The Pulse: What to make of the Falcons in '06?


Welcome to The Pulse, the place to find out what the sports world is thinking. Every day on ESPN.com, SportsNation registers its opinion on a wide range of topics by casting votes and offering opinions. We'll collect the daily highlights and create a running file throughout the week to measure The Pulse of SportsNation on a wide variety of issues. Check this page every day for an update of what the 'Nation is saying.

Friday's Big Question

What's in store for the Atlanta Falcons in 2006?

Will Michael Vick ever become an elite passer in the NFL?
The Atlanta Falcons missed the playoffs last season after advancing to the NFC championship game in 2004, so what's in store for this year? Are Atlanta's fortunes tied solely to the performance of quarterback Michael Vick?

ESPN.com's Training Camp Tour checked in at Falcons camp Friday and found SportsNation is split on Michael Vick. Although just over half say his great mobility and play-making potential do not outweigh his merely average completion percentage and touchdown-to-interception ration, a slightly higher percentage feel Vick is still improving as his sixth season gets underway.

As for the new faces in camp, SN likes defensive end John Abraham to have the biggest impact after coming over in an offseason trade with the Jets. What does it all add up to? According to The 'Nation, it's a tough season to call, as the majority feel the Falcons will win nine or 10 games, but just over half think they'll miss the playoffs.

  • 52% Vick's mobility and big-play potential do not outweigh his mediocre passing

  • 55% Vick is still showing signs of improvement entering his sixth season

    Which newcomer will play the biggest role this season?
    73% John Abraham, DE
    19% Lawyer Milloy, S
    5% Jimmy Williams, CB
    3% Wayne Gandy, T

    The Falcons went 8-8 last season; how many games will they win this season?
    52% 9-10
    30% 7-8
    12% 11 or more
    5% 6 or fewer

    Will the Falcons make the playoffs?
    54% No
    46% Yes

    I think Michael Vick is ready for a breakout year now that all the hype is done.
    Luigi (Ponce, P.R.)

    Why won't the Falcons let Vick run like he did in college? They can either have a great slasher QB who makes up for his accuracy issues or a subpar passer who can't seem to find his place. Even with the threat of injury it seems wise to let the man do what he does.
    Keith (Grand Rapids)

    What's the over/under on which week Matt Schaub will be moved to starting QB? If that happens the Falcons would be better if Vick stayed on the field as a WR.
    Sean (Charlottesville, VA)

    When -- not if, but WHEN -- Michael Vick struggles again this year, he should be benched in favor of Matt Shaub.
    Ronnie (San Diego)

    The Falcons getting Abraham from the Jets improves their defense, definitely. Yet they are still undersized and need to figure out how to they counter an opponet who's going to run on them all day.
    Anthony (NYC)

    What about the Falcons' D? I think we could be looking at a drastically improved unit. Also, is there a DB in the league you'd rather start your defense with than DeAngelo Hall?
    JD (Nashville)

    Falcons will win 10 and get into the playoffs, where they will pull off at least one big upset. Mark it down.
    Jamal (ATL)

    Thursday's Big Questions

    1. Are you surprised Floyd Landis failed a drug test?
    2. Are the Eagles a playoff team?

    How tainted is Floyd Landis' Tour de France win after a failed drug test?
    Floyd Landis won many fans with his inspiring Tour de France win, overcoming a degenerative hip condition and riding with a hip that will be replaced in the very near future while storming from behind in Stage 17 of the Tour to reclaim the yellow jersey before a triumphant final ride through Paris.

    But now comes news that Landis tested positive for a high testosterone/epitestosterone ratio after that comeback in Stage 17 and has been suspended by his Swiss-based Phonak team. He has asked for a test of his secondary "B" sample that could confirm or refute the original test. SportsNation is already convinced, though, that the man from a Mennonite family in Pennsylvania Dutch country used a banned substance.

    Two-thirds of the 'Nation believes the reports of the positive test and more than 70 percent would no longer find his struggles against that degenerative him admirable if he did boost his performance with testosterone.

