Julio Jones is one of the best wide recievers in the league
Since joining the Atlanta Falcons in 2008, head coach Mike Smith has accumulated quite an impressive resume. Since Smith took over the Falcons have made the playoffs four years out of five, winning the division in two of those years. He has guided the Falcons to a winning record every season and won Coach of the Year in his first season. Up until last year however there was one glaring omission; he hadn't won a playoff game. Despite qualifying three times they had failed at the first hurdle every single year. Critics began to doubt that they would ever win a playoff game despite possessing a versatile and talented roster. What a difference a year makes though, as last season Mike Smith and the Atlanta Falcons broke their worrying trend by edging the Seattle Seahawks in a tense NFC divisional playoff game. Though they were later eliminated in the NFC Championship game the winds of change seemed to ring for Atlanta as they finally got over their playoff hump and the franchise now begins this season looking to improve on the success of last year. In the Mike Smith era the Atlanta franchise has always been successful in the regular season. With an abundance of talent on the offensive side of the ball and a defensive minded coach getting the most out of a dangerous defensive team the Falcons look like once again a lock for contention come January. To ensure this the Falcons will be looking to utilize one of the best offense in the league right now.
A Stock Of Talent
When you are looking for a quarterback to run an up tempo big play offense, you need are looking for a franchise quarterback. In Matt Ryan, the Falcons have exactly that. Ryan, a third overall pick in 2008, has thrived unleashing an aerial assault on teams through a high flying offense. Mike Smith and Ryan, having both joined the Falcons in 2008, have quickly built a solid rapport that has led to on-field success evident in the fact that Ryan holds the most regular season wins by a quarterback in the first five seasons of their career. Though Ryan has established himself as one of the NFL's top talents, he has a stock of receiving talent that helps the Atlanta offense tick. One such receiver is Roddy White, who has been the Falcons go to guy for the past eight seasons and excels at using his body to get open and make catches in tight coverage. Though White has begun the 2013 season slow, mainly due to an ankle injury, he is too talented to keep quiet for long so expect number #84 to be back sooner rather than later. In the meantime another Falcons receiver has stepped up to the plate. Third year stud wide receiver Julio Jones continues to progress and get better and better every year. After making his first Pro Bowl last year Jones look set to become the number one guy in Georgia for years to come as his physical presence makes him a threat on any down. His ability to stretch the field with speed but also run routes and catch passes in traffic makes him one of the premier receivers in the game today.
A Wealth Of Experience
Experience comes in the form of future Hall of Famer, tight end Tony Gonzalez. The evergreen Gonzalez is still productive at the age of 37 and provides Ryan with yet another weapon to throw too. Though Gonzalez had planned to retired at the end of last season, the Falcons tempted him back after he experienced the emotion of winning his first playoff game in his distinguished 16 year career. Atlanta will need to him to maintain his prolific form if they hope to capture that elusive championship this year. This pass happy offense was balanced somewhat with offseason acquisition of veteran power running back Steven Jackson. Jackson, though in the twilight of his career, can still grind out the hard yards and break off long runs. This balance will be crucial in keeping opposing defenses honest against such an offensive onslaught. Though the team is undoubtedly built on this powerful offense, Mike Smith is a defensive minded coach and has shaped his defense into an imposing unit that can create pressure and force turnovers. The Falcons secondary in particular is one of the best in football with strength and depth at each position. Ball hawking cornerback Asante Samuel is a key player in this defensive team and will be hoping to recapture his Pro Bowl form as the Falcons progress.
Time To Rise Up
The road to a championship is fraught with difficulties though and Atlanta certainly do not have it easy. Playing in the NFC South is tough, even for such an adept team as the Falcons. The perennial thorn in the Falcons side are their division rivals the New Orleans Saints whom they have only beaten three out of the eleven meetings since Mike Smith and company set up shop in Atlanta. The Saints are looking to bounce back from a disappointing year last year so look for some hotly contested match ups between the two long standing adversaries. Rounding out the division the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have much improved squads and will be attempting to make a post season run of their own and always provide a tough test at their home territory. For fans of the Dirty Birds though, an affable nickname given to the team during their Super Bowl making run in 1998, a playoff berth has become something of an expectation with the true test of the Falcons metal coming in once the regular seasons formalities have been dealt with. That being said the NFC is stacked with potential contenders and come playoff time there are no easy games, the Falcons will have to build on the confidence and experience of winning last year if they want to have a chance of progressing further. The Falcons are in danger of becoming one of those "should have" teams and it will be up to Mike Smith to guide his team to only their second Super Bowl appearance in team history.
Head Coach: Mike Smith
Super Bowl Appearances: 1998
Biggest Rivalries: New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers
Jersey to buy: #2 QB Matt Ryan, #11 WR Julio Jones, #84 WR Roddy White, #88 TE Tony Gonzalez, #22 CB Asante Samuel