Atlanta Falcons start Youth Movement by Dumping Three Stars

Atlanta Falcons v Green Bay PackersFor the past five seasons, Michael Turner has been an integral part of the Atlanta Falcons high-powered offense. Turner has rushed for 6,161 yards and 60 touchdowns with Atlanta, which makes it easy to see why he’s made the Pro Bowl twice during this stretch. However, Turner will be packing his bags and heading for another team along with fellow veterans John Abraham and Dunta Robinson.

These moves are part of what appears to be a big youth movement on the part of the Falcons. Furthermore, Atlanta will free up $16 million in cap space by getting rid of three of their most recognized players.

john-abraham-falconsTurner (31 years old) was set to earn $6.4 million next season, Abraham (34) was due $5.75 million, and Robinson (30) was going to earn $3.75 million. Previously one of the league’s oldest and over-extended teams, the Falcons now have a chance to become a younger club with much more cap space.

General Manager Thomas Dimtroff recently discussed the high-profile, yet not totally unexpected, releases with the media. He stated:

These are never easy decisions to make. They were business decisions. They were decisions made for us to continue to look at the direction of this football team. We have a number of positions that we need to hone in on, whether if it’s in the draft or potentially acquiring (players) in free agency. That’s all that I can really say at this point, because there are a lot of moving parts.

As Dimtroff mentioned, these weren’t easy decisions – especially considering that three key players are being cut from a club that made it to the NFC Championship game. Turner had the least productive season of his Falcons career, but still led the team with 800 yards and 10 touchdowns.

dunta-robinson-falconsAbraham has consistently been a great pass rusher for Atlanta with 68.5 sacks in seven seasons with them. He had 10 sacks last year, but didn’t play as much as usual in order to avoid injuries. Robinson has contributed four interceptions and 158 tackles in three seasons with the Falcons. But like Abraham, he took some snaps off to avoid injury.

Now that three three veteran starters are gone, Atlanta has some work to do in regard to replacing them. There are already various rumors floating about what the Falcons might do to fill these key positions.

As for running back, they have Jacquizz Rodgers, who contributed 362 rushing yards, 402 receiving yards on 52 catches, and two touchdowns. However, Rodgers’ relatively slight 5’6″, 196-pound stature makes it hard to give him a full workload. So there’s been talk of adding veteran Stephen Jackson (1,042 rushing yards, 10 TD’s) to compliment Rodgers.

Following his release by the Indianapolis Colts, Dwight Freeney is a definite possibility to take over for Abraham at defensive end. Freeney missed two games and only tallied 5 sacks last year, but could bounce back with a new team.

After letting Robinson go, the Falcons will probably rotate Asante Samuel, Robert McClain and Brent Grimes (if re-signed) in at the two cornerback spots.

NFL Power Rankings for Jan. 4th, 2013

The NFL Playoffs begin tomorrow with the Cincinnati Bengals visiting Houston, and Minnesota taking on the Green Bay Packers. And seeing as how the playoffs are set, it’s become much clearer as to who the top teams are at this point. That said, you’ll find a familiar number one team from our past rankings in this edition. Now let’s continue by discussing all 12 postseason teams.

1. Denver Broncos (13-3, 1st seed in AFC) – Last week we talked about how the Broncos would need Houston to lose if they were to grab home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Well their wish came true and Peyton Manning and the Broncos are in perfect position for a Super Bowl run. They should be fairly healthy too when they play next week against the lowest winning AFC seed..

Last Game: 38-3 win over Kansas City
Next Game: First round playoff bye

2. New England Patriots (12-4, 2nd seed in AFC) – The Patriots move up one spot from last week after dismantling Miami. Like Denver, this team was a huge beneficiary of the Texans losing since they grabbed a first round playoff bye. Assuming they win their second round game, a blockbuster AFC Championship duel could take place between Peyton and Tom Brady.

