7 Simple Truths About the Atlanta Falcons

Once, when someone asked me about the Falcons-Saints rivalry, I explained that if you moved the Bears and Packers south and you put them in two cities that loved to party, you would get the Saints-Falcons rivalry.

“It’s pure hate,” I told someone, “Like its the Bears-Packers rivalry times a thousand.”

Similar to the Packers, who have owned the Bears in my lifetime, the Saints have pretty much owned the team in Atlanta since 2000, despite the fact the Falcons hold a slight edge in overall games (46-43 in favor of Atlanta).

That being said, here’s some hard truths that you may or may not know about the Saints’ first opponent of the season.

1. Nobody in Atlanta cares about the Falcons

In the winter of 2008, I took a trip to Atlanta for a church conference. Around the same time I was there, the Falcons, in the first season of the Matt Ryan era, reached the playoffs.

Believing that there would be euphoria in the city and surrounding area, I asked a hotel worker of they were excited about the playoffs.

“I’m a Steelers fan,” they said.

2. Matt Ryan will never be the greatest Falcon QB

Statistically speaking, Matt Ryan is hands down the best quarterback the Falcon franchise has ever had.

However, from a marketing and cultural standpoint, Ryan, who has the personality of a rock, will never have that much of an impact on the Falcon fanbase.

When Michael Vick played for the Falcons, he made the team for a short time nationally relevant. Watching Vick with the Falcons was appointment TV.

Watching Ryan with the Falcons is like watching PBS.

3. Falcon fans (some of them) are pond scum

Earlier this summer (actually sometime in the spring), a bird looking girl named Bree kept mentioning how the Saint fanbase tripled after Katrina hit.

“A lot of y’all weren’t Saint fans until Katrina hit,” she said.

While I’m keenly aware that there nutjobs in every fanbase, some Falcon fans can only bring up two things to Saint fans, bounty and Katrina.

4. There’s only one celebrity that’s a Falcon fan

Samuel L. Jackson is one of my favorite actors of all time, however, the only knock against him should be his allegiance to the Falcons.

Make better choices pal.

5. Dan Reeves is the best coach in team history

Dan Reeves, the last Falcon coach to have a winning record against the Saints, is the best coach in team history. The reason for this is that in his tenure, he managed to not only take the Falcons to the Super Bowl, but beat the Packers at Lambeau in the playoffs.

6. Sean Payton ran Bobby Petrino off to Arkansas

Late in the 2007 season in the Georgia Dome, the Saints destroyed the Falcons in Superdome East 34-14.
Hours later, Petrino was head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks.

7. Two thirds of the fans in the Georgia Dome root for the opponent.

During the 1990′s, Arizona’s Sun Devil Stadium was home to one of the worst home field advantages in pro football, where it seemed that most of the fans were pulling for the opponent.

The same could be said about the Georgia Dome, where 40-60 percent of the fans pull for the opponent.

Hence the term Superdome East.




OFFENSE – This is by far the deepest and most talented team that Coach Mullen has had since he arrived in Starkville. And He’s finally got the Quarterback for his system.

A Dak Prescott-led offense should shatter about every single season school record. Dak is a special talent. From arm strength to running ability to just having the will to win and making others around him better, there are not many quarterbacks in the nation as versatile as Dak Prescott.

Dak will be the face of the Bulldogs for years to come not only because of his on-field talents, but also because he’s a special young man off the field.

Dak, however, is not the only weapon this offense possesses.
With junior Josh Robinson, senior Nick Griffin, junior Brandon Holloway, and sophomore Ashton Shumpert taking handoffs, this group is bound to be the best back field Mississippi State fans have ever seen. Robinson is the Bulldogs best all-around back and will be the starter at the beginning of 2014, but Griffin and Shumpert bring bone-crushing power, and Holloway brings game-changing speed. This unit is being severely underrated by most media outlets.
The receiving corps of senior

Jameon Lewis, sophomore D’Runnya Wilson, senior Robert Johnson, sophomore Fred Ross, sophomore Fred Brown, junior Joe Morrow, redshirt freshman Gabe Myles, and true freshman Jamoral Graham will be fun to watch with Jameon making plays with his ankle-breaking ability; Wilson, Ross, Brown, and Morrow stretching the field; and Myles and Graham providing much needed rests behind Jameon. That is if Graham doesn’t end up redshirting, which is a good possibility.

