Generally, Falcons opponents fall into one of three buckets. There’s the good teams like the Patriots and Packers who figure to present a stiff challenge, the bad teams like the Jets who should be steamrolled with impunity, and the weird, always interesting divisional matchups. Some years, though, you get the teams who are somewhere between contender and pretender, and it’s not clear until the games start just where they’ll fall.
The Falcons get two of those in their first four games with the Lions and then the Buffalo Bills. Atlanta gets Buffalo at home, where a team with one of the league’s most compelling quarterbacks, a potent rushing attack, and a capable defense will try to upset the reigning NFC Champions. Can they do it?
I have my doubts, but here’s a closer look at the team’s offseason improvements from our friends at Buffalo Rumblings.
Notable free agent additions: LB Gerald Hodges, S Micah Hyde, WR Andre Holmes, FB Patrick DiMarco, WR Philly Brown, DL Ryan Davis, CB Shareece Wright
Notable free agent departures: WR Robert Woods, CB Stephon Gilmore, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, WR Justin Hunter
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:
CB Tre’Davious White (Round 1): Had a reliable four-year career at LSU playing everywhere across the formation. Has some experiencing returning kicks but will almost assuredly be asked to be the CB2 to Ronald Darby as CB1.
WR Zay Jones (Round 2): His WR coach from East Carolina holds the same position for the Bills. Jones is likely to see the second-most targets in Buffalo’s receiver group this season.
OL Dion Dawkins (Round 2): Like they did for Jones, the Bills traded up to get Dawkins, a four-year contributor for an upstart Temple program. He’s a superb athlete, and will battle for the starting right tackle job this summer.
LB Matt Milano: (Round 5): Milano enters a crowded linebacker room in Buffalo (Preston Brown, Reggie Ragland, Gerald Hodges, Lorenzo Alexander) but fits the “smaller but faster” mold of linebacker Sean McDermott likes. He was super-productive at Boston College (29.5 TFLs the past two seasons) and could sneak onto the field in some sub-packages.
Biggest offseason addition: S Micah Hyde: The former Packers standout will be a swiss-army knife in McDermott’s defense this season, most notably as the playmaker in “big nickel” packages. He’ll play safety and slot cornerback along with his role as the extra defender in the box on occasion.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp: Sammy Watkins’ health: Like Julian Edelman and Dez Bryant before him, Watkins had his second surgery on his injured foot earlier this offseason and is said to be very close to 100%. When he’s on the field, he and Tyrod Taylor have been a dynamic pairing. When Watkins hasn’t been on the field, Buffalo’s aerial attack has lacked explosiveness and efficiency.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: The linebacker battle: Well it may not be enormously under-the-radar, with Lorenzo Alexander almost a lock for the SLB role near the line of scrimmage, there are two spots at middle linebacker and weakside linebacker and three linebackers looking to grab those positions. Reggie Ragland didn’t play a down in 2016 thanks to an ACL tear but should be ready for camp. Preston Brown is coming off a down year, and Gerald Hodges has quietly pieced together a few effective seasons early in his NFL career.
Notable injuries heading into training camp: Beyond Watkins’ foot… Cordy Glenn’s ankle. Possibly will keep the left tackle off the field for the first few days of camp.