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Falcons must start stretching field

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Jimmy Johnson

Jimmy Johnson was the architect of the Dallas Cowboys' dynasty in the mid-1990s. His team celebrated two consecutive Super Bowl victories with Johnson at the helm. He joined "FOX NFL Sunday" in 2010. Follow him on Twitter.

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The expectations are pretty high for the Atlanta Falcons this season. Now, Atlanta’s loss did surprise me — Baltimore whipping Pittsburgh was a bigger surprise — but the Bears were playing at home and they did win the NFC North last season. I know all the experts have been picking Chicago for third in the division, but that never sounded right.

After the Bears demolished the Falcons, I guess we can say the North looks better than the South because I know Green Bay is the class of the league.

But the Falcons have to find a way to stretch the field with their passing game. When they traded for Julio Jones in the draft, people said he was the missing piece. Well, either he or somebody has to open up this offense. Atlanta had a great season last year at 13-3 but it carried the same problem into this campaign: not enough big plays.

I don’t think the Falcons can keep throwing the ball underneath like they did against the Bears and expect to win in the long run. They have to find a way to get Roddy White deep and find more ways to create something big.

Chicago’s defense played well. They forced takeaways and Brian Urlacher even scored a touchdown. Statistically, the Falcons also played well, but their three turnovers killed them. Again, this is only one game, but I expected a lot more out of the Falcons and I’m sure they did, too.

I was impressed with Jay Cutler, too. This was his first outing since last season’s NFC Championship Game, when too many people were questioning his leadership and toughness. Well, he showed the hometown fans and everyone else how good he can be. He made a statement by throwing for 312 yards and two touchdowns. And he showed his toughness by being sacked five times and still getting back up for more. All I can say is the Bears won’t be fading into the background.

Philly soars

The Eagles lived up to their hype. Yes, the game against the Rams was close for a little bit, but once Steven Jackson was injured, the game turned. Michael Vick is something special and worth every penny. He's so difficult to defend and when you don’t blitz him or rush him with some extra defenders, he has developed such accuracy when throwing from the pocket. He made some beautiful long throws in the second half against the Rams that broke the game wide open.

Vick can extend so many plays with his feet and when he scrambles it also opens up the Philadelphia running game. When your ends lose containment, you're in trouble against him.

OK, the Philadelphia defense still does look vulnerable against the run. In some ways, the Eagles defense is built like the one in Indianapolis with speed rushers. They will be effective most of the time with a lead. In fact, the defense actually turned the game around for Philadelphia by returning Sam Bradford’s fumble for a touchdown. The Eagles should only get better.

North stars

I know Donovan McNabb didn’t have a great opening game with the Vikings, but I do think Minnesota will be a decent team. So, just think of the NFC North. Green Bay is the defending Super Bowl champions, the Bears won this division last year and the Lions are going to be an improved team.

The Lions are over their rebuilding and if Matthew Stafford can stay healthy, they should be in every game. I mean, Stafford has a great receiver in Calvin Johnson. They connected for two touchdowns in Tampa and I think they'll be playing a lot of pass and catch this season. The Lions simply have to accentuate their passing game with a consistent running attack. We already know they're very physical and tough to beat on defense.

The North should be an exciting all season long because every team has some big-time stars.

Trouble in Indy

I don’t think there is any doubt that Indianapolis’ string of playoff appearances and 10-win seasons is in jeopardy. Any time you lose a player the caliber of Peyton Manning, you know it’s going to be a difficult time for the other players to respond. I think they still have the talent, but they must adjust their game to Kerry Collins.

That's a big if, I think, because Peyton has been there for so many seasons and the receivers are so used to him and how he delivers the ball. Collins has been a solid quarterback in this league, but we all know Manning is different.

The Colts have to adjust as quickly as they can or it will be a long season.

Fitting the Bills?

One of the games I wish I picked on Sunday was the Buffalo Bills. I had a feeling they would play well in Kansas City, which is a difficult to do. The Chiefs were 7-1 at home last season when they made the playoffs. But the Chiefs had a horrible preseason and it looked like it carried over to the regular season. The Bills will be better this season, but their division is so tough with the Patriots and the Jets. They may be improved, but it may not show up in the winn-loss column.
 

Tagged: Falcons, Bills, Bears, Lions, Colts, Rams, Eagles, Peyton Manning

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