    This story, of course, follows years of allegations against fellow American Lance Armstrong, winner of the previous seven Tour de France races. But a positive test for Landis would definitely not make SN any more likely to belive Armstrong was ever guilty of doping.

  • 66% Believe reports that Landis tested positive for high levels of testosterone

  • 71% Would not consider Landis' struggle with a degenerative hip admirable if he used banned substances

  • 70% Would not be more likely to believe allegations against Lance Armstrong because of a positive test for Landis

  • 70% Do not believe the allegations against Armstrong

    Why haven't we heard boo from Floyd Landis himself? The silence to me implies guilt. And I don't want to think that.
    Alex (Atlanta)

    Why don't they just let cyclist use steroids since it's apparent that most of them do anyway? Might as well stop promoting the "he who has the best doctors to hide the drugs will be the champion" model.
    Jim (Florida)

    After all these years and testing snafus, I find it hard to believe that all the positive and even negative tests are valid. The ability of a fan to trust athletes is about as shaky as trusting the governing bodies.
    Jon '94 (Edina, MN)

    All cyclists do steroids, give us a break. Its really not that big of a deal to many fans. It doesn't give you heart, which is what Lance and Floyd have. You can't shoot drive and heart into your behind.
    Eric (Alabama)

    If Landis wanted to cheat he could have gotten away with it. It seems the results of the test do not make much sense with Landis having low testosterone levels but a high ratio of 11/1.
    Dave (Los Angeles, CA)

    Everyone is asking the wrong question here. The question should be, "Is it medically possible for a human to increase his testosterone level in putting forth a massive effort, full of rage (at himself and his situation) and emotion, to a point that could test above the normal level?" I think it does Floyd, le Tour, and cycling as a whole a disservice to assume the worst without all the information. I, for one, want to hear expert opinions on that subject before I will draw my conclusions. I have heard no one say, "Wait, there may be another side to these results."
    Steve (Seattle)

    Who will be catching Donovan McNabb's passes this year?
    Philadelphia is the next stop on ESPN.com's Training Camp Tour and there is plenty to talk about as the Eagles prepare for the season.

    First and foremost is the fallout from last season's Terrell Owens-Donovan McNabb drama. Owens is now catching passes in Dallas and while his name still evokes emotions in Philly, SportsNation says McNabb still has the respect of his teammates for the way he handled the situation.

    But who will fill the void left on the field after Owens' departure? SN gives the nod to second-year wideout Reggie Brown, who finished with 43 catches last season, but also likes Brian Westbrook's chances to be the Eagles' best pass-catcher this season after tying for the team lead with 61 receptions last year.

    Some also wonder if the window of opportunity has closed for an Eagles team that played in four straight NFC championship games from 2001-04 and went to Super Bowl XXXIX following the '04 season. The 'Nation doesn't think so and a majority sees the Eagles in the playoffs this season. In all, 60 percent of SN thinks Philadelphia will win at least nine games this season.

    Has Donovan McNabb lost any of the respect of his teammates?
    53% Not at all
    40% A little
    7% A lot

    Who will be Philadelphia's best pass catcher?
    44% Reggie Brown
    33% Brian Westbrook
    19% L.J. Smith
    4% Todd Pinkston

  • 60% The window has not closed on the Eagles

  • 54% The Eagles will make the playoffs

    The Eagles went 6-10 last season; how many games will they win this season?
    35.4% 9-10
    30.2% 7-8
    24.0% 11 or more
    10.4% 6 or fewer

    McNabb is a stand-up guy and he'll lead his team back from the abyss. You can pencil in 10 wins and a big rebound from Donovan.
    Mike (Texas)

    Why is the media picking the Cowboys, Redskins, And Giants over the Eagles when we are the same Super Bowl team from two years ago, just without T.O.?
    John (Ohio)

