The Falcons are relatively new to the national stage and with leaders like third-year quarterback Matt Ryan at the helm, the assumption that this year's No. 1 seed is a young team, bursting with wide-eyed young players.
But the reality is that general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith have assembled a roster of young players who began playing valuable minutes as rookies and veterans who have more than a few years of playoff experience. The equation has been a good one this season as the Falcons have relied on the enthusiasm and youth of the young guys and the leadership and savvy of the veterans.
Of the 53 players on the roster, 29 of them were on the roster in 2008 when the Falcons last went to the playoffs, including 16 of the team's current starters. There are six additional players currently on the roster that weren't with the Falcons in '08, but have been on playoff teams in their careers.
Todd McClure, the Falcons' current Ironman, holder of the franchise's current starts streak, has been on Atlanta's last three playoff teams, dating back to 2002. The center was a starter on the offensive lines on those playoff teams.
This season marks the fifth trip to the playoffs for defensive end John Abraham. He took three trips with the Jets, though he didn't play in 2004. In his playoff appearances he's totaled 14 tackles and two sacks.
Linebacker Mike Peterson has the most appearances in the playoffs, this year's being the sixth. The 12-year veteran took three trips to the playoffs with the Colts and two with the Jaguars (where he played with Smith who served as Jacksonville's defensive coordinator). He's totaled 15 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble in his five playoff games.
Much of Chris Redman's career in Baltimore was spent as a backup, but he was active for the team in three trips to the playoffs and made one appearance for the team in 2001. He was Ryan's backup for the Falcons in '08.
Along with Redman and Abraham, Michael Turner is the other Falcons player making his fifth trip to the playoffs. Turner saw three playoff trips in 2004, '06 and '07 with San Diego. His 2007 Chargers played three games in the playoffs. Turner was also a member of the '08 Falcons team. In his five appearances he's gained 230 yards and two touchdowns.
Including McClure, Abraham, Peterson, Redman and Turner, the Falcons have ten players who have at least three trips to the playoffs, this year's being their fourth. Fullback Ovie Mughelli, kicker Matt Bryant, safety Erik Coleman, wide receiver Brian Finneran, tight end Tony Gonzalez all have made three appearances in the leagues second season.
Gonzalez and Bryant will be making their first trips to the playoffs with the Falcons. Finneran joins McClure as the two Falcons players that have made three trips to the playoffs with the franchise.
Gonzalez' three trips came with Kansas City in 1997 (his rookie season), 2003 and 2006. Two of Coleman's three came with the New York Jets in 2004 and 2006. He was with Atlanta in 2008.
Wide receiver Michael Jenkins, tight end Justin Peelle, cornerback Brian Williams and long snapper Joe Zelenka have all made two trips to the playoff and 2010 will be their third.
From the defensive backs to fullback, every position with the Falcons is manned with at least a three-time playoff veteran, making the Falcons well equipped to make a run in this year's playoffs. Despite the perception of brief success, Atlanta has players on the roster prepared to make sure the Falcons act like they've been there before.