FLOWERY BRANCH -- I usually get a feeling how good or bad I think a football team will be. That doesn't mean I'm right, but something about the previous season and the offseason at least gives me some sense of direction.
But about the 2014 Falcons: I have no idea what's going to happen.
If you missed it, I have a column posted on MyAJC.com on the start of training camp later today. Here's a free link to it.
I've posted a simple poll because I'm curious what you think. Rather than guess how many games this team will win, let's focus on what matters most: playoffs. So the question is: By the time the regular season ends, do you think the Falcons will be the NFC South Division winner, a wild card team or miss the playoffs?
There are a number of questions that need to be answered, primarily how the reconstructed offensive line fares, where the pass rush comes from, what becomes of a think linebacking crew that has already lost Sean Weatherspoon, the health issues of Julio Jones and the unknown of what Steven Jackson has left at the age of 31.
Here are a few other things on my mind as camp opens:
• As I opined Thursday on Twitter, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell should be ashamed of himself for giving Baltimore running back Ray Rice only a two-game suspension for domestic abuse, which resulted in his fiance Janay Palmer being knocked on unconscious. Goodell has mostly been skewered in the court of public opinion, and he should be. This is a league that suspends a player four games of a third positive marijuana test. I'm not in anyway minimizing drug use, but there's big a difference in a misdemeanor in which an individual inflicts harm to himself and a felony inflicts pain and endangers the health of a woman. Rice should've been suspended for at least half the season. If an arbitrator overruled that, so be it. At least the league would've done the right thing. As NFL writer Jim Trotter of ESPN noted on Twitter , "I wonder if (Goodell) would've been as lenient if it had been his daughter or sister laying unconscious outside that elevator."
• It will be interesting to see coach Mike Smith's approach to practices. He wants the team to be more physical and the defense obviously needs to tackle better. But NFL training camps generally aren't physical any more because of fear of injuries, roster limitations and the salary cap. He'll have to strike a balance.
• Most preseason NFL predictions have New Orleans winning the NFC South, defending champion Carolina (12-4 last year) dropping off a few wins and the Falcons winning eight or nine games. Sports Illustrated's Peter King listed his pre-season top 15 teams and the Falcons weren't among them (and the list included nine NFC teams): Seattle, Green Bay, San Francisco, New Orleans, Indianapolis, Denver, New England, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Arizona, San Diego, Cincinnati, Carolina, Baltimore.
• Good move by the Falcons giving Roddy White a four-year contract extension, but like any NFL deal don't assume that means White will be here for four years. Only $11 million of the $30 million is guaranteed, and White can earn $18 million in the first two years. After the 2015 season, he'll be 35 years old. White gets criticized for sometimes saying the wrong thing but I'll say this for him: He's arguably the toughest player on the Falcons' roster and plays through injuries more than anybody.
• I've made it no secret that I disagree with owner Arthur Blank's decision to orchestrate the team being on HBO's "Hard Knocks" in training camp. Blank has branding and ticket sales on his mind, not doing what's best for his football team on the field. The objective or any football operation is to minimize distractions and that's true more than ever after a 4-12 season in which the Falcons unraveled. Now, for clarity: Does that mean believe the Falcons being on this lame reality show is guaranteed to be a disaster? No. But there's no reason for Blank to be subjecting his Smith, to this, especially coming off last season -- and despite Smith playing the good soldier publicly, don't believe he's happy with this decision.