In 2012 the Atlanta Falcons ended the season with a 13-3 record and the NFC South division title. Atlanta was 3-3 in division games including a 1-1 record vs. the New Orleans Saints. The Falcons had the 8th ranked offense and the 24th ranked defense (both in yards) in 2012. Head coach Mike Smith and starting quarterback Matt Ryan return for their sixth season in Atlanta respectively.
Free agent acquisitions:
RB - Steven Jackson
DE - Osi Umenyiora
Undrafted free agent signings (courtesy of The Falcoholic):
QB - Seth Doege - Texas Tech
RB - Ronnie Wingo - Arkansas
RB - Donald Russell - Georgia St.
WR - Darius Johnson - SMU
WR - Martel Moore - NIU
WR - Rashad Evans - Fresno St.
OG - Theo Goins - UCF
C - Corey Howard - Central Arkansas
C - Matt Smith - Kentucky
DE- Cam Henderson - UCF
DT - Adam Replogle - Indiana
LB - Joplo Bartu - Texas St.
LB - Nick Clancy - Boston College
LB - Paul Worrilow - Delaware
CB - Momo Thomas - Colorado St.
CB - Saeed Lee - Alabama St.
S - Troy Sanders - Appalachian St.
K - Casey Barth - UNC
P - Sean Sellwood - Utah
CB - Desmond Trufant - Washington (Round 1)
CB - Robert Alford - SE Louisiana (Round 2)
DE - Mallicah Goodman - Clemson (Round 4)
TE - Levine Toilolo - Stanford (Round 4)
DE - Stansly Maponga - TCU (Round 5)
S - Kemal Ishmael - UCF (Round 7)
S - Zeke Motta - Notre Dame (Round 7)
QB - Sean Renfree - Duke (Round 7)
Here's how ESPN graded the Falcons on their draft:
Summary: Thomas Dimitroff isn't afraid to make aggressive moves on the draft board. The Falcons were extremely desperate for help at cornerback, and once the Raiders had taken D.J. Hayden at No. 13 overall, I think the Falcons felt there was a chance five cornerbacks could be off the board by the time they drafted at No. 30 (Indianapolis, Denver and New England were among teams who needed a CB). So they moved up to No. 22, giving up a third-round pick to get Desmond Trufant. I thought it was a reasonable price to pay for an immediate starter, which is what they need. Trufant lacks elite traits, but he's very good in all areas. The great get for Atlanta was a second-round double down, when the Falcons took another corner. Robert Alford was a CB I had rated higher than Darius Slay and David Amerson, so he was a steal on my board all the way down at No. 60. The loss of the third-rounder hurt, however, because the Falcons have a need at guard, and that's a great range to get one who can help early (the Jets got a really good guard in Round 3 with Brian Winters, for instance). The pick of Levine Toilolo makes sense as another red-zone threat and a big target to develop behind Tony Gonzalez. The guy is basically a power forward in pads. Malliciah Goodman was my No. 12-ranked defensive end, and he has the upside of a starter. Stansly Maponga also could stick. The Falcons get a good mark for really crushing that huge need, but it's hard to assume a great deal of impact after that.
And here's how The Falcoholic viewed the Falcons draft:
Personally, I'm cautiously optimistic about the class from top to bottom. The Falcons added talent and depth to the secondary, grabbed a guy Thomas Dimitroff envisions as an immediate starter at left defensive end, added an intriguing tight end and snagged one more pass rusher with some upside. I was thinking we might get some more depth at linebacker or a project receiver, bu the Falcons may have taken some real strides at positions of need. If the UDFA class can add one or two valuable players, we're on our way.
2012 was a banner year for the Falcons. They were the top seed in the NFC for the second time in three seasons and won their first playoff game under Smith/Ryan. The playoff victory against Seattle was eerily reminiscent of most home victories for the Falcons in 2012. Atlanta down by less than a field goal or tied with a minute left, Matt Ryan completes a couple of deep passes, Matt Bryant hits a long FG as time expires, game over. Atlanta won ugly and often in 2012, but a win's a win, right?
Through free agency, Atlanta has replaced veterans with veterans in an attempt to upgrade or, at least, stay at the same level. Starting RB and unrestricted free agent Michael Turner has been replaced by free agent RB Steven Jackson, while DE John Abraham has been replaced by free agent DE Osi Umenyiora. These moves clearly indicate that Atlanta is in "win now" mode, sseing as how they did not attempt to get younger at these positions.
They did get younger, but not necessarily better, at another key position, cornerback. Through free agency, Atlanta lost cornerbacks Chris Owens, Dunta Robinson, and Brent Grimes. Atlanta has attempted to fill those positions through the draft by using their first two draft picks on cornerbacks, most notable is their first round pick Desmond Trufant out of Washington. Trufant was a top five CB prospect in this years draft and he will likely be slated to start opposite Asante Samuel.
How this affects the Saints:
The Saints split with the Falcons in 2012, a nail-biting win at home and a disappointing 10 point loss in Atlanta. The Saints-Falcons rivalry is as vibrant and bitter as it's ever been, and the stakes are as high as they've ever been. These two franchises are the class of the NFC South, and despite their best efforts, Tampa and Carolina aren't close. 2013 should come down to one of these two teams winning the division once again.
Working against the Falcons in 2013 is the fact that they won the NFC South in 2012. Since its formation in 2002, no team has succeeded in repeating as NFC South division champion. Hopefully this trend continues for one more season. The Saints and Falcons are expected to have a tight battle for the division title as always.
On offense, Sean Payton and Drew Brees will need to attack the rookie cornerbacks and exploit any mismatches that will occur should the Atlanta safeties be asked to cover more of the field opposite Samuel. On defense, Rob Ryan and his 3-4 scheme will need to keep Julio Jones and the Atlanta passing attack at bay. Tony Gonzalez (on his annual retirement tour) will be key for the Falcons offense once again, and that is what Kenny Vaccaro was drafted for. Hopefully the young safety is ready for the challenge.
The Saints and Falcons know each other as well as any rivals in the NFL, and that familiarity has bred contempt. The Falcons will be good once again, but not 13-3 good. I predict a 10-6 season and a second place finish for Atlanta in 2013, second to the Saints.