    If Andy Reid leads the team to another subpar finish I think it's time to think about going in another direction. They've fallen just short too many times.
    Thomas (Wilkes Barre, PA)

    Isn't this the same team that went to the NFC championship game two years in a row with Todd Pinkston and James Thrash at WR. What's the difference now?
    Hojo (Tampa)

    Given that the Eagles have upgraded their WR corps (relative to pre-T.O. squads) and added great depth to both lines, how can people constantly predict them to finish in the cellar of the NFC East?
    Drew (NY)

    Just let me say how much I love the fact that the Eagles are flying under the radar this year and how wrong you all will be when they're on top of the division!
    Matt (Philly)

    Wednesday's Big Questions

    1. Which team will win the AL wild card spot?
    2. What's in store for the Oakland Raiders?

    Johan Santana and the Twins are charging hard in the American League.
    Things are getting tight in the American League wild card race. The Minnesota Twins beat the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night -- the Twins' 33rd win their last 41 games and the 11th loss in the last 14 for Chicago -- to pull within one game of Chicago in the wild card race.

    The injury-plagued Yankees are even closer, sitting just a half-game back of the Sox, while their AL East counterparts in Toronto are only 3.5 game back. SportsNation took a look at all four teams and decided the White Sox are the strongest of the wild card contenders right now. More than 40 percent of the 'Nation favors Chicago with the Twins and Yankees trailing by significant margins.

    Both the White Sox and Yankees have been mentioned as possibilities to trade for Washington left fielder Alfonso Soriano and SN thinks either team would do well to acquire the speedy outfielder with the big bat. More than 80 percent would rather have Soriano than Bobby Abreu, the other big-name outfielder on the trading block.

    Which of these teams is the strongest?
    42% Chicago White Sox
    29% Minnesota Twins
    21% New York Yankees
    7% Toronto Blue Jays

    If you could add either player, whom would you choose for the playoff push?
    83% Bobby Abreu
    17% Alfonso Soriano

    White Sox are in a rut but the pitching should come around. The offense will be fine, and if Soriano comes to town the Tigers better look out.
    Josh (Chi-town)

    Here come the Twins. The Yanks better hope they can keep winning to hold them off in the WC chase.
    Alex (Atlanta)

    The White Sox can't buy a win. Forget Soriano, we need to do something about this rotation.
    Dan (Chicago)

    Yankees are STUDS! With all the injuries and "terrible" pitching staff, they are .5 game out of the wild card.
    Gene (NJ)

    The Twins seriously need another bat in the lineup. Carlos Lee would be a perfect fit to bath clean up between Mauer and Morneau.
    Brian (Canby, MN)

    Blue Jays are getting some guys back from injury (Chacin, Rios) and that should help. But they don't have enough horses beyond Halladay and Wells to get into the playoffs.
    Justin (NYC)

    Art Shell is back in black and silver for the first time since 1994..
    ESPN.com's Training Camp Tour kicked off on Wednesday with a look at the Oakland Raiders, who opened camp with a new coach, a new quarterback and plenty of questions.

    The biggest is whether second-time coach Art Shell, who guided the Raiders to 56 wins from 1989-94, was the right choice to take over a team that limped to 13 wins in the last three season and was in need of a dose of discipline.

    SportsNation has little doubt about that and also thinks new quarterback Aaron Brooks is the clear choice over second-year man Andrew Walter. SN gives Shell little chance to lead the team to the playoffs this season, though, with nearly 70 percent saying the Raiders are a .500 team or worse.

