Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 8/8/12
The Atlanta Falcons are in the best position of NFC South teams to snatch the crown away from the Saints. The Saints have been hit hard this offseason and won’t be the same team in 2012. The Saints lost key offensive weapons in free agency. The defense was very poor last year and, to add on, the Saints have had multiple starting players suspended, along with a coaching change.

The Atlanta Falcons have the most complete team after the Saints and here's how they can knock the Saints off the top of the division.

Protect Matt Ryan: The Falcons have to do a better job protecting Matt Ryan in the pocket. Ryan has proven he can take apart some of the league’s best defensive units, but he needs that time.

Create Big Plays with Play-Action: The Falcons have one of the best one-two punches at wide receiver and they need to make the most of it. The Falcons should try to use multiple deep play-action plays; this will buy Ryan time in the pocket. The Falcons' offensive line isn’t suited to be in a shotgun; they need to scare teams into thinking Turner has the ball.

Win Divisional Games: I think this division will be close until the end of the season, so it’s important the Falcons beat their divisional opponents in case there's a tie-breaker. The Saints will be in the race until the end and don’t expect the Panthers or Bucs to get off to a rough start like they did last year. This division could come down to Week 17.

Run The Ball: Last year the Falcons tried to force a pass-heavy offense and it didn’t work. My advice to the Falcons, don’t forget what has worked for you the last four years, run the ball and use play-action.

Make Smart Decisions: Mike Smith simply can’t go for it on 4th down in overtime inside his 30. It might sound crazy, but he did this just last year against the Saints. Smith needs to know that there is a time to go for it and a time not to; he needs to learn the difference.

Utilize Mismatches: If you have one of the most explosive receiving tight ends in NFL history, use him. The Falcons can create mismatches with their wide receivers and tight ends in the passing game. Matt Ryan needs to learn to see when a linebacker is paired on his tight end and change the play from a run to a pass. If Ryan sees White on the outside with one-on-one coverage, change the play and go deep.

Win The Turnover Battle: This is important for any NFL team to win. If you can control your turnovers, you can force the other team to beat your defense the long way. The Falcons have a good defense and if the offense doesn’t turn it over the defense can hold up more often then not. 

Matt Ryan: Matt Ryan will make or break this team in 2012. Ryan needs to be a true leader in the locker room and on the offense. Ryan needs to take the next step. This will be his fifth year in the league and average isn’t acceptable if the Falcons want to win the NFC South.

I know the Saints seem like the powerhouse in this division, but no team has ever repeated as NFC South Champions in consecutive years. This division is wide open at this point and the Saints shouldn’t be as heavily favored as the experts are picking them.

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