Keep an eye on the two Freds. They had a great spring and could be ready to explode.

The tight ends are also a strength for this Bulldog team led by three-year starter senior Malcolm Johnson, who has the potential to be a first team All-SEC performer. This unit added a different dimension to its artillery this year with the addition of juco transfer Dorrion Hutcherson. At 6’7”, 260 pounds. Hutcherson is a big, strong guy who can block as well as catch passes. I see him factoring in a lot of jump balls in the end zone.

Also back for depth are senior Brandon Hill and sophomore Gus Walley. If Walley can stay healthy, he could make a huge impact. This unit will be one of the best in the SEC by year’s end.

A lot of people question the Bulldogs offensive line, but I do not. Gabe Jackson is a huge loss and will not be easily replaced, but Mississippi State returns junior Justin Malone, who is coming back from a season-ending injury last year, to fill the void at right guard. Malone possesses next level potential and is the Bulldogs’ most versatile lineman. Devon Desper, who had a terrific spring, will backup Malone.

At left guard, sophomore Jamaal Clayborn will be the name to remember, but former walk-on and senior Ben Beckwith will begin the season as the starter. Ben has made tremendous strides in his Bulldog career, and if not for him stepping in and doing a fantastic job after Malone’s injury last year, the Bulldogs would have been in a world of trouble. Clayborn is that road grader in the mold of Gabe Jackson and is well ahead of his progression schedule.

Returning at left tackle is senior Blaine Clausell who is a four-year starter and a guy that has improved each year. He had a career game against Jadeveon Clowney last year. Look for Clausell to be the leader of this underrated unit. Sophomore Cole Carter will be Clausell’s backup. He’s a guy that’s very athletic, but doesn’t have much experience.

At right tackle, the Bulldogs will be starting a young man who has all the tools needed to play the position. Sophomore Justin Senior had a great spring, and he’s athletic enough to become a very good right tackle before his Bulldog career ends. Backing Senior up will be former tight end Rufus Warren, who will be entering his junior year, and he’s athletic enough to be a factor for the Bulldogs this year.

Four-year starter Dillon Day is back to man the center position. Day could very well be the best center in the SEC and is considered one of the top centers in the nation. Backing Day up will be fellow senior Archie Muniz who is very versatile, and he has also played tackle and guard in his career.

A couple more offensive lineman of note are redshirt freshmen Kent Flowers and Jake Thomas. They both have the ability to move up the depth charts. Juco transfer Jocquell Johnson and incoming freshman Deon Calhoun have the talent to provide depth right away, but as of now, I think the plan is for both of them to redshirt. This is another Bulldog unit that is being severely underrated and flying under everyone’s radar.

OUTLOOK – This offense as a whole has a chance to be very special. Mullen finally gets to use his entire play book, and he’s loaded with weapons. This offense also has great chemistry and they are like family on and off the field. 2014 will be very exciting for Bulldog fans. Buckle up and enjoy the ride. I predict that this Mississippi State team is about to make a STATEment!


DEFENSE – The Bulldogs lose strong safety Nikoe Whitley, and that makes the return of Senior Jay Hughes from a season ending injury huge. Hughes is a leader on the Bulldog defense and just a hard-nosed smart football player. His backup will be Junior Kendrick Market, who did a remarkable job filling in for Hughes after he went down last year. I expect to see a lot of these two on the field at the same time this year.

The starting free safety will be senior Justin Cox. Being one of the fastest players on the team and with his ball hawking ability, I expect Cox to have a monstrous 2014 season and move his way up many draft boards. His combination of size, speed, and ability will make NFL executives drool. Backing up Cox will be sophomores Deontay Evans and Kivon Coman, who both possess the talent to provide quality depth behind him.

