Each week, Falcons Vice President of Football Communications Reggie Roberts will sit down with an expert and talk about the Falcons, as well as what's going on in the rest of the league. This week, Roberts had a chance to catch up with longtime Houston Chronicle NFL national writer John McClain.
Reggie Roberts: Through the first four weeks of the 2010 NFL season, what's taken place in the league that you did not anticipating coming out of training camp?
John McClain: Not the Falcons because I picked them to win the division and the Saints to earn a wildcard berth. Kansas City being the last unbeaten team is a huge surprise, but the Chiefs defeated a weak schedule and will come down to earth in their next two games. I'm stunned that the 49ers are winless. I picked them to win the division. I thought Brett Favre would look like this last season. Now it looks like the end of the line. The NFC East isn't as strong as usual. Texans RB Arian Foster, an undrafted free agent last year, leads the league in rushing and yards from scrimmage. That's a monster surprise considering he started one game as a rookie.
RR: You cover the Houston Texans and have covered the league for more than 30 years. Are the Texans on their way to their first playoff berth in franchise history this season?
JM: The Texans lead the AFC South with a 3-1 record. Their next two are at home against the Giants and Chiefs before their open date, then a prime-time game against the Colts. I've never picked them to make the playoffs, but I did this season, and I'm sticking with it. They've got Matt Schaub on a pace for more than 4,100 yards for the second season in a row. Rookie RB Arian Foster is on a pace to break Eric Dickerson's rushing record. Their defense will improve with Brian Cushing back Sunday against the Giants.
RR: Let's switch over to the Falcons. What were your preseason impressions of Mike Smith's team and tell us your thoughts after four games?
JM: I picked the Falcons to win the division. After posting consecutive winning seasons for the first time, getting Michael Turner healthy, signing Dunta Robinson and watching Matt Ryan improve, I thought they'd take the next step and win the division. I thought the Saints would earn a wildcard berth. After four games, I feel good about the pick, but injuries can tell the tale. I like the way they survived the 49ers game. That's the sign of a maturing team. Each year, Mike Smith will be the first to tell you how much he learned and that he's a better coach.
Good luck to the Falcons and Mike Smith the rest of the season.
RR: In your opinion, who are the best five teams in the AFC and who are the best five teams in the NFC?
JM: AFC: NY Jets, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, New England, Houston.
NFC: Packers, Falcons, Saints, Bears, Cowboys.
RR: Let's get back to the Falcons. They are much improved on defense and lead the league in INTs with eight. What do you think has caused such a dramatic turnaround?
JM: Adding Dunta Robinson, being healthy, young players gaining experience, opponents being forced to throw, more pressure on the quarterback, defensive players not dropping balls.
RR: Former Falcon and current Texan QB Matt Schaub is off to a solid season. Is he one of the best QBs in the AFC this season?
JM: He was one of the best last season when he led the league with 4,770 yards passing and finished in the top five in six major statistics, including leading in three. They're running more because they don't want him to throw as much. They want to keep him healthy. He's become a leader. He's confident in the pocket and in command of the offense. In his three years, he's averaged 300 yards a game on the road. The key is staying healthy.
RR: Give us an update on what you are hearing on the labor front. Is it still gloom and doom or are the league and the union making some solid progress in their negotiations?
JM: The only salvation will be the 18-game schedule, which most players are against. Remember, this is a lockout by the owners, not a strike by the players. The players like the previous system. The owners want to roll back about 19 percent of what they pay the players as far as salary, benefits, etc. The only way for the owners to make up that money and the players not only not take the roll back but to make more will be the 18-game schedule. I think Roger Goodell will find a way to convince both sides to get it done.