Ryan looks to lead the Falcons in taking the next step.
The Atlanta Falcons play 10 games outside of their division in 2012 and have multiple key matchups on that schedule. The key matchups and biggest matchups aren't always the same thing. This year is no different as the Falcons have key matchups with Kansas City, Philadelphia, Dallas and the New York Giants.
These are all key because they could mean the difference from making the playoffs or sitting at home for the first time since 2009. The Falcons have the talent to be able to win every one of these games and could very well end up as the No. 1 seed in the playoffs should they win these games.
The schedule is challenging this year, but Atlanta has made quite a few changes to combat it. With a new pair of coordinators, the additions of Peter Konz and Asante Samuel and the upgraded attitude of the team, the Falcons should be able to have a successful season, regardless of what happens in these games.
September 9th vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Where: Arrowhead Stadium
What time: 1:00 PM EST
Key Players: RB Jamaal Charles, WR Dwayne Bowe, LB's Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson
This matchup is key because of where it falls in the schedule. The Falcons play a playoff-caliber team to start out the season here in the Chiefs. Kansas City has a plethora of talent on all sides of the ball, but their key to victory will be how healthy Jamaal Charles is. He's the cog in the middle of that offense that makes it work.
Against their defense, the Falcons have to find a way to make sure Tamba Hali and Justin Houston don't run a muck in the backfield. Atlanta needs to take control early with a lot of screens and even some deep passes to put the game away early. Atlanta also plays this game both outdoors and in the hostile environment that is Arrowhead, so it will be an early test.
October 28th vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Where: Lincoln Financial Field
What time: 1:00 PM ET
Key Players: QB Michael Vick, WR DeSean Jackson, DE Trent Cole and CB Nnamdi Asomugha
The Falcons face the Eagles for the 11th time in the past 11 years. This is quickly becoming a rivalry between the two flocks. The Falcons go to the Linc after their bye and have to prove themselves against arguably the best team in the NFC. On offense, the Falcons need to keep Trent Cole at bay and hope that they can put the pressure on Asomugha and the Eagles corners.
On defense, the Falcons have a much bigger task at hand.
The Eagles have one of the most diversified, complex attack in football. They have a top notch running back in LeSean McCoy. They have one of the fastest wide receiving groups in Jackson and Maclin. Oh, and they have one of the best dual threat quarterbacks of all time in Michael Vick.
November 4th vs. Dallas Cowboys
Where: Georgia Dome
What time: 8:20 PM ET
Key Players: QB Tony Romo, WR Dez Bryant, LB DeMarcus Ware and CB Brandon Carr
The Falcons take on a very talented Cowboys team in this matchup.
Atlanta will have to rely on it's defense in this one against one of the best defenses in the NFL. Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne will be extremely good at corner for the Cowboys and could possibly shut down Julio Jones and Roddy White in the passing game.
The Falcons running game will have to go against a top notch front seven.
The best bet is for Atlanta to stop them on defense.
Dallas has a varied attack that is reliant on No. 1 wideout Dez Bryant's relationship with Tony Romo and the running game headed up by DeMarco Murray. Should the Falcons create the pressure needed against Romo, they could dominate this important game with interceptions.
December 16th vs. New York Giants
Where: Georgia Dome
What time: 1:00 PM EST
Key Players: QB Eli Manning, WR's Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, and DE Jason Pierre-Paul
The rematch of last year's bitter playoff defeat happens in the Georgia Dome.
Atlanta now has a team that can match up much better against the Giants. Atlanta has improved the Achilles heel of the offense which was the offensive line. This game will be the true test of just how much the line has gelled since this is the same defense that embarrassed them in January.
Atlanta should perform much better on defense this time around, though.
With a new scheme brought in by Mike Nolan, the Falcons will attack the Giants offense this time around instead of being reactive. By changing philosophies, the Falcons should be able to hold the Giants offense to less than the 24 points they scored by primarily torching the Falcons nickel backs.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist and Trends and Traffic Writer for Bleacher Report. As a Featured Columnist, he covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek and also runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and the host of Kvetching Draftniks Radio.