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http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/preview08/team?team=atl

The Falcons finished last in the NFC South with a 4-12 record. For Falcons and other NFC South coverage, visit Pat Yasinskas' NFC South blog.

ANALYST PREDICTION

Jeffri

Chadiha

ESPN.com

DIVISION FINISH: 4 As bad as the Falcons will look this season, they know it can't be any worse than the way 2007 unfolded. In fact, they're banking on that.

John

Clayton

ESPN.com DIVISION FINISH: 4 Owner Arthur Blank redid the Georgia Dome to make it more fan-friendly, and he redid the coaching staff to make it more player-friendly. Falcons players will play for Mike Smith after hating the Bobby Petrino experience, but Atlanta doesn't have enough good players to get out of the cellar.

Tim

Graham

ESPN.com

DIVISION FINISH: 4 The phrase "rebuilding mode" sounds too gentle for what's going on in Atlanta. There's a new head coach, a rookie quarterback and enough problems to fill an SAT booklet.

Jeremy

Green

Scouts Inc.

DIVISION FINISH: 4 Where does this team not have holes? The Falcons have some players who will be fun to watch, such as RB Michael Turner and WR Roddy White, but outside of waiting for rookie QB Matt Ryan to develop, Atlanta fans won't have much to keep them interested this season.

Paul

Kuharsky

ESPN.com

DIVISION FINISH: 4 The new leadership is likable, and Matt Ryan might be the right guy. Were Michael Turner and Sam Baker the best options? The Falcons' chance to improve comes thanks to a less-than-stellar division.

Matt

Mosley

ESPN.com

DIVISION FINISH: 4 Rookie quarterback. Questionable offensive line. See you next season.

Mike

Sando

ESPN.com

DIVISION FINISH: 4 The Falcons' culture has improved dramatically already. That alone could help Atlanta surprise a few teams this season.

Kevin

Seifert

ESPN.com

DIVISION FINISH: 4 Talk about rebuilding. In a best-case scenario, the Falcons will get quarterback Matt Ryan enough experience so that he has a chance to be good in 2009.

James

Walker

ESPN.com

DIVISION FINISH: 4 A rookie quarterback starting the season under center rarely is a good sign. The Falcons had better hope Matt Ryan doesn't take too much of a beating and lose confidence while playing for a bad team.

Seth

Wickersham

ESPN The Magazine

DIVISION FINISH: 4 Chris Redman. Joey Harrington. Rookie Matt Ryan. It's going to be a long year for Michael Turner with all those eight-man fronts.

Bill

Williamson

ESPN.com

DIVISION FINISH: 4 Not much is expected from the Falcons; they just want to move on from an ugly past. If Matt Ryan can pay his dues while making some progress, 2008 will be a success, regardless of their record.

Matt

Williamson

Scouts Inc.

DIVISION FINISH: 4 Although the new regime has done a nice job initially in taking over this massive reclamation project, the Falcons are going to have a hard time holding their own at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Breaking in a rookie QB won't help, either. They will draft quite high again next April.

Pat

Yasinskas

ESPN.com

DIVISION FINISH: 4 Coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff will straighten this franchise out. But that might take a couple of years.

CONSENSUS DIVISION FINISH: 4 | NFL standings

BEST OF THE FALCONS

Best offensive player: Michael Turner. After spending his career as LaDainian Tomlinson's backup, Turner will be the featured player in Atlanta's offense. His legs are fresh, and he wants to prove he's more than a backup.

Best defensive player: Keith Brooking will be moving from the middle back to weakside linebacker, where he had the most success of his career. Brooking provides veteran leadership for a young team.

Best playmaker: Roddy White emerged as the top receiver last season even as the team went through a bunch of quarterbacks. He has big-play potential and will be the focus of the passing game.

Best clutch player: Jason Elam. The veteran kicker joins the Falcons after an outstanding career in Denver. The Georgia native thrived in tough weather with the Broncos and should benefit from kicking in a dome.

Best unheralded player: Ben Hartsock. The key free-agent pickup is a complete tight end -- dependable as a blocker and receiver.

-- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN.com

SCOUTS INC.'S FAB FIVE

Scouts Inc. has evaluated and graded more than 2,400 NFL players heading into the 2008 season, giving Insiders a leg up on the competition with exclusive grades, alerts and scouting reports.

Top five players

ANALYSIS

1. Michael Boley

Linebacker

6-3 | 223 (Grade 84) He's an every-down player who has good functional strength, but he's at his best in space and rushing the passer. Boley is a fast-flow linebacker who must be well-protected to excel, but he's versatile and productive.

2. John Abraham

Defensive end

6-4 | 263 (76) He is slightly undersized, but has very good speed and range. Abraham is more effective on the move than taking on blocks and trying to shed. He defeats blockers with a speed rush and closes fast on the quarterback.

2. Michael Turner

Running back

5-10 | 244 (76) He is a typical one-cut back who runs with power and purpose. Turner excels at finishing runs and can put the lumber to defenders in the red zone. He's also a punishing blocker in blitz pickup.

2. Roddy White

Wide receiver

6-0 | 208 (76) White has good size, speed and athletic ability. He is developing into a quality, productive receiver, thanks to his physical skills, and he has upside.

5. Keith Brooking

Linebacker

6-2 | 241 (72) He can play MLB or WLB. He has a good temperament on the field that is contagious. His aggressive nature can produce big plays behind the line but also can open up big seams when he loses contain.

Player grading scale: Elite (90-100), outstanding (80-89), solid starter (75-79), good starter (70-74)

SCOUTS INC.'S ANALYSIS

Best play option

The Falcons' front four is subpar, but there is a way for the defense to still get pressure on the QB.

More best plays

Strengths

Rugged run game: New coach Mike Smith grew accustomed to working with a strong ground game in Jacksonville, and the Falcons likely will emphasize the run while their quarterback situation develops. RBs Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood provide a nice combination of strength and speed. Turner is tough, productive and fresh for a fifth-year NFL back. Norwood is explosive and fast and has good receiving skills.

Franchise quarterback: First-round pick QB Matt Ryan holds the key to Atlanta's future. How quickly he adapts to the speed and complexities of the NFL game will determine how far and fast the Falcons go. His maturity and work ethic are advantages in preparing for defenses that will test his pocket awareness and accuracy the moment he steps onto the field.

Special teams: P Michael Koenen has a strong leg and excels on placement kicks inside opponents' 20-yard line. The addition of K Jason Elam brings stability and accuracy where there had been none in recent years. Kick returners Norwood and WR Adam Jennings have good hands and the big-play ability to go the distance if they find a crease.

Weaknesses

Secondary concerns: One of the Falcons' pressing questions is cornerback. Now that CB Von Hutchins has been lost for the season to a foot injury, an already-thin group is a lot thinner. Good corners always are hard to find.

Youth movement: An infusion of young talent is a promising development, but the Falcons need time to jell. The organization has drafted 22 players in the past two years; most of those players are still with the team. Fierce competition at numerous positions is a good thing, but the team's relative lack of experience, combined with a coaching shakeup and scheme changes on both sides of the ball, could drag out the transition.

Defensive line: Though the addition of DT Grady Jackson bolsters Atlanta's depth up front and helps free up the linebackers, the team has no difference-makers on the line beyond RDE John Abraham. LDE Jamaal Anderson had zero success in getting to the quarterback as a rookie last season (no sacks) and lacks speed off the edge. He is a good run defender who probably needs to move inside in passing situations. DTs Montavious Stanley and Jonathan Babineaux work hard, but neither has the kind of size Smith prefers inside.

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Pre season;

Prater:

FGA's 7/9 missed from 49 and 30 - 78%

XP's - 100%

Elam:

FGA's - 5/8 - missed from 49,54,33 - 63%

XP's - 100%

:blink:

:rolleyes: PRE-SEASON!!!!!!

Elam himself admitted he usually does bad in the pre-season but he is fine once the regular season starts. Prater on the other hand is opposite. Remember last year? He pretty much single handily lost us the game against the Jaguars.

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:rolleyes: PRE-SEASON!!!!!!

Elam himself admitted he usually does bad in the pre-season but he is fine once the regular season starts. Prater on the other hand is opposite. Remember last year? He pretty much single handily lost us the game against the Jaguars.

Yeah, I know. That's what I hear. I don't really care what Prater does, I just want to see Elam continue to be his consistent self. If he's limited to inside 45 yds, than so be it. Just so he's on target when he does trot out there.

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I love predictions like this. It makes it sooooo much sweeter when all of the same sportscasters start jumping on the bandwagon halfway through the season. These are the same guys who have picked Carolina to win the Superbowl several years in a row. I would rather them think we will suck and end up being good than the other way around.

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:rolleyes: PRE-SEASON!!!!!!

Elam himself admitted he usually does bad in the pre-season but he is fine once the regular season starts. Prater on the other hand is opposite. Remember last year? He pretty much single handily lost us the game against the Jaguars.

What's more, if I recall correctly, Prater made some nice kicks in preseason last year, and followed that up by single footedly (pun intended) losing at least 2 games for us.

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I love predictions like this. It makes it sooooo much sweeter when all of the same sportscasters start jumping on the bandwagon halfway through the season. These are the same guys who have picked Carolina to win the Superbowl several years in a row. I would rather them think we will suck and end up being good than the other way around.

amen. the panthers will always be the paper champions.

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I love it. The NFC South is notorious for the cellar dweller of the previous year becoming the division champ the next year.

If these fools are wrong, I'd love to see this reposted later in the season.

I wonder where these guys ranked the NY Giants this time last year?

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I love it. The NFC South is notorious for the cellar dweller of the previous year becoming the division champ the next year.

If these fools are wrong, I'd love to see this reposted later in the season.

I wonder where these guys ranked the NY Giants this time last year?

Most everyone had them third behind Dallas and Philadelphia.

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