This article is part of our Team Previews series.
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
After a 2012 campaign that wound up with the Falcons falling to the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, there was reason to be excited about the team's prospects heading into 2013. That sentiment was short-lived, however, as the Falcons stumbled out of the gate, dropping four of their first five games, capped by a devastating home loss to the Jets on Monday Night Football. The team lost more than the game that night, as Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones suffered a foot fracture that kept him out for the remainder of the season. At the time of the injury, Jones led the league in receptions and was second in targets and yards. While the rest of Atlanta's receivers tried to pick up the slack in his absence, the team could never find a groove, especially with Roddy White dealing with nagging injuries for much of the season and a run game that sputtered. The Falcons ended up 4-12, failing to win consecutive games for the first time since 2000.
Nobody will be happier to see Jones back on the field than Matt Ryan, but the quarterback will have to get used to life without future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, who retired following the conclusion of the team's 2013 slate. Gonzalez was Ryan's favorite red-zone target last season, hauling in eight touchdown passes to lead all Atlanta pass-catchers. In preparation for Gonzalez's departure, the team spent a fourth-round pick in