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Is the Falcons defense ready, is Dan Quinn safe, and more questions

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Atlanta Falcons tomorrow, opening the regular season against a division rival. That also means the weekly questions with the enemy are back: find out all about the Bucs’ next opponent, straight from the expert’s mouth.

This week, The Falcoholic’s Dave Choate was kind of enough to answer a few questions. So get acquainted with the Falcons, right before the Bucs beat them on Sunday.

The Falcons defense has had issues for quite some time now. What's the outlook this year?

Improved, but short of great. The Falcons have added genuinely exciting young players to the unit, with rookies De'Vondre Campbell and Deion Jones starting at linebacker, and first round safety Keanu Neal starting as soon as he returns from injury. Throw in new additions Derrick Shelby, Courtney Upshaw, Dwight Freeney, and improvement from Vic Beasley (which we're hoping for, at least), and the front seven should be a little tougher.

Of course, the team only has four cornerbacks under contract, two of whom have virtually no NFL experience, and the pass rush is still a big question mark. We're hoping for competent, and after some of those Jameis Winston runs last year, competent could be a big upgrade.

Last year, the Falcons started 6-1, then finished 2-7. What happened there? Have the issues that caused that collapse been resolved, or will they present problems this year again?

Some of that was just a deeply unfortunate regression to the mean, because the Falcons simply didn't have the talent and ability to sustain that pace. Some of it was the team's struggles to adapt to Kyle Shanahan's offense, particularly Matt Ryan, and a combination of declining ability and seemingly deliberate scheming to take Roddy White out of the game. Once Leonard Hankerson started to get hurt, the Falcons were left with Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, and not much else in the passing game, and Freeman slowed down considerably in the second half of the year.

Add in some costly turnovers in close games and a still-punchless pass rush and you got a bad collapse down the stretch. The second year in this offense should be improved, Roddy's replaced with a receiver Shanahan actually seems to like, and the defense should improve a bit. It's not going to be enough to lift this team to any amazing heights, in all likelihood, but they shouldn't be a second half failure again.

How safe is Dan Quinn this year? Is this a make-or-break year for him, or has he built up enough credit to stay even with a lackluster result?

This is a tricky one. Quinn was handpicked by owner Arthur Blank to a large extent, and as impatient as this team figures to be with a new stadium and a lot of executives who are not football guys first and foremost, Quinn is not going to be fired after his second year unless this team completely falls apart and embarrasses ownership. He could be on the hot seat heading into 2017 if the team can't show progress, however.

What complicates the picture is that general manager Thomas Dimitroff appears to be on a short leash, which would leave Quinn and ownership picking a new GM next year if the team falters, which is always an awkward situation. In addition, Kyle Shanahan could be a scapegoat if the offense has troubles once again, which would leave the team potentially looking for another coordinator and installing a new system. Quinn really needs this team to make progress so he's not heading into the Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a lot of pieces in flux.

Julio Jones is a boss, but the Falcons struggled to get any production out of any other receivers last year. What have they done to address that problem? Is it still going to be Julio Jones all the way?

Julio's still going to be the centerpiece of this offense, but luckily it looks like the Falcons will be able to ease the load on him. Mohamed Sanu is a competent enough second receiver, even if he wasn't a particularly inspiring signing, and Kyle Shanahan has talked about finding ways to feature him. The ground game should be stronger with Freeman getting more rest and dynamic second year back Tevin Coleman stealing touches, and fourth receiver Aldrick Robinson gives the Falcons a second compelling deep threat, something they lacked in a big way a year ago. All of this should take some pressure off Julio.

5) Season prediction: what's the Falcons' final record, how will they do in the playoffs (if they get there), and who wins this game?

I've got the Falcons finishing up at 8-8 and missing the playoffs for the second straight year, largely due to a tough schedule and some remaining questions about the pass rush and how much the offense will improve. That won't be enough to get them in the playoffs, unfortunately.

I do have the Falcons winning this game. Matt Ryan plays lights out in the home opener, the defense is better, and I do believe Atlanta's good enough to stand with the Bucs this year at home. The story will probably be different on the road, but let's say 28-24 Falcons.