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Atlanta Falcons 2012 NFL Preview

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Julio Jones and Roddy White form the best wide receiver duo in the NFL for the upcoming season. Sure, that’s based on projecting ahead, it hasn’t happened yet, but if you had to pick the top duo, that’s where I would start. White is 30 years old and has had five straight years of at least 1,100 yards and at least 80 catches. He joins Torry Holt as the only one to do that at the same ages, while other names like Rice, Harrison, Owens, Chad Johnson, Tim Brown and Welker did it four times. Pretty elite company.

Then there is Julio. He had one of the best receiving years for a rookie receiver (as did A.J. Green) in the last 40 years. He has looked like a beast in the preseason. He’s only 23.

This could be the next Moss and Carter, the next Holt and Bruce, where an established veteran receiver still in his prime combines with a young star. Duos both finishing near the top of receiver lists for a season happens frequently. In fact, if we use fantasy football scoring to evaluate production in yards and touchdowns, only four seasons since 1990 have not had at least one pair of teammates in the Top Twelve at wide receiver. Here’s a list of every duo to finish near the top since 1990:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will Jones and White join this list in 2012? People that are concerned about Matt Ryan being able to sustain two star wide receivers, I present to you that worse wide receiver combos have done it with quarterbacks without the consistency of success of Ryan. Scott Mitchell? Chris Miller? Steve Beuerlein? Mark Rypien? Have I mentioned Tommy Maddox? Let’s add him. Brian Griese, too.

So while guys catching passes from Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Steve Young are on here, it’s not a prerequisite that you have a future Hall of Famer. When I compared other quarterbacks to Ryan, adjusting for league environment, his list of most similar players at the same age was impressive. He wouldn’t be the first quarterback to show improvement as he enters his late 20′s.

The offense appears to be moving toward a more open passing game, with Turner turning 30 and the emergence of Jones. The team did lose Will Svitek, who replaced Sam Baker over the second half of last year at left tackle, to a preseason injury. They need to hope Baker has a bounce back year now, or game plan around him. We’ve seen other passing attacks do that, most notably division rival New Orleans. Otherwise, it’s full speed ahead. Atlanta looks like a safe bet to at least be a contender again.

For years, this franchise could not put together consistency, famously never having consecutive winning seasons. That changed when Mike Smith and Matt Ryan arrived. Now, they’ve won more than 8 games for four straight years. They just haven’t overcome in the playoffs yet. I’ll point out that they lost to the last two Super Bowl Champions, and on the road at another who went to the Super Bowl. It’s not like other teams were beating those teams in the postseason either. I doubt there is any genetic flaw with this team that prevents them from winning a playoff game. It will depend on matchups and where the game is played. With Julio Jones and Roddy White, though, they should be okay. Four of the last five playoff teams with the top receiving duo have reached the Super Bowl, often from the wildcard round. If Julio emerges as a true stud this year, then they will be hard to defend come January.

[photo via US Presswire]

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