The Atlanta Falcons had an excellent season in 2012, finishing 13-3 and lapping the field in the NFC South on their way to earning home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They also won a playoff game for the first time in head coach Mike Smith’s tenure, in the Divisional Round against the Seattle Seahawks, but the San Francisco 49ers came to Atlanta and downed the Falcons 28-24 in the NFC Championship Game.
The Falcons are expected to be one of the top teams in the NFC again this season, and some well-placed offseason additions (running back Steven Jackson, defensive end Osi Umenyiora) addressed a couple areas of need. Surely injuries to any number of key players would hamper Atlanta’s chances to reach the Super Bowl, but only one guy qualifies as irreplaceable.
Matt Ryan had the best season of his career last season, setting career-highs in completions (422), pass attempts (615), passing yards (4,719), touchdowns (32) and completion percentage (68.6 percent) as the Falcons turned toward a more pass-oriented offense under offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
Ryan has only missed two starts in his career, both in his second season (2009), and he recently signed a contract (five years, $103.75 million-$59 million guaranteed) that will make him one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the league. So the Falcons clearly view Ryan an elite-level signal caller, and he is still just 28 years old and firmly in the prime of his career.
Atlanta has a lot of youth behind Ryan, with two rookies (Sean Renfree and Seth Doege) joining 2012 undrafted rookie and preseason stalwart Dominique Davis. Davis looks like the frontrunner for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart, but how he would look in extended action against an opponent’s best defenders is unknown.
The Falcons allowed just 28 sacks last season (tied for fifth-fewest in the league), but some reshuffling is coming along the offensive line. Center Todd McClure retired, right tackle Tyson Clabo was released and 2012 top pick Peter Konz will move over to center after starting 10 games at right guard last season. Continuing to protect Ryan well will, needless to say, be essential to any chance Atlanta has to make another deep playoff run in 2013.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.