Coming off of a 13-3 season in 2012, Atlanta is entering this year with high expectations.
In this piece, we'll play devil's advocate and discuss six fatal flaws that could keep the Falcons from making a return trip to the conference championship game and the subsequent Super Bowl.
We identified these fatal flaws by acknowledging some of the team's historical trends under Mike Smith, reviewing the team's preseason performance and comparing the team's roster to those of a few other NFC contenders.
Again, we're talking about fatal flaws that will haunt the Falcons all season long.
This is an issue that has nagged the Falcons offense like a pesky mosquito the past couple of seasons, perhaps no more so than on the now infamous failed 4th-and-1 play in overtime against the New Orleans Saints in 2011.
Do the Falcons struggle to convert in short-yardage situations because of poor blocking up front or is the play-calling the culprit? Even worse, is the play-calling limited by the coaches' lack of faith in the offensive line?
Whatever the issue is, the Falcons need to resolve it before history repeats itself and Atlanta watches more promising drives end prematurely in 2013.
Starting left tackle Sam Baker and reserve defensive tackle Peria Jerry are the only two first-round draft picks on Atlanta's two-deep depth chart along the offensive and defensive lines.
By comparison, the San Francisco 49ers have five former first-rounders in the trenches (counting Aldon Smith as a defensive end), while the reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens feature four former first-rounders up front.
Now, there is certainly elite offensive and defensive line talent to be found outside of the first round of the draft, but the jury is still out on whether the Falcons have found it.
Baker, Osi Umenyiora and Jonathan Babineaux are probably Atlanta's top three linemen, but how do they stack up against some of the talent that fellow NFC contenders like the 49ers (Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Justin Smith and Aldon Smith), Seattle Seahawks (Russell Okung, Max Unger) and New York Giants (Will Beatty, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul) have up front?
It's not a big secret. The Falcons are counting on their two rookie cornerbacks, Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, to contribute quickly. While both players have some ability, you can bet that Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Cam Newton will test Atlanta's young corners early and often during the first half of the season.
Will the damage to Atlanta's playoff hopes be done by then thanks to the growing pains that Atlanta's young corners are bound to experience?
Kroy Biermann is a versatile player who has talent, but Osi Umenyiora is the only proven rusher Atlanta has.
Instead of adding another veteran or spending a high draft pick on a defensive end, the Falcons have opted to rely on young players like Jonathan Massaquoi, Cliff Matthews, Stansly Maponga and Malliciah Goodman as reserves to Biermann and Umenyiora.
If Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff is wrong about these guys being ready to play, Atlanta is going to have to blitz to get consistent pressure.
The Falcons have done a decent job of moving the ball between the 20s, but they have to do a better job at punching the ball into the end zone
The difference between getting a touchdown and getting a field goal is part of what kept Atlanta out of the Super Bowl last season (28-24 game).
Atlanta's defense caused quite a bit of confusion for Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning at the Georgia Dome last year.
Granted, coaches aren't showing a lot of their playbooks during the preseason, but Jake Locker and Josh Johnson both found running room against Atlanta.
If Atlanta doesn't figure out how to contain athletic quarterbacks, the team could very well miss the playoffs because the five games on its schedule against mobile quarterbacks are all conference games (CAR, WAS, SEA and SF). Atlanta's probably going to need to win at least three of those games to get back to the playoffs.