Last Game: 28-0 win over Miami
Next Game: First round playoff bye

3. Atlanta Falcons (13-3, 1st seed in NFC) – Despite having the NFC’s top seed locked up, Atlanta coach Mike Smith played his starters against Tampa Bay in order to “finish the season the right way.” Unfortunately, even their starters couldn’t make this a reality as the Falcons gave up 142 rushing yards to Doug Martin and lost. What’s worse is that Atlanta lost two key defensive players to injuries (DE John Abraham, CB Dunta Robinson) during the debacle.

Last Game: 22-17 loss to Tampa Bay
Next Game: First round playoff bye

4. Seattle Seahawks (11-5, 5th seed in NFC) – We were tempted to move Seattle up to number three based on their extremely hot run. However, it’s a stretch to rank Seattle as the NFC’s best team when they’ll be playing every playoff game on the road. Russell Wilson quietly tied Peyton Manning for the most touchdown passes ever by a rookie (26) – something nobody would’ve expected after the first few games.

Last Game: 20-13 win over St. Louis
Next Game: at Washington Redskins (First Round)

5. Green Bay Packers (11-5, 3rd seed in NFC) – Green Bay lost a classic game to the Vikings as Minnesota was fighting for their playoff lives; this sets up a rematch between these two teams next week. It’s hard to tell what will happen in this rubber match, but we like Green Bay since they’re at home. But don’t forget that Adrian Peterson has run for over 400 yards in two games against the Pack!

Last Game: 37-34 loss to Minnesota
Next Game: vs. Minnesota Vikings (First Round)

6. San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1, 2nd seed in NFC) – WR Michael Crabtree had a career game (172RYDS, 2TD) to help the Niners secure the NFC West title and a first round bye. San Francisco has had its struggles over the second half of the season, so nothing is guaranteed in the playoffs.

Last Game: 27-13 win over Arizona
Next Game: First round playoff bye

7. Indianapolis Colts (11-5, 5th seed in AFC) – People have expressed concerns about the Colts’ run defense all year – and for good reason. However, everything else seems to be firing on all cylinders for Indianapolis and we actually like them to beat the Ravens, despite playing on the road.

Last Game: 28-16 win over Houston
Next Game: at Baltimore Ravens (First Round)

8. Houston Texans (12-4, 3rd seed in AFC) – How the mighty Texans have fallen after being 11-1 and firmly entrenched atop the AFC. With losses to Indianapolis, Minnesota and New England over the past four weeks, Houston now drops into the Wild Card round. Based on how the Bengals are streaking and the Texans are slumping, the game tomorrow should be really good.

Last Game: 28-16 loss to Indianapolis
Next Game: vs. Cincinnati Bengals (First Round)

9. Washington Redskins (10-6, 4th seed in NFC) – The Redskins won a hard-fought game against the Cowboys to secure the NFC East title and a playoff berth. This is no doubt an intriguing team offensively with rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris leading the charge. Morris actually ran for a career-high 200 yards and three touchdowns to power his team over Dallas.

Last Game: 28-18 win over Dallas
Next Game: vs. Seattle Seahawks (First Round)

10. Minnesota Vikings (10-6, 6th seed in NFC) – Adrian Peterson fell just eight yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record. But he’s certainly not worrying about that with a big game against the Packers tomorrow. Can AP continue his torrid pace against Green Bay for a second straight week?

Last Game: 37-34 win over Green Bay
Next Game: at Green Bay Packers (First Round)

11. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6, 6th seed in AFC) – Cincinnati won a meaningless contest over Baltimore since both teams had their playoff seeds wrapped up before the game. But what’s not meaningless is how the Bengals won six out of their last seven games to grab a postseason bid. With the way that Houston has been faltering lately, Cincinnati actually has a chance to win in the first round.

Last Game: 23-17 win over Baltimore
Next Game: at Houston Texans

12. Baltimore Ravens (10-6, 4th seed in AFC) – After starting the year with a very respectable 9-2 record, the Ravens ended on a sour note by losing four of their past five contests. Taking this into account, Baltimore’s decision to rest most of their starters in last game’s second half was probably a good one.

Last Game: 23-17 loss to Cincinnati
Next Game: vs. Indianapolis Colts (First Round)