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Ask The Expert: Yahoo! Sports' Jason Cole


Falcons vice president of football communications Reggie Roberts talks with Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports about all things NFL:

Reggie Roberts: Did you get a chance to see the Dallas Cowboys this summer and if so, can they become the first NFL team in league history to play in a Super Bowl in their own home stadium?

Jason Cole: The Cowboys were the first team I saw. They have one of the deepest, most physically gifted rosters in the NFL right now, a credit to the scouting department. Literally, they are three deep with high-quality players at running back, wide receiver and defensive line. Obviously, left tackle is a concern, but my bigger problem is that the rest of the offensive line is not very athletic. This is still a team that doesn't pass block very well if the running game isn't working. In the playoffs, that's going to be a problem. Likewise, the coaching situation is another major concern. Wade Phillips is a terrific coach ... 10 months out of the year. He handles the ups and downs of a football team very well, but he has a problem getting his team emotionally charged at the right time. This was the exact gift that Jimmy Johnson had when he was the coach of the Cowboys. I have a really hard time seeing Phillips change after all these years or, worse, seeing his players take him seriously if he tries to change.

RR: What are you hearing from teams regarding the new rule where the umpire lines up in the backfield on the offensive side of the ball?

JC: Not a lot. It hasn't been a huge discussion point until (last) week with everything that the Colts have said. Then again, I think it's a matter of the officials being a little tighter with the rule in the preseason than during the regular season. The one thing I have heard from defensive players is that they're glad the official is out of the way. That said, some are concerned about whether this is going to have an effect on offensive holding by allowing more of it.

RR: What were your impressions of the Atlanta Falcons when you visited them in Flowery Branch during the last week of their training camp?

JC: I'm generally impressed and I predict the Falcons will be one of the two wild-card teams. Of course, much of that rests on the health of the team, but that's the case with every team in the league. I think the offense is going to be very strong and QB Matt Ryan will take a step forward after his injury-altered second season. In practice, he looked very accurate with his throws and that has held up in the preseason. RB Michael Turner looks terrific and sounds driven. The Falcons are one of the few teams in the league that still revolve largely around the play of the running back, so Turner has to be good. That said, the combination of WR Roddy White and TE Tony Gonzalez is one of the best 1-2 punches in the league. If WRs Michael Jenkins and Harry Douglass are competent, the passing game should be solid.

RR: How good are the Green Bay Packers going to be this season?

JC: I'm picking them to win the NFC and lose in the Super Bowl to Indianapolis. In other words, I think they're great. The offensive talent is obvious, but where I was impressed was how quickly the team adapted to playing the 3-4 competently. Not great, but at least competently. That's no easy feat. I think the secondary is great, although obviously old at cornerback with Charles Woodson and Al Harris. The real key is how much the Packers will get out of the the linebacking corps, particularly Clay Mathews. He had 10 sacks last season and needs to show that's not a fluke performance. If the Packers can rush the passer, they should be able to take advantage of their offensive prowess. The defense was also very good against the run last season despite a bevy of injuries, but a lot of that is due to the tempo the Packers offense forces.

RR: There has been significant talk and debate about the CBA and the possible lockout. What are your sources telling you?

JC: Most people predict a lockout, but I have several sources who indicate the league may continue to play another year under the current rules, eventually negotiating to impasse. I would go deeper into explaining that, but the answer would be a cure for insomnia.

RR: What are you hearing about Vikings QB Brett Favre and his decision to come back to the team now that his top target WR Sidney Rice might miss the entire 2010 season because of hip surgery?

JC: Obviously, this is not what Favre wanted, but the Vikings are actually equipped to handle half a season without Rice. That's because WR Bernard Berrian is a pretty good player and because they are expecting WR Percy Harvin, despite the migraine issue, to take another step forward. Throw in a terrific TE in Visanthe Shiancoe and this is still a team that will throw the ball effectively. Oh yeah, and they have that Adrian Peterson guy, too.

RR: Give us your AFC and NFC playoff teams this season and tell us why each team will make the playoffs?

JC: Green Bay — Best overall passing game and a really good pass rush to go with it.

Minnesota — They're really deep at the skill positions and the defensive line might be the best in the league.

New Orleans — The defense will take a step back, but no team does a better job of matching its offensive tempo with its defensive tempo.

San Francisco — Arizona takes a huge step backward because of the quarterback situation, allowing the 49ers to win the division.

Dallas — The defense is really good and the offense can hide its deficiencies in most regular-season situations.

Atlanta — I like the Falcons to return to the form of 2008 with a healthy year and perhaps take another step in the playoffs.

Indianapolis — Mark them down for 11 or 12 wins and a division title. It's a lock.

New York Jets — They're not going to live up to the Super Bowl hype, but they have a terrific defense and RB Shonn Greene will more than make up for the loss of Thomas Jones. The key to the season is to not ask too much of second-year QB Mark Sanchez.

San Diego — The loss of WR Vincent Jackson (he's not showing up anytime soon) and LT Marcus McNeill (his situation is directly tied to what happens with Jackson) is going to hurt the Chargers a lot more than they think. That said, RB Ryan Mathews is going to be really good and should take some pressure off QB Philip Rivers. The question is whether the Chargers will find an adequate deep threat to keep opposing teams from cheating up against them.

Baltimore — The injuries to WR Donte Stallworth and, more importantly, CB Dominique Foxworth are really troubling and make me think this is going to be a wild-card team rather than a division winner. However, I like what the Ravens have done on offense to surround QB Joe Flacco with more talent. Anquan Boldin isn't a No. 1 wide receiver, but he's good enough in tandem with Derrick Mason. RB Ray Rice is great. The defense is starting to show some signs of wear, but should still be good enough.

Cincinnati — It's a rare thing to say that the Bengals are a serious contender, particularly two years in a row. However, the addition of WR Terrell Owens and, just as importantly, the emergence of WR Jordan Shipley combines to make the Bengals offense legitimate after it had to piecemeal its way through the 2009 stretch run. The Bengals defense is deep, featuring perhaps the best combo of CBs in the league in Johnathan Joseph and Levi Jones.

New England — If Ben Roethlisberger were playing the whole season instead of facing a 4-to-6 game suspension, I might pick the Steelers for the final spot even though it's hard for one division to produce three playoff teams. The Patriots will take advantage of Roethlisberger's loss to get through the regular season. However, the Pats' defense is still a long way from its heyday in the early 1990s and the offense peaked in 2007. QB Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick will pull out a couple of games, but this is still a team in some state of transition.

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