MIA-ATL Matchup Report
Instead, they silenced the skeptics by each winning 11 games and making the postseason.
When the Falcons and Dolphins open this season Sunday at the Georgia Dome, both teams will be looking to show last year was no fluke and they can get back to the playoffs.
Oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made the Falcons -4 point spread favorites (View NFL odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 71% of bets for this game have been placed on the Falcons -4 (View NFL bet percentages).
Two years ago, Atlanta was in disarray. Michael Vick was serving prison time for organizing a dogfighting ring and first-year coach Bobby Petrino abandoned the team late in the season to return to the college ranks.
After the Falcons finished 4-12 in 2007, expectations weren't much better for 2008 with first-year coach Mike Smith in charge and rookie quarterback Matt Ryan leading the offense.
Ryan, the third overall pick in the 2008 draft, had no trouble adjusting to the pro game, throwing a 62-yard touchdown on his first pass. Ryan started all 16 games, passing for 3,440 yards with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions to earn the AP's offensive rookie of the year award.
He helped the team go 11-5 before losing to Arizona 30-24 in a wild-card game.
"We really haven't accomplished anything," Ryan said. "We got to the playoffs, which is a great thing, but our expectations for ourselves are bigger than that."
While the Falcons had a remarkable turnaround last season, it paled in comparison to what Miami accomplished.
After going a franchise-worst 1-15 in 2007, first-year coach Tony Sparano led the Dolphins to the AFC East title with an 11-5 record to complete the greatest turnaround in NFL history. Miami's surprising season ended with a 27-9 loss to Baltimore in a wild-card game, its first playoff appearance since 2001.
"What's in the past is in the past," Sparano says. "Nothing is owed to you. Nothing is guaranteed to you in this league. That's not the kind of business that we're in. ...
"That being said, there are some things you can take from 2008. There's a confidence."
Quarterback Chad Pennington should be brimming with confidence following an impressive first season with Miami.
After being cut by the New York Jets last August, Pennington signed with the Dolphins, who entered camp last season without a starting quarterback. The nine-year veteran stepped up, throwing for a career-high 3,653 yards and 19 touchdowns with seven interceptions en route to being named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year for the second time in his career.
"What we did in 2008 has no bearing in 2009," Pennington said. "We have a big challenge ahead of us: to learn each other and to build team chemistry and to work together."
While making consecutive trips to the playoffs is never easy, it is something Atlanta has never accomplished.
The Falcons have never even had back-to-back winning seasons in their 43-year history, but that streak could be about to end with Ryan leading an explosive offense.
His favorite target, Roddy White, had a franchise single-season record 1,382 receiving yards last season. Ryan also has a new and very viable option this year in 10-time Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez, who signed with the Falcons in the offseason.
"He knows where to put that ball, and he works hard," said Gonzalez, who had 96 catches for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns last season for Kansas City.
While Ryan has two accomplished receivers to throw to, he also can hand off to Pro Bowl running back Michael Turner, who started 16 games last year for the Falcons after spending the previous four seasons as a backup in San Diego.
Turner made an immediate impact, running for a franchise-record 220 yards in his first game and finishing second in the NFL with 1,699 yards rushing. He also set a team record with 17 touchdowns.
This high-powered offense will provide a big test to a Miami defense that looked strong in the preseason.
"They have a lot of weapons," Sparano said of Atlanta's offense. "When you look at them, and their average per carry, and their average per catch, it's staggering."
Led by Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter and 2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Jason Taylor, who played for Washington last season, the Dolphins are expected to better than a year ago, when they ranked ninth in scoring defense (19.8 points per game) and forced 30 turnovers.
This will be the first meeting between these teams since Atlanta's 17-10 win in Miami on Nov. 6, 2005.
Posted: 9/10/09 1:23AM ET