  • 88% Art Shell is the right coach for the Raiders

  • 80% Aaron Brooks should start at QB

  • 70% The Raiders will not make the playoffs

    The Raiders went 4-12 last season; how many games will they win this season?
    42% 7-8
    29% 9-10
    24% 6 or fewer
    5% 11 or more

    You know Jon Gruden isn't coming back to Oakland so Art Shell is the next best thing. And he's a true Raider from back in the day, so he brings plenty of credibility.
    David (California)

    Shell's discipline, Brooks slinging to Randy Moss, an improved defense. Pretty good formula for Oakland but the Raiders are in too tough a division to make the playoffs just yet.
    Jonathan (Arizona)

    Art Shell should never have been fired in the first place. Rehiring him is the best move the Raiders have made in years.
    Chuck (Los Angeles)

    Huff, Bing, Morrison. Three names to watch on that defense this year and in years to come. If they have an immediate impact this could be a team to watch.
    Matt (Boise, Idaho)

    Brooks is too inconsistent and Moss will get sick of his erratic throws. Looks like LaMont Jordan will be on his own again this year.
    Terrell (Washington, D.C.)

    Nothing is going to chance for the Raiders until Al Davis stops his meddling and gets out. The dude is older than dirt and shouldn't be making decisions.
    Tyler (San Francisco)

    Tuesday's Big Questions

    1. Which NFL QBs are under the gun?
    2. Which new head coach is facing big pressure?

    SN wonders if Chad Pennington can return to form in New York.
    It's training camp time in the NFL and there are plenty of questions to be answered before the regular season starts.

    With 10 new head coaches taking over, big-name quarterbacks coming off injury, running back competitions galore and Terrell Owens joining the Cowboys, things are already getting interesting in the NFL. September will be here before you know it and SportsNation started preparations for camp by looking at two of the biggest stories heading into the dog days of summer.

    There has been plenty of shifting at the quarterback position in the offseason, beginning with Drew Brees leaving San Diego for New Orleans and Philip Rivers stepping into the void. A third of the 'Nation thinks Rivers is the biggest question mark among QB heading into camp, but slightly more think Chad Pennington and his arm concerns are more of an unknown than Rivers. Very few doubt Brees will succeed with the Saints.

    As for the new coaches, seven of the 10 are first-time hires but SN says a pair of second-chance coaches is facing the most pressure. Herman Edwards left the Jets for a Kansas City team many expect to contend for the AFC crown and more than 40 percent of SportsNation thinks he is under the most pressure heading into camp, but one-fourth of voters think Art Shell is the choice in his second tenure with the Raiders.

    Which quarterback is facing the biggest question mark heading into training camp?
    37% Chad Pennington, Jets
    34% Philip Rivers, Chargers
    17% Daunte Culpepper, Dolphins
    8% Rex Grossman, Bears
    5% Drew Brees, Saints

    Which new coach is under the most pressure heading into training camp?
    41% Herm Edwards, Chiefs
    25% Art Shell, Raiders
    20% Eric Mangini, Jets
    11% Brad Childress, Vikings
    2% Scott Linehan, Rams

    Pennington vs. Ramsay in New York. Which one gets the job of making Jets fans wish they had drafted Leinart?
    Jeff (New York)

    Philip Rivers over Drew Brees? Is Marty serious?
    Justin (Blacksburg)

    Culpepper. Will he be the 2004 Daunte or 2005 Daunte? If he is '04 Daunte, the Dolphins will give the Pats a run for their money. if not the Pats win the division easily.
    Charles (SuperBurgh)

    How long will Herm Edwards be smiling in Kansas City?
    Can Rex Grossman make it through training camp and the preseason healthy, because everyone in Chicago is calling him the golden boy for the Bears and if he can lead a DECENT offense, the defense will be able to carry this team to the playoffs.
    Matt "The Intern" (Chicago)

    What about Drew Brees in N.O.? He is a million times better than Brooks. Biggest upgrade of the offseason at the QB position.
    Cliff (Philly)

    Herm better focus on that defense if the Chiefs are going to live up to the hype.
    Angel (KC)

    Edwards left a team with few expectations for one with huge expectations. Better step up and get it done with all that talent.
    Mike (Alpena, MI)

    KC should make a run deep into the playoffs. New head coach who can win, same high octane offence that can score at will, Ty Law gives the secondary some respect and D.J. will be a manimal in his second year! The AFC goes through KC this year!
    Greg (Dallas)

    Art Shell is a Raider at heart going back there after Al Davis fired him once. Think there's a little pressure on him this time around, too?
    Eric (Palo Alto)

    Forget about the QB and coaching situations for the Jets. Who is going to run the ball effectively?!?!
    Chad (NY

    Childress will feel some heat if he doesn't have a good early showing, especially after he badmouthed Daunte during the offseason.
    Dave (Twin Cities)

    Monday's Big Question

    Tiger the most dominant ever?

