Say what you will about the rest of the season, but the 49ers will defeat the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday. For all their new uniforms, coaching changes, and public relations endeavors, these are the same Falcons we've beaten twice a year for the majority of the last 23 years. It doesn't matter what they're peddling, be it Prime Time, Jerry Glanville, the Georgia Dome, the run and shoot, Dan Reeves' return to Georgia, or Michael Vick, if you want to see football in Georgia, go to a Bulldogs game.

The latest gimmick is the new coach: Jim Mora, Jr. If the Falcons were looking for someone with experience coaching terrible defenses, they certainly hired the right person. Mora has extensive history coordinating miserable, out-of-sync, underachieving units, and should fit right in. He's a great guy, but certainly not without a dose of his father's irrationality. Whether he can inspire any confidence in the perpetually eroding fan base remains to be seen.

ESPN ranks the Falcons 7th out of the 32 NFL teams. This strikes me as high for the team that ranked 29th on offense, 32nd on defense, and will be without its rookie phenom DeAngelo Hall come Sunday. Nevertheless, I commend Atlanta's optimism, and think they should change their motto to, "Shoot for the moon, because even if you miss you'll be among the bottom third of the league."

But Vick is finally healthy. He's redefining the quarterback position in a way only Madden video game jackets can. The Falcons won three out of four games against good competition when he returned at the end of last season. Will he end Atlanta's legacy of futility? Let's not get carried away. Vick completed a league-worst 50% of his passes upon returning and carried a quarterback rating of 69.0. Only five starting quarterbacks in the NFL had lower ratings. He did average 6.4 yards per carry on his scrambles, but even Jeff Garcia averaged 5.7. During the preseason he has run the offense about as effectively as Brandon Doman.

In the right system, Vick might excel, and I certainly have my doubts that Dan Reeves' offense, designed to move with the force of a battering ram and the speed of a tortoise, took advantage of his strengths. A system that allows him to throw the ball deep and make plays outside the pocket would benefit him. Greg Knapp's west coast offense, which relies upon short, accurate passes, does not.

Far and away from 7th, ESPN has the 49ers ranked 31st. According to the experts, we're in for a shellacking. If we were playing in Georgia, maybe we would lose. But we're playing at home. The same home where we outscored opponents 236 to 106 last year. The same home where we gave up a stingy 57 yards per game on the ground.

With that said, the game should not be a blowout, and has some intriguing plot lines. For the second year in a row, the 49ers will have to confront an angry coordinator. Last year it was Greg Blache, the Chicago Bears' defensive coordinator and potential Mariucci replacement who Jeff Garcia inadvertently insulted by stating that he didn't know who he was.

This year we have the return of Jim Mora, Jr. and Greg Knapp to Candlestick. Both of them have axes to grind. Both of them have had the entire off-season at their disposal to conspire against us. Both of them know our offense and defense better than our own coordinators. Both of them would love to out-coach Erickson. Fortunately, both of them coach units that lie somewhere in between the French Army and the Polish inventions in terms of effectiveness.

A good parallel might be our opening game three years ago. At Candlestick, Atlanta jumped out to a 13-3 lead. Midway through the third quarter, the 49ers had produced so many three-and-outs that the crowd began to boo. The 49ers finally got it together in the fourth quarter and produced a 16-13 overtime victory.

In this game, Rattay will struggle early. But he will eventually settle down, make his reads, and find the holes in the porous Atlanta secondary. As the last seconds tick off the game clock, it will be obvious to all observers that these are indeed the same old Falcons. Vick is not enough to salvage the franchise from its ill-conceived existence.