the Texans rode a great ground game and better defense.

The intersection that matters came in 2013, when two franchises that had sky-high expectations came crashing back down to Earth. The Texans were the worst team in the NFL at 2-14, while the Falcons limped to the #6 pick at 4-12. The differences really emerge in the aftermath of that wreck of a year.

The Falcons beefed up their lines through free agency and the draft, added Scott Pioli to the front office and added Devin Hester as a dynamic returner and part-time receiver, while leaving the nucleus of the offense and some of its young defensive talent intact. The Texans, meanwhile, saw their front office and coaching staff kicked to the curb alongside quarterback Matt Schaub, and they'll go all-in this year with distinctly mediocre quarterbacking options but a formidable defense.

The Texan's QB concerns and the Falcons' pass rush issues aside, both teams addressed major weaknesses this offseason and figure to be a good bet to avoid the sad depths of 2013. It feels like both have an opportunity to be the teams that recover from an ugly blip on the radar to return to contention, if not more than that. The wildly divergent roads they took this offseason may catapult them back into the same place, in other words.

We'll see more this week. While the Falcons and Texans won't do full-contact practices the next two days, they'll get a chance to matchup against one another as a potentially terrific offense and likely fantastic defense, and that will carry over into the game on Saturday night. The early returns for both teams have been a mixed bag, so this may give us more clarity.

That, in a nutshell, is why will be fascinating to see these two teams tangle in preseason, when the stakes are much lower but the need to identify the best talent is still urgent.

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