    Emotions bubbled over for Tiger after his British Open win.
    Tiger Woods won the British Open for the third time last weekend, once again squashing all other contenders and so-called rivals while capturing the 11th major title of his career. Had the moment not been tinged with grief as Tiger remembered his recently deceased father with uncharacteristic emotion, it might have been just another day at the office for the world's best golfer.

    Woods is now tied with Walter Hagen for the second-most major titles of all time and trails only Jack Nicklaus' 18 on list of major winners. And despite being second on the list SportsNation says Tiger is already the most dominant golfer of all time. Lapping the field in the U.S. Open, posting record scores at the Masters and the British Open and fighting off strong challenges at the PGA Championship will get you that kind of cred. Jack had to compete with Palmer and Watson but no one has been able to touch Tiger.

    The 'Nation doesn't think that makes him the most dominant athlete of this generation, though. Apparently golf doesn't measure up to basketball (Michael Jordan), baseball (Barry Bonds) or hockey (Wayne Gretzky). Heck, throw cycling in there, too. Better than 60 percent of SN thinks Floyd Landis' win in the Tour de France, coming from behind with an arthritic hip that will be replaced in the very near future, is more impressive than Tiger's showing at Royal Liverpool.

  • 71% Tiger Woods is already the most dominant golfer of all time

  • 59% Tiger Woods is not the greatest athlete of this generation

  • 62% Floyd Landis winning the Tour de France is more impressive than Tiger winning the British Open

    Give it up for the Americans in Europe!!!
    Kevin (ATL)

    How often does someone actually live up to hype? Jack Nicklaus was 32 when he won his 11th major, Tiger is still only 30. Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest golfer of all time!
    Matt (Fairfax)

    There were questions about Tiger after the U.S. Open and then he methodically breaks down the course and the rest of the field. On top of that he cries and hugs everyone. Real emotion from an unreal player. He is really hard to dislike now.
    Mike (Cohoes)

    Floyd Landis and his bum hip took home the Tour de France title.
    Jack, Arnie and Watson were all great players. But none of them destroyed all other challengers like Tiger does. The guy might win 30 majors before it's all over.
    Will (Michigan)

    Too bad sports is almost devoid of the kind of true emotion Tiger showed on Sunday. Here's to him and his father!
    Walter (Athens, Ga.)

    Tiger is to golf what Jordan was to basketball. Everyone has to measure up to him. But Michael takes the cake over Eldrick in the big picture.
    David (Los Angeles)

    Tiger is back and is maybe the best golfer of all time. Still, I'm more impressed with guys like Jordan and Bonds (despite the rumors) since they actually had to, you know, run and shoot and throw and pass.
    Paul (Connecticut)

    Tiger is the greatest golfer of all time but he's not the Great One. No player dominated his game like Gretzky. Even Jordan.
    McD (Philly)

    I understand the love for Tiger and his emotional story, but what about Floyd Landis? The guy blazes from behind and wins the Tour de France on a bum hip that will soon be an artificial hip? Takes more guts than winning a golf tournament.
    Mike (Long Island)

    Landis had the greatest comeback in TDF history. Yes, he had a meltdown, but when the critics made fun of him he fought back, shoved it in their faces and won the whole thing. USA-USA-USA! Go Landis!
    Dougie Fresh (DC)

    Great day for Americans in Europe. Tiger wins an emotional Open, Landis continues the American dominance of the Tour. Let's celebrate them both!
    Beth (Indiana)

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