Junior Taveze Calhoun and senior Jamerson Love are back as the starting corners, but junior Will Redmond may be the most talented of the bunch. I expect to see a lot of Redmond and Calhoun on the field together this year. Providing depth for this talented crew will be sophomore Tolando Cleveland, redshirt freshman Jahmere Irvin-Sills, and sophomore Cedric Jiles. Jiles will miss the first few weeks of the season due to injury.

The Bulldogs return three linebackers with starting experience, and junior middle linebacker Bernardrick McKinney is the leader of this loaded group. With size, speed and athleticism, this unit is not only being underrated by many, but it has the chance to be one of the best in the entire country. You won’t find another linebacking crew anywhere in the country that has the size/speed combo of this group.

McKinney is projected to be a first round draft pick and possibly the first linebacker off the board in the 2015 NFL draft. Senior Matthew Wells, one of the fastest players on the team, gives this unit two freak athletes to go along with sophomore Ben Brown as the other starting outside linebacker.

Sophomore Richie Brown will be the first off the bench and could be a starting Linebacker on many SEC teams this year. Junior Zach Jackson, senior Christian Holmes, sophomore Quandry Antoine, and redshirt freshman Dez Harris round out the depth at a very deep position.

Harris has been hailed as the next star linebacker at Mississippi State along with true freshmen Gerri Green and JT Gray.

I expect Green to be too talented to keep off the field this year, but I think we will see Gray redshirt to add a little weight to his frame. Both will make a splash before their Bulldog careers are over.

Speaking of a talented unit, this defensive line will be crazy good. Led by star sophomore defensive tackle Chris Jones, this unit is one of the best in the entire nation. He’s listed as the backup on the depth chart behind seniors PJ Jones and Kaleb Eulls, but we all know he will be getting the majority of the snaps. Jones is a future millionaire, the best defensive lineman in the SEC, and possibly the best in the country.

I expect sophomore Nick James to explode onto the scene this year. A guy with the size/strength/speed combo of James will be hard to keep off the field, no matter the experience ahead of him.

Senior Curtis Virges and true freshman Corey Thomas will provide extended depth.

Defensive end Preston Smith returns as a three-year starter. Smith has had a very good career that has gone almost unnoticed by many outside of Mississippi State. That said, I expect Smith to go out with a bang.

Starting opposite of Smith will be junior Ryan Brown, who is barely ahead of sophomore AJ Jefferson. Although he may not be the starter at the beginning of the season, I expect Jefferson to see a lot meaningful playing time. He has the much needed pass rushing ability to be a major contributor for this Bulldog defense.

Backing them up is the athletic and versatile Nelson Adams, who will also be seeing time at defensive tackle; sophomore Torrey Dale, junior John Harris, and possibly true freshman Grant Harris barring a redshirt. Yet again, this is another deep and talented group for the Geoff Collins-led “Psycho Defense.”

OUTLOOK – This defense is loaded with talent and depth. It has the tools to be a top 2 or 3 defense in the SEC. Coach Collins has these guys ready to bring the pain, and after the way they ended the 2013 season, this defense shouldn’t be under anyone’s radar. It matches up well with any offense in the country.

SPECIAL TEAMS – Sophomore Evan Sobieski and true freshman Westin Graves battled it out for the kicker spot during the spring, and as of now, Evan holds a slight edge. This is a spot that needs to improve significantly this season and is by far the biggest question mark entering 2014.

Last year’s Kicker, junior Devon Bell, will be handling the punting duties, and he has a big time leg. The explosive Jameon Lewis will be returning punts and kicks this season along with Justin Cox and Will Redmond.

MY FINAL VERDICT – With the talent and experience from the top of the roster to bottom of it, I see this Bulldog team breaking out this year and exploding on to the national scene in the same way South Carolina did a few years back and the way Baylor is doing now.

I can’t see any team in the SEC going undefeated this year, but I can see the Bulldogs going 10-2 and playing in a big time bowl game. Playing Alabama, LSU, and Ole Miss on the road will make for a tough row to hoe, but if any Dan Mullen-led team can survive it, this one can. I predict the Bulldogs pick up their tenth win in the 2014 Egg Bowl and make it five wins out of the last six meetings against the Rebels.

