When the 2008 NFL schedule was released in the spring, prognosticators picking Bears games could have put a ‘W’ next to their Week 6 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons. After all, this was a franchise in complete disarray.
First, Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison for operating an illegal dogfighting ring.
Then, the team mistakenly hires Bobby Petrino, who abandoned the team with 3 games remaining on their schedule to take the head coaching job at the University of Arkansas.
The Falcons had no quarterback, no running game, and were 3-10 in 2007, bad enough to earn the third pick in the draft.
Things have certainly changed since then. The Falcons hired no-nonsense coach Mike Smith to instill discipline to the team and the organization. They used their third pick in the 2008 draft on Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan. And they signed free agent running back Michael Turner, formerly LaDainian Tomlinson’s backup in San Diego.
Through five weeks, the Falcons are 3-2, Michael Turner is the league’s leading rusher with 108.6 yards per game — and is tied for the league lead with 6 touchdowns — and Matt Ryan has played well enough to manage the offense in his first season.
Suddenly, a trip to Atlanta doesn’t seem like a sure victory.
Make no mistake about it, though, the Bears still should win this game. The Bears are 8th in the league in total defense and 4th against the run, giving up just 74.2 yards per game on the ground. Not to mention, the Falcons’ defense is 21st against the run and 22nd against the pass, so the Bears shouldn’t have trouble moving the ball offensively.
But as we’ve learned through five weeks this season, anything can happen and the playing field is wide open.