2011 Record: 10-6-0 (2nd in NFC South)
HEAD COACH: Mike Smith
Key Additions: CB Asante Samuel; OL Vince Manuwai
Key Losses: CB Kelvin Hayden; DB James Sanders; WR/KR Eric Weems; LB Curtis Lofton; RB Ovie Mughelli
Offense: After making the playoffs for the third time in his first four seasons as Falcons' quarterback, Matt Ryan (4,177 yards passing with 29 TD passes and just 12 interceptions in 2011) is ready to take the next step.
Ryan has shown the ability to guide the team throughout the regular season, but has yet to win a playoff game. He did post some impressive numbers last season and is undoubtedly becoming one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. Backing up Ryan is veteran Chris Redman.
Michael Turner continues to roll along and he amassed 1,340 rushing yards to lead the NFC in 2011, averaging 4.5 yards per carry with eleven touchdowns. The backups are Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers, who gained 205 yards and scored a touchdown. The new fullback looks to be Bradie Ewing, a rookie from Wisconsin after longtime starter Ovie Mughelli was not retained and signed with St. Louis.
The wide receivers are both solid with Roddy White (100 catches to lead NFC for 1,296 yards and eight TD) and Julio Jones, who made 54 receptions for 959 yards (17.8 ypc average) and eight touchdowns, set as the starters once again. Starting tight end Tony Gonzalez is a future Hall-of-Famer who was his usual spectacular self a year ago with 80 catches for 875 yards and seven touchdowns.
Harry Douglas is a capable backup wide receiver who had 39 grabs for 498 yards and one touchdown. Kerry Meier and a host of rookie free agents will compete for the remaining wideout spots this season.
The offensive line may be getting revamped for the 2012 season as a pair of rookies were taken by the Falcons in the draft.
The center is veteran Todd McClure along with tackles Sam Baker and Tyson Clabo. The guards look to be Justin Blalock at one spot with either rookie Peter Konz, a second round pick from Wisconsin or Garrett Reynolds manning the other guard slot.
Lamar Holmes was the other rookie selected (third round) and along with Will Svitek, Joe Hawley and Vince Manuwai, will backup on the line.
Atlanta scored 402 points last year (seventh in NFL) and finished tenth overall in offense, gaining 377 yards per game. The passing game was eighth (262 yards) while the running game averaged 115 yards a game, which was 17th in the league.
Defense: Playing up front in the Falcons' 4-3 defense will be tackles Jonatahn Babineaux and Peria Jerry while John Abraham (9 1/2 QB sacks) and Ray Edwards (3 1/2 sacks) are the ends.
Corey Peters, Kroy Biermann, Vance Walker, Lawrence Sidbury and Cliff Matthews will be ready in reserve.
The linebackers will have Akeem Dent in the middle and Sean Weatherspoon (four sacks) and Stephen Nicholas on the outside. Backing up at linebacker is Spencer Adkins, Robert James and three rookie free agents.
The safeties are Thomas DeCoud (four interceptions) and William Moore (two picks) while Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson (two INT) will play cornerback. Veteran journeyman DB Asante Samuel comes over as a free agent to add some depth to the secondary. Samuel picked off three passes with the Eagles a year ago, including one for a touchdown return.
Also available in the secondary will be Dominique Franks, Shann Schillinger, Chris Owens and rookie Charles Mitchell.
The Falcons had a solid run defense in 2011, finishing sixth in the NFL (97 yards allowed) and 12th overall on defense, giving up 334 yards per game. The pass defense was 20th in the NFL, allowing 237 yards per game while picking off 19 passes and accumulating 33 QB sacks.
OUTLOOK: The Falcons are one of those teams that always seem to be on the cusp of great things ... until the playoffs arrive and then ... poof!
Head Coach Mike Smith would like to see that change in 2012 and it will ride on the arm of QB Matt Ryan, who always puts up good numbers for 16 games and then seems to struggle in the post-season.
The team has a good offense with Ryan and a good trio of receivers in White, Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez along with Michael Turner, the NFC's leading rusher in 2011.
The defense is good against the run and did intercept the 19 passes a year ago although the Falcons did get torched by big pass plays quite a bit last year. Adding veteran Asante Samuel in the secondary should help in that area.
So, why the problems when the playoffs start?
The Falcons have yet to answer that one, as they have lost three times in their playoff openers in recent years.
They should once again contend in the NFC South, where the New Orleans Saints and up and coming Carolina will be waiting. Winning their division games will be critical for another playoff appearance in 2012.
The schedule for Atlanta is unique this year as there are no multiple weeks at home or on the road.
The division could be called a toss up between the Falcons and Saints this season and 9-7 could be just enough to win the NFC South, what with all the off-season problems for New Orleans and the fact the Falcons and Saints usually split the two games each season, just not last year.
If the Falcons are to make the playoffs for the third straight year, it will ride on Ryan and company and the secondary doing a more consistent job this season.
Week 1- at Kansas City
Week 2- vs. Denver
Week 3- at San Diego
Week 4- vs. Carolina
Week 5- at Washington
Week 6- vs. Oakland
Week 7- BYE
Week 8- at Philadelphia
Week 9- vs. Dallas
Week 10- at New Orleans
Week 11- vs. Arizona
Week 12- at Tampa Bay
Week 13- vs. New Orleans
Week 14- at Carolina
Week 15- vs. NY Giants
Week 16- at Detroit
Week 17- vs. Tampa Bay