FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Falcons' Week 1 matchup against the Chicago Bears is slowly drawing closer, which means experts and pundits around the country have begun to analyze the game.
Wednesday's edition of the Early Bird Report has a few of these previews and projections, as well as some interesting injury information about some of the Bears' notable players.
FALCONS HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY
The Washington Post: The Falcons' past is biggest obstacle for the future
For much of the offseason, the national narrative about the Falcons has been about how they move forward after their Super Bowl loss. While the team and coaching staff have fully turned their focus towards the 2017 season, it's a plotline that remains.
As part of The Washington Post's NFL preview series, Mark Maske explained why the Falcons' biggest hurdle in achieving success this season might be getting over their Super Bowl loss. He wonders whether the returning talent and a new state-of-the-art stadium will be enough to help Atlanta move on and put together another successful run.
CBS Chicago: Previewing how the Falcons and Bears match up
Now that the regular season is here, there should be no more guessing at how long certain players or units will be on the field. Knowing who will be out there on Sunday makes it possible to compare each aspect of the Falcons and the Bears.
CBS Chicago did just that in their "Tale of the Tape" piece for this Week 1 matchup. The article compares each team's quarterback, offense, defense and special teams, declaring a winner for every category. It was determined to be a clean sweep for the defending NFC champions, and CBS Chicago had this to say about the result:
"The Falcons may find themselves thinking about what might have been in last year's Super Bowl from time to time this year, but they should not have a problem against a Chicago team that is searching desperately for an identity."
Sports Illustrated: 10 things you need to know about the Falcons
Andy Benoit of The Monday Morning Quarterback has been previewing the upcoming season with a "10 things you need to know" series over the last several weeks. On Wednesday, Benoit published one on the Falcons, and the 10 talking points really focus on two key questions: What will Atlanta's offense look like under Steve Sarkisian, and will the defense continue the quick improvement it showed at the end of last season?
On the offensive side, Benoit notes that former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan had the Falcons' run and passing games perfectly in sync with one another, allowing Atlanta to keep defenses guessing. Defensively, the Falcons went from allowing 28.3 points per game before their bye week to 22 points per game afterwards, including the playoffs. Much of that improvement, Benoit says, occurred with the linebackers and secondary.
CBS Sports: Advanced computer projection loves Atlanta
Projections can be a tricky thing, but Sportsline's Projection Model was pretty accurate last season. According to CBS Sports, the computer simulation model went 174-80-2 last season in straight-up picks, which equals a 68 percent success rate.
In simulating the NFL's Week 1 matchups, the model clearly showed love for the Falcons this weekend against the Bears. After 10,000 simulations, Sportsline's model has Atlanta winning 72 percent of the time and calling for a 29-18 blowout, CBS Sports says.
NEWS ON THE FALCONS' OPPONENT: CHICAGO BEARS
Chicago Tribune: Status of injured starters and who replaces them
The Bears are banged up entering their season opener against the Falcons. Eight Chicago players are listed on injured reserve, including top receiver Cameron Meredith, and another five projected starters are injured, according to Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune*. *
Campbell lists the following players as those dealing with injuries: Offensive lineman Kyle Long, linebacker Pernell McPhee, linebacker Danny Trevathan, cornerback Prince Amukamara and wide receiver Markus Wheaton. Of the players Campbell mentions, he notes that "Trevathan's outlook seems the most optimistic among these five."
CBS Chicago: Rookie running back Tarik Cohen could play key role
At just 5-foot-6, Bears rookie running back Tarik Cohen is already drawing positive comparisons to Darren Sproles. A fourth-round draft pick for Chicago in this year's NFL Draft, Cohen finished his career at North Carolina A&T as the MEAC's all-time leading rusher.
Chris Emma of CBS Chicago detailed why Cohen fits the comparison to Sproles, and why he could play a key role for the Bears offense in 2017. Per Emma, Cohen will operate as the No. 2 back behind starter Jordan Howard and possesses speed, the ability to operate as a receiver out of the backfield and toughness.
ESPN: Bears' success dependent upon establishing run against Falcons
It's no great secret that second-year running back Jordan Howard is the Bears' best offensive weapon among their skill players. Despite losing top wide receiver Cameron Meredith to a knee injury this preseason, ESPN's Jeff Dickerson doesn't believe Chicago offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains will become overly conservative.
Dickerson thinks the Bears will still ask quarterback Mike Glennon to make several plays on Sunday, but Glennon's success, and the overall success of the team, largely depends on their ability to control the line of scrimmage and run the ball against the Falcons.
BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFC SOUTH
The Charlotte Observer: Carolina players aren't listening to criticism of Panthers' secondary
According to *The Charlotte Observer's *Brendan Marks, there has been much criticism this offseason about the lack of depth in the Carolina Panthers' secondary. While it's been a hot topic among those covering the team, Marks says the players aren't listening.
"Back in my younger days, I used to be reading everything like, 'Man,'" Munnerlyn said, per Marks. "But now I don't read into it. I just try to keep rolling, keep the clock ticking."
The Times-Picayune: Saints draft class expected to play early and often in 2017
It's not unexpected for the New Orleans Saints to get production out of one or two rookies each season, particularly on offense. This year, however, their draft class may contribute significantly.
Larry Holder of NOLA.com and *The Times-Picayune *says this class is expected to do more than any other over the past few years. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore and left tackle Ryan Ramczyk, both first-round picks, will start for the Saints in Week 1. By Holder's estimation, New Orleans could have five starters from this class.
NFL.com: Buccaneers-Dolphins game moved due to Hurricane Irma
Out in the Atlantic Ocean, Hurricane Irma has strengthened into a Category 5 storm. Early estimations indicated that Irma could hit south Florida over the weekend, causing concerns about a Week 1 matchup between Tampa Bay and Miami on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
On Wednesday morning, the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport announced that the game would be moved to Week 11, which each team had available as their bye week.
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