This article is part of our Team Previews series.
Few teams entered the 2012 campaign under more pressure to win in the playoffs than the Falcons. On the heels of an underwhelming 24-2 loss to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Giants in the playoffs the previous season, coach Mike Smith and QB Matt Ryan faced plenty of criticism for their inability to win when it mattered. The pair joined forces in 2008 and although they became the first rookie head coach and quarterback combo to compete in the playoffs in their inaugural season since 1945, the duo entered the 2012 season a combined 0-6 in the postseason.
Fueled by an explosive offense and a desire to quiet their critics, the Falcons won their first eight games, and stood as the league's only remaining undefeated team at the season's halfway point. Despite falling to division-rival New Orleans in Week 10, the Falcons coasted to a 13-3 mark and the NFC's top seed. Determined to finally get a playoff win under his belt, Ryan led the Falcons to a 20-0 halftime lead in the Divisional Round, only to watch Russell Wilson and the Seahawks storm back to take the lead with 31 seconds remaining. Unfazed, Ryan completed two quick passes to get the Falcons within field goal range, and Matt Bryant drove home a 49-yard attempt to send the team to the NFC Championship game.
Although the Falcons fell to the 49ers in the NFC title game, the organization is optimistic about its chances in 2013. All