Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 3/29/13
For the Atlanta Falcons, the rise to finishing the puzzle has been one missing piece away for the past few years. They get Matt Ryan and Michael Turner in 2008 and begin their uphill trek.  With the addition of Tony Gonzalez in 2009 to aide veteran wideout, Roddy White, everything was starting to fall into place.  And now, the Falcons from HOT-lanta, who have made the postseason for three straight years, seem to have all their pieces in place to make an impressive run towards the Lombardi Trophy.An extensive off-season for the boys in Atlanta has made things in the NFC South quite interesting.  First and foremost, the retention of the greatest tight end to ever play the game, Tony Gonzalez. The man will be entering his 16th season in the NFL with only his second team and no championship ring.  The perennial Pro-Bowler pulled in 930 yards and 8 touchdowns last year and was hesitant about returning for a 16th season. After talks continued and the owners in Atlanta began filling holes, Tony G. decided to come back for one last ride into the sunset.Most recently, the signing of defensive end Osi Umenyiora will help fill the gaps on defense and help control the running game a bit more. His speed around the outside of the line will mean more rushes on the quarterback and force the opposition to hurry up and turn the ball over more. A great addition to the Falcons' squad.The most important component to this years Falcons' lineup is by far the signing of Steven Jackson. Many say that he is past his prime and on his downhill slope but think of this for one moment -- SJ39 has had eight straight seasons of over 1,000 yards and rushed for over 10,000 yards in his nine-year career with a dismal offensive line in St. Louis.  He has averaged five total touchdowns in the last four years, and he hasn't had a receiving squad to help take the heat off of the running game since Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt left.  Now, with a veteran line and a stellar receiving corps, not to mention a top-tier quarterback, expect SJ39 to do some amazing things in Atlanta to finish off his career. I predict 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns from the big guy.The key to any championship is leadership. Having those veteran guys that know how to handle winning and losing and make those around them better players. For the Atlanta Falcons, their roster is full of them.  There may not be a better wide receiver duo in football right now better than Roddy White and Julio Jones catching the ball. Tony G., 16 years of football experience goes a long way.And don't forget All-Pro quarterback Matt Ryan. His arm strength and accuracy this past season were incredible not to mention only losing three games all season. He has definitely become a field general in his short four years in the league. Look for him to tear up the competition this season.The strength and determination that the Falcons have shown over the past few years has all culminated to this point. All the pieces are in place. All of the ducks are in a row. And after the Draft in a couple weeks, all of the t's will be crossed and the i's will be dotted.  And at the end of this season, the Atlanta Falcons will be raising the Lombardi Trophy right through Centennial Park.
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