Buckle up and enjoy the ride. I have a feeling that this Bulldog team is about to make a STATEment!

Best case – 10-2
Worst case – 7-5




OFFENSE – With Senior Quarterback Bo Wallace returning for his third year as a starter, the position is definitely in experienced hands. Wallace had a pretty good 2013 season, but didn’t show up in most big games against top-tier defenses. However, he did lead his Rebels to an upset victory over an SEC West rival in the LSU Tigers. If Wallace can reduce his turnovers and get the ball down field more often, then he should have a spectacular 2014 season in Hugh Freeze’s system – a system that plays to his strengths.

At running back the Rebels return a host of small scat-back types led by juniors Itavious Mathers and Jaylen Walton who are both very quick and shifty. Sophomore Mark Dodson may be the most talented of the bunch and may end up surpassing both Mathers and Walton on the depth chart. This unit could become the best offensive weapon for Coach Freeze’s arsenal if they can find someone to grind out the tough yards. Redshirt Freshman Jordan Wilkins and Juco transfer Akeem Judd are the best available options.

It’s no secret that Wide Receiver Laquon Treadwell is among the most talented in the SEC at his position and the rumblings out of Oxford are that he will be stretching the field more often in 2014. This guy has “star” written all over him if Wallace can get him the ball down field. Barring injury, Treadwell is a future first round NFL draft pick. After Treadwell the receiving corps get a little less well-known.

Vince Sanders is a senior that has very good skill set, but it has yet to translate to the field. I can see him becoming the benefactor of Treadwell’s talent. At the other starting Receiver spot, junior Cody Core beat out Sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo during a spring battle. Quincy is the more talented of the two, but didn’t have the spring he was expected to have. He needs to step up in a big way or this group and the Rebels may be in trouble at the receiver position after Treadwell and Sanders. Junior Quintavius Burdette, redshirt freshman Trey Bledsoe and true freshman Markell Pack are expected to provide depth.

The tight end position looks a lot like the receiving unit. After Evan Engram, the talent level drops off tremendously, especially if true freshman Sammie Epps is redshirted. For now, former running back and senior Nicholas Parker is listed as the backup along with juco sophomore transfer Jeremy Liggins, who is a former quarterback. Like the receiver position, this unit cannot afford one injury during the year.

The left tackle position is anchored by future NFL star, sophomore Laremy Tunsil. If he can stay healthy he has a chance to be one of the top two or three tackles in the SEC. The Rebels need this guy to stay on the field to have a chance at this unit being respectable. Like with Engram and Treadwell, the talent on the offensive line drops off significantly after their star player.

Juco transfer Fahn Cooper has won the right tackle spot and may become steady at the position, but there’s no proven depth behind him. The backup tackles will be redshirt freshmen Darunte Bouldin and Davion Johnson, who both have pretty good talent, but neither is ready for full time SEC action just yet.

The guard position is even shakier than the tackle position for the Rebels if just one injury occurs. Junior Justin Bell returns as the starting right guard and he is serviceable. His backup is true freshman Rod Taylor, who desperately needs a redshirt year to get into SEC shape, but with the Rebels lack of depth, I can’t see that happening.

If he comes back 100%, senior Aaron Morris will lock down the left guard position. Morris is very solid and has the talent to play in the NFL. This is a guy that the Rebels cannot afford to lose again. His backup is junior Craig Frigo.

The Rebels have to replace the graduated Evan Swindall at center and that will not be an easy task. Junior Ben Still won the job coming out of spring against Robert Conyers. Conyers will more than likely be the first offensive lineman off the bench whether it be at center, guard or tackle.

OUTLOOK – Ole Miss will have several top end talents in Hugh Freeze’s 2014 Offense. The Rebels problem is they can’t afford to lose any of that top end talent, because the drop offs is significantly drastic. Freeze will have to do a better job of adjusting to great defenses and become a little more creative. If these things can improve and the stars can stay healthy then this offense had the potential to be very good.


DEFENSE – The Rebels return both starting safeties, and both are potential All-SEC performers. This is quite possibly the best safety unit in the SEC. Free safety and senior Cody Prewitt returns after a great 2013 season and is poised to have an even better 2014. Tony Connor is the returning starter at strong safety position, and he’s very talented. I look for big things out of Connor this year, and he’s a guy with NFL potential first day potential.

Junior Trae Elston and sophomore former Quarterback Anthony Alford look to be their primary backups. True freshmen CJ Hampton and CJ Moore may also see some game action for the Rebels in 2014.

The cornerback position isn’t nearly as well-known as the safety position. Senior Senquez Golson and Mike Hilton return as starters, but their size limits them at what they can do. It was hopeful that sophomore Derrick Jones would step up and take one of the starting positions, but that hasn’t happened.

Senior Cliff Coleman and true freshman Kendarius Webster along with Jones are expected to provide depth.

Linebacker DT Shackelford returns for his sixth year of eligibility and is the leader among the linebacking crew. Sederious Bryant is a play maker and is all over the field. He’s held up very well so far being an undersized linebacker in the SEC.

Junior Denzell Nkemdiche will be the other starting linebacker once he returns from suspension. This will be his third year as a Rebel starting linebacker. Providing depth will be senior Keith Lewis, juco transfer Christian Russell, and true freshmen DeMarquis Gates and AJ Moore.

Junior CJ Johnson returning to 100% will be key to how this Rebel defensive line performs in 2014. The already undersized Rebels can’t afford another season without Johnson. He hasn’t lived up to his five-star billing, but he’s been solid and they are thin at defensive end behind him.

FIU transfer sophomore Fadol Brown holds down the end spot opposite Johnson with junior Channing Ward backing him up. Ward hasn’t lived up to expectations in Oxford, but maybe the switch flips on in 2014 and he makes this line formidable.

Sophomore John Youngblood and true freshman Marquise Haynes are being counted on to provide depth at defensive end.

Sophomore Robert Nkemdiche has the tools to be great and the talent to be a first round NFL draft pick someday. He needs to learn to play with a lot more discipline, but the guy’s skill set is undeniable. Nkemdiche is already one of the best defensive linemen in the SEC as a sophomore, and he is primed for a breakout season if he keeps his head on straight.

Senior Lavon Hooks, who also hasn’t lived up to expectations coming out of junior college will be the backup.

Undersized junior Isaac Gross will return as the starter beside Nkemdiche, and he’s tough as they get for a player his size. Scouting reports don’t always take heart into consideration, and this guy has tons of it. Backing up Gross will be senior Byron Bennett and junior Woodrow Hamilton who provide much needed size inside.

SPECIAL TEAMS – Senior Andrew Fletcher holds a slight edge at kicker right now but I expect that to change as the season progresses. True freshman Gary Wunderlich is hailed as one of the top high school kickers of his class.

Redshirt freshman Will Gleason will be handling the punting duties. Handling punt returning responsibilities this year is sophomore Anthony Alford with the explosive Jaylen Walton back as the kick returner.

OUTLOOK – Like the offense, this defense has potential to be in the upper echelon of the SEC if it can stay completely healthy. One injury at a key position and it could spell doom for the Rebels. Having to rely on staying healthy in the brutal SEC is something a coach does not want to lean on.

MY FINAL VERDICT – I see this Ole Miss team as a boom or bust type. If Freeze can get a handle on his players and they stay completely healthy, I can see a ten win season from the Rebels. However, I can also see this team having no locker room leadership and, at the first sign of trouble, heading south fast.

Depth will be the Rebels main issue in 2014, but they are loaded with top tier talent. My prediction will be somewhere in the middle of the boom or bust theory so I’ll go with 8-4.

Best Case – 10-2
Worse Case – 5-7

One last #FinsUp for Marty. Rest In Peace my friend!


Interview with Ross Bjork









It’s game week FINALLY!!!..   Just in case you missed it last week we interviewed Athletic Director of Ole Miss, Ross Bjork.  We talked expectations, future scheduling, future building plans and handling social media.