NFC SOUTH: New Orleans 11-5
Atlanta’s 2012 season ended in a disappointing loss to the white-hot Colin Kaepernick and the dominant San Francisco 49ers. It again seemed as though Matt Ryan can’t produce when the biggest moments are upon him. During the regular season, the Falcons were an absolute force, putting offensive numbers on teams that were ridiculously impressive. They only lost by more than a touchdown once — in a huge upset to the Carolina Panthers in Week 14. Roddy White and Julio Jones quickly morphed into the hottest wide receiver tandem in the NFL. But only one stigma stuck at the end: it just seems that when the going gets tough, the Falcons don’t have an answer.
From the second that Matt Ryan came into the NFL from Boston College, he hit the ground running. Since he has been the Falcons quarterback they have never missed the playoffs, meaning they have also never posted a losing record. His mature demeanor and highlight-reel talent have provided Atlanta with consistent brilliance over the years. With the combination of Roddy White and Julio Jones – as well as keeping Tony Gonzalez – the Falcons offense supplies the team with dynasty-like talent. As long as they can produce with the fervor that they did in 2012, and with Steven Jackson providing even the smallest contribution — something he is more than capable of producing — the Falcons will dominate almost all of their opponents.
If the Falcons have a good enough defense to keep up with their offense, this team will go places. They have a relatively solid defensive backfield headlined by corners Marcus Trufant and Asante Samuel who provide a veteran touch on both sides of the box. Osi Umenyoira will help create a strong pass rush from the right side, which should free up other players on the line. If this defense holds opponents to roughly 25 points a game, they should be set for a very good season. If the secondary holds and the line produces a decent amount of pass rush, expect this team to go on a very deep playoff run, maybe even to make a Meadowlands appearance in February.
I see Atlanta having a relatively dominant season this year and posting a 13-3 regular season record. If Matt Ryan is able to shake his nerves when the moment is at its peak, this team remains poised to go to the Super Bowl. They have all the right weapons on offense. The offseason acquisition of Steven Jackson is absolutely huge for this team because it makes them a multi-dimensional offensive look. Remember that if it weren’t for a rolling Niners squad, the talk right now may have been about Atlanta’s chances of repeating this year.