FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes a prediction of how the 2018 NFL season will play out as well as optimism for Vic Beasley's future.
At this point in the preseason there are a number of teams who look capable of making a run at the Super Bowl, especially in the NFC. Trying to predict how the NFL season will turn out at this point is kind of like guessing which movie will win Best Picture in 2019 – you might have a couple of educated guesses but really anything could happen.
Regardless, it's a fun exercise and one that Andy Benoit just finished for Sports Illustrated. Benoit believes the NFC will be the toughest conference in the NFL, and he picks two NFC South teams to make the playoffs with the Falcons (12-4) winning the division just ahead of the Saints (11-5).
The Falcons earn the No. 1 seed in Benoit's scenario and beat the Saints in the divisional round and the Vikings in the championship game to advance to the Super Bowl, where they upend the Steelers in a 27-24 game.
"And yet I'm picking the Falcons to be the first team to play (and win) a Super Bowl at home," Benoit writes. "Atlanta has a diverse, electrifying offense quarterbacked by 2016 MVP Matt Ryan. They also have a fast, unified defense built around guys in their prime. In the AFC, the Patriots feel a touch weaker this year, so I'm giving that conference to the Steelers, who can win with a smashmouth ground game or a high-flying spread passing game. They, too, have a defense in its prime. But the Falcons are a more complete team. Atlanta finally gets its Lombardi Trophy."
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
AJC: Falcons' Beasley has been sack king before, and I think he can do it again
We're just one year removed from Vic Beasley entering the season as the NFL's reigning sack leader, and Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution believes he can reach those heights again.
"I expect more from Beasley now that he's healthier and properly deployed," Cunningham writes. "Beasley never said so, but that hamstring injury had to be a big hindrance for a speed rusher. Beasley should be near the line ready to harass quarterbacks, not dropping into coverage…
"Beasley has the talent to be the same kind of player for the Falcons, who will let him focus on getting to the quarterback. Beasley probably won't get 15.5 sacks again but, if healthy, I expect him to make a run at it."
To read more of Cunningham's piece on Beasley, click here.
ESPN: Source: Bucs LT Donovan Smith to miss 2-4 weeks
Buccaneers starting left tackle Donovan Smith will be out for the next two to four weeks, according to ESPN's Dan Graziano. An unnamed source confirmed to Graziano that Smith suffered a sprained right knee.
"One of the defensive guys threw themselves into him or got thrown into him," right tackle Demar Dotson told ESPN's Jenna Laine. "I don't know what happened, but we've just got to do a good job of staying up. When it gets late in training camp like this, people get tired and sloppy. That's kind of what happened."