Season Preview: Atlanta Falcons

Sports Mole previews the 2013 Atlanta Falcons season as they look to go one step further than last year and reach the Super Bowl.

The Atlanta Falcons will be hoping for more of the same in the upcoming season having just missed out on a Super Bowl appearance last year.

The Falcons had the joint-best record in the entire league as they cruised to the NFC South title, while a narrow win over the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional Playoffs saw them reach their first NFC Championship game since 2004.

However, hopes of reaching the Super Bowl for the first time since 1998 were dashed when they lost 28-24 to the San Francisco 49ers.

Here, Sports Mole evaluates whether they can replicate their achievements in the 2013 season.

Head Coach: Mike Smith

Last Season: 13-3

Review: Things couldn't have gone much better for the Falcons at the start of the season. Having failed to impress in the warm-up matches, they made a blistering start to the regular season by winning their opening eight matches for the first time in the franchise's history.

Included in that run were impressive wins against the likes of the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins, but their unbeaten streak came to an end in week 10 when the New Orleans Saints beat them 31-27.

The Falcons returned to winning ways soon enough and were triumphant in their next three matches, including edging a one-point game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A second loss of the season was followed by a 34-0 mauling of the New York Giants, but the Falcons ended the regular season with a home defeat to the Buccaneers.

After edging past the Seahawks in the Divisional Playoff, the NFC Championship game proved one step too far for the Falcons as the 49ers booked their place in the Super Bowl.

Notable Ins

Steven Jackson: As if the Falcons' offence wasn't potent enough last season, they have added running back Steven Jackson to their ranks during the off-season. The former first-round Draft pick is a three-time Pro Bowler and one of the most consistent performers in the NFL having recorded eight consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

Desmond Trufant: Having lost Brent Grimes during the off-season, the Falcons looked to the Draft to replace him. Desmond Trufant was the man they picked to do the job, and the first-round pick is expected to play a big part in his rookie season.

Notable Outs

Brent Grimes: Having gone undrafted in 2006, Grimes began to draw attention in a 2010 season that saw him elected to the Pro Bowl. Unfortunately for the cornerback, he suffered injury-hit seasons in 2011 and 2012 and was eventually released to join the Miami Dolphins.

John Abraham: Four-time Pro Bowler John Abraham ended his seven-year affiliation with the Falcons this off-season, joining the Arizona Cardinals following his release. The 35-year-old is in the twilight stages of his career, but the Falcons will still miss a man with more than 100 NFL sacks to his name.

Key Player Offence: Julio Jones

Key Player Defence: Sean Wetherspoon

Rookie to watch: Desmond Trufant

Pre-season form: 0-4

Prediction: 11-5. The Falcons proved last season that pre-season form has very little influence on the regular campaign, and they will be hoping that that is the case again this season. They are unlikely to finish as far clear of a very competitive NFC South division as they did last year, but they will still be aiming for top spot. Keeping Tony Gonzalez was a massive plus for them, and they will be dreaming of a Super Bowl appearance this year.

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Falcons WR Julio Jones catches a 46-yard touchdown pass in the NFC Championship game against San Francisco on January 20, 2013
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