The league plans to announce the official 2013 NFL schedule for all 32 teams in the coming weeks, but the opponents for the coming season are already known and it's as good of a time as any to check out some of the stats and stories for the upcoming season.
This season, the Falcons will have some tests, facing teams whose 2012 overall record was 107-99-2, although their inter-conference opponents is the AFC East, a division that featured only one winning team last year in the 12-4 New England Patriots. Following the NFL's four-year rotation through inter-conference opponents, the Falcons last faced the AFC East in 2009.
In addition to playing each NFC South rival twice this season, the Falcons, by virtue of being division champs, will play the champs from the NFC West, North and East, bringing the total teams in the 2012 playoffs faced this season to five. The Patriots, 49ers, Packers, Redskins and Seahawks all appeared in the playoffs last season, but the Seattle and San Francisco matchups are likely to be two of the highest-profile games of Atlanta and the league's season.
The Falcons in 2013 will host Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa, St Louis, Seattle, New England, the New York Jets and Washington. They will travel to Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa, Arizona, San Francisco, Buffalo, Miami and Green Bay.
Some of the story lines of the NFC South opponents is the never-ending quest for an NFC South team to win the division for two straight seasons. The Falcons, the champs last season, look to be the first team to do it in the 11-year history of the division. Atlanta will square off against two evolving teams in Carolina and Tampa, each with a mobile and dangerous young QB and the Saints, a fierce rival and a team looking to bounce back from a disappointing 7-9 season. Atlanta hopes to use 2013 to end some of the bad luck against the Saints in recent seasons. After losing four straight against New Orleans, the Falcons will look to make it two — and maybe three — wins straight this coming season.
Facing the Seahawks, the Falcons will welcome back the team they beat last season in the playoffs to advance to the NFC Championship game. The Falcons are 8-6 all-time against the Seahawks and Smith is now 3-0 against them. Atlanta will look to make it five straight over Seattle and another tough game should be expected. The Falcons posted an impressive 30 points against Seattle, but a defense that allowed a league-leading 15.3 points per game during the regular season made further improvements to their pass rush in the offseason and will be looking to revenge that season-ending loss. The matchup of Atlanta's wideouts, Julio Jones and Roddy White, against Seattle's cornerbacks, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, will be pivotal. In the last two games against Seattle, White and Jones have combined for 28 catches, 340 yards and one touchdown.
The Redskins will be another playoff team from last season that could pose a tough test. The health of emerging superstar Robert Griffin III is a big factor, but Washington gave the Falcons a close call in 2012. Atlanta would like a similar day from their defense as they held Griffin to only 98 yards of total offense and 17 points after entering that game ranked No. 4 in the league scoring 30 points a game.
The Patriots were the only team from the AFC in 2009 to beat the Falcons, spoiling Atlanta's first road trip of that season with a 26-10 win. This year's trip to the Georgia Dome will be the first for the Pats since 2005 and the look of the Falcons that will welcome the Pats is a little different than what New England may recall. Entering the '09 tilt, the Falcons' 326 yards per game was ranked 18th, compared to the 369 yards and eighth-place ranking for the Falcons last season. Quarterback Matt Ryan was outdueled by one of the legends, Tom Brady and the Pats held Ryan to just 17 completions for 199 yards.
This year's game against Buffalo is just the 11th between the two clubs and the Falcons will be looking for a fourth straight win over the Bills, the last coming from a 31-3 effort in '09. Miami and Atlanta squared off to open the season in '09 and the Falcons came away winners 19-7. Defensive end Kroy Biermann had two sacks that Sunday against the Dolphins, just one of two times he's accomplished that feat in his career. The Jets make their first visit since '05 and the Falcons last saw them in New York in 2009 and won 10-7.
The Rams join the Seahawks and 49ers from out west as they journey to Atlanta for the first meeting since 2010 and the first in Atlanta since '08. Smith is 2-0 against the Rams and Atlanta's new running back, Steven Jackson, will be playing his former team for the first time in his career. Arizona, an opponent from last year, rounds out the schedule against the NFC West. The Falcons beat the Cardinals last season 23-19 in an unusual win that saw Ryan throw five interceptions. The Falcons will look to do things a little differently this time around as they look for their third straight regular-season win against the Cardinals. Atlanta limited the Cardinals to 178 yards of total offense and with the quarterback position unclear in Arizona, we could see a similar performance.
In what will very likely be a prime-time game, the 49ers will host the Falcons as Atlanta looks for redemption after their season-ending loss in the playoffs last year. The 49ers lead the all-time series against Atlanta 45-30-1 and Smith is 2-1 against them. This year's game against San Francisco will be the third time in four years the two teams have faced off.
On the topic of teams that have beaten Atlanta in the playoffs recently, the Falcons and Packers will square off for a fifth time under Smith. The Falcons are 2-2 against the Packers since '08 and are making their first trip to Green Bay since that season. Green Bay knocked the Falcons out of the playoffs at home during the 2010 postseason, but the last time the two teams met was in 2011, a 25-14 Green Bay loss.
By The Numbers:
- 5: 2013 oppenents appearing in the 2012 playoffs.
- 14: Number of regular season wins head coach Mike Smith has against 2013 opponents outside of the NFC South.
- 107-72: Combined 2012 record of all upcoming opponents.
- 2: Number of regular season losses Smith has against 2013 opponents outside of the NFC South.
- 14-6: Smith's combined record against NFC South rivals Tampa and Carolina.
- 3-3: Atlanta's NFC South Division record in 2012.