I'll start off our series of team-by-team mailbags with the Atlanta Falcons.
Brandon in Alto, Ga. writes: I have been a Falcons fan for years since my uncle took me to my first game and have seen several coaches have one good year and then struggle. I dont think the Smith regime will falter that bad but what are their chances of a playoff spot this year and even turning into a contending team on a yearly basis like the Eagles, Cowboys, Chargers, and Steelers?
Pat Yasinskas: I think Mike Smith is one of the best in the business. Same for general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Yes, they’ve had some ups and downs this year, but they still have a shot at the playoffs. I think the long term is even brighter. They have a franchise quarterback in Matt Ryan and a lot of good players around him. If they can add a few more parts to the defense in the offseason, I think the Falcons can be a contender for a long time.
Mike J in Norway, SC writes: Do you think the Falcons can run the table over the next 6 wks? I think they can because I dont think we are that bad on defense. Your thoughts?
Pat Yasinskas: Anything is possible and I think the fact Ryan played well late in the loss to the Giants was encouraging. If he can continue like that, I think the Falcons can contend. Running the table will be tough as I see games with Philadelphia and New Orleans as big obstacles. But I think the Falcons would make the playoffs if they can go 5-1 over the last six games. They might even have a shot if they go 4-2.
Norm in Atlanta writes: Pat, I read in the AJC today that Chris Owens is getting a shot to either start or play substantial minutes in the upcoming game against the Bucs. In fact, Abraham was quoted as saying they are going with Chris to try and rectify the problems with the secondary. I thought Abraham calling out the secondary to the press was of particular note, especially since the lack of pass rush in one of the problems. But what I can't understand is why, with all the focus on the potential of Owens in the offseason, it has taken so long to give him a shot. What do the Falcons have to lose--all their other corners have been torched by any decent quarterback faced? Appreciate any insights.
Pat Yasinskas: I think the Falcons have been wise in going slowly with Owens, their third-round draft pick. It’s tough for a rookie cornerback to come in and start right away. I’m sure, Smith and the coaching staff have worked hard to get him ready and you might get a pleasant surprise. Owens is physically talented. If he’s ready for the mental part of the game, he could solve a lot of the problems the Falcons have been having.
Austin in Middletown, Wis., writes: Hi Pat, what do you think Atlanta will do about their kicker problems? Mike Smith says he has all the confidence in the world in Jason Elam, but come on. He's been missing from the beginning of the year, and there hasn't been an end in sight. Elam missed a crucial 34 yd against the panthers that would have given them the lead. Do you think there will be a new kicker in Atlanta next year, or even before the season is over?
Pat Yasinskas: Well, I found it very interesting that the Falcons worked out four kickers on Tuesday. I think that was a pretty strong message to Elam that the team can’t go on like this much longer. He’s got to be more accurate. If that doesn’t change quickly, I could see a move this season.