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's expert is Tampa Tribune NFL writer Ira Kaufman, who believes the Falcons are a team that can contend for a long time with the current base, but thinks they may not have a championship-type defense just yet.
Reggie Roberts: Bill Belichick's New England Patriots were supposed to be in a rebuilding mode this season, yet they have the NFL's best record. How do you trade Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings and still manage to have the NFL's best record at 6-1?
Ira Kaufman: Belichick keeps proving he is the best in the business at what he does. This New England club is not overly talented, ranking 19th in offense and 28th in defense, but there they are at 6-1, sporting the league's best record. Moss is long gone, but the Pats average 29 points per game. While Belichick and Brady remain in Foxborough, the Patriots are always going to be competitive.
RR: Give me your thoughts on the season Mike Smith's Atlanta Falcons are having. Do you think they will be part of the national postseason discussion?
IK: The Falcons have a good, young team that should contend for a long time. The front office is solid with Thomas Dimitroff, and Smith is one of the league's better coaches. Still, I'm not sure Atlanta has a championship defense at this point. The Falcons may be one more defensive playmaker away, and Vic Beasley Jr. has to remain healthy. Opposing clubs are completing 69 percent of their pass attempts, but the Falcons do a nice job with takeaways. I'd be surprised if the Falcons aren't playing past Jan. 2.
RR: What are your general thoughts about the 2010 season when there seemingly is no dominant team in either conference this season?
IK: This may be the most unpredictable year in 91 NFL seasons. The Browns go into New Orleans and spank the Saints last week, picking off Drew Brees four times. The Jets are shut out by Green Bay … it's never been harder to pick games week-to-week. While some fans enjoy having a marquee team like the Cowboys or Patriots to root against, this degree of competitive balance keeps interest high in almost every NFL outpost from Oakland to the nation's capital. The talent is spread so evenly throughout the league, winning the turnover battle has never been more crucial.
RR: Atlanta WR Julio Jones is having an amazing season. Do you think he has developed into one of the NFL's elite receivers?
IK: There's no question White has emerged the past few years into the top ranks of NFL receivers. He was flashy, but erratic, as a young player, but you can see the effort he has put in to develop his skills. Don't be surprised if the Bucs assign CB Aqib Talib to shadow White all over the field — he's that's good.
RR: The team you cover — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — is arguably the surprise team in the NFC and perhaps the entire NFL. What is Coach Morris doing to fire up his guys, and what kind of game are you anticipating when the Bucs travel to the Georgia Dome this weekend to face the Falcons for sole possession of first place in the NFC South?
IK: Morris is a supreme motivator and the Bucs kept playing hard for him late last season, despite a 1-12 start. He has learned well from his mentor, Mike Tomlin, and you can tell by his recent remarks that Morris does not lack confidence in himself or his football team. He appeared a bit overwhelmed early in his rookie year, but Morris has grown as a gameday coach and he knows how to relate to his young players. With five consecutive road wins, the Bucs shouldn't be intimidated by playing in the Georgia Dome. I expect a tight game and a good matchup between two of the NFL's best young quarterbacks.
RR: Mike Tomlin's Pittsburgh Steelers struggled on offense in losing to the Saints on Sunday night at the Louisiana Superdome. Was that just a hiccup or do the Steelers have real issues on offense?
IK: Pittsburgh has had some problems along the offensive line for a few years, but the Steelers will be fine, especially with a defense that usually provides a winning edge. New Orleans played with some expected urgency Sunday night, but a trip to Cincinnati on Monday evening should provide the Steelers attack with a perfect tonic. Pittsburgh's duel with Baltimore for supremacy in the AFC North should be fun to watch. Keep your eye on Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, a terrific rookie out of the University of Florida and soon to be a perennial Pro Bowler.
RR: What do you make of Redskins coach Mike Shanahan benching starting QB Donovan McNabb late in his club's loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday?
IK: You don't just decide on the spur of the moment that McNabb isn't your man. This had to be in the works for a few weeks, but it's still a shocking move because of McNabb's pedigree. He isn't having his best season, but he knows how to win and now Mike Shanahan must try to move forward and keep a 4-4 team together during a bye week. There has to be a lot more to the story than Shanahan's flimsy claim that Rex Grossman is a better option than McNabb in the two-minute offense. Nobody I know is buying that nonsense. McNabb has a lot of pride and he has to be hurt by these stunning turn of events.