Originally written on Cippin on Sports  |  Last updated 11/18/14

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 27: Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons waits to re-enter the field against the Buffalo Bills at Georgia Dome on December 27, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The 2012 Atlanta Falcons are entering the season as one of the biggest enigmas in the NFL. In the four seasons since drafting Matt Ryan, the team has gone 11-5, 9-7, 13-3 and 10-6. All of these can be considered successful seasons. For whatever reason, though, the Falcons have had a difficult time converting that regular season success into postseason success. They’ve lost all three of their playoff games in that span.

For that reason, there will be a lot of eyes fixated on the Falcons this season, and many of them are going to be staring directly at Ryan. Many analysts were starting to feel last year that he needed to have a breakthrough season in order to be a franchise quarterback, and in 2012 the pressure will be turned up even more. Ryan does a great job of winning the games that he’s supposed to, posting high QB ratings against weaker passing defenses. However, he struggles when put against top-notch defenses, unlike the elite QBs of the league who are capable of dissecting them and breaking them down anyway. The major subplot of 2012 for the Falcons is going to be whether Ryan can finally develop into that quarterback.

Of course, other parts of the team are going to also affect whether the Falcons can succeed. Michael Turner will be entering his fifth year with the Falcons, having been signed away from the Chargers following the 2007 season. Turner has been nothing short of tremendous in Atlanta, rushing for 1,300 yards last season and keeping opposing defenses on their heels.

With that said, he’s close to being on the wrong side of 30, which seems to be the magic number in the league for running backs to see their production slow down. 2010 saw him dealing with a groin injury and other various ailments. He did a great job of staying healthy during the 2011 season, but the team will find out in 2012 which season was the anomaly. There’s every chance that he’ll either lose a step or start to find that the injuries are piling up quicker.

On the defensive side of the ball, Atlanta features a squad that has a lot of speed and can race to the ball. The biggest knock on the group is that they don’t put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. While they don’t give up a lot of yards after the catch, that lack of a pass rush does allow opposing offenses to get the ball down the field with frequent completed passes.

To address this problem, the Falcons have brought in Asante Samuel. Samuel is a former Pro Bowler, and brings veteran knowledge to the team as well as the ability to put pressure on the offense when the opportunity presents itself. He’ll be a sound addition to the team’s stable of cornerbacks, and the 2012 Falcons should improve at stopping the pass.

Head coach Mike Smith is also going to face a lot of criticism if his team can’t finally take advantage of all of these playoff berths, and he knows it. For that reason, he brought in experienced coaches Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan to be his new offensive and defensive coordinators. Both coaches are the right fit for their respective jobs on paper, and their arrivals in Atlanta should rise the tide of the 2012 Falcons.

Overall, if the Falcons are going to break through, 2012 looks like the year to do it. The team has managed to improve its roster and coaching staff, and the year-over-year growth of returning players like Matt Ryan, as well as receiving duo Roddy White and Julio Jones should help even more. The team has a very easy schedule, with the only non-division game that looks like it will be very challenging coming against the Giants in Week 15. The Falcons have all of the resources they need to win the division and make the playoffs yet again, the only question is whether they can take advantage of it this time.

This is a guest post by Don Phan, marketing analyst at Fanatics Inc. and part-time sports writer. Fanatics Inc. is a leading online retailer of licensed sports gear with several brands, and boasts an incredible selection Atlanta Falcons football gear.

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