Now that 2013 is officially in the past, the Atlanta Falcons can focus on ridding themselves of a hangover from last year’s 4-12 finish.
Here is a quick look at this year’s opponents -- four of them being without a head coach, as of today. Only one of those games has been set -- Breakfast with the Falcons, as head coach Mike Smith called it -- while the other dates and times are likely to be announced in early May.
HOME (2013 record indicated)
Detroit (7-9): This game actually will take place at Wembley Stadium in London on Oct. 26 at 9:30 a.m., Atlanta time. Fans should be excited to wake up to a matchup between Lions receiver Calvin Johnson and rising Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant. But the Lions need a coach, first.
Carolina (12-4): The last time the teams met at the Georgia Dome, Matt Ryan was sacked a career-high nine times and hit 14 times total. Let’s hope the Falcons have their offensive line issues addressed going into this game.
Tampa Bay (4-12): Lovie Smith looks like frontrunner to take over for the fired Greg Schiano. If hired, Smith will inherit a strong group of defensive players capable of taking the Buccaneers back to the old days of the dominant "Tampa 2" defense.
New Orleans (11-5): If there was one positive coming off of last season, it was how the Falcons competed in both losses to the Saints. They lost those two contests by a total of 10 points.
Chicago (8-8): Marc Trestman rejuvenated the Bears’ offense after coming over from the Canadian Football League. But will the Bears bring quarterback Jay Cutler town or will he be someone else’s starter in 2014? My guess is Cutler will be a Bear.
Cleveland (4-12): Another team faced with uncertainty after head coach Rob Chudzinski was fired after one season. We’ll see how they proceed. If only the Falcons had an ex-Wisconsin offensive lineman as good as Browns left tackle Joe Thomas.
Pittsburgh (8-8): As long as Ben Roethlisberger is at quarterback, the Steelers are always a threat. But here is a warning to all Falcons return men: Keep an eye out for Mike Tomlin near the sideline.
Arizona (10-6): The bad news for the Falcons is that Andre Ellington was just a rookie last season. In Year 2, he’s certain to be improved. But he looked pretty darn good rushing for 154 yards on just 15 carries -- including an 80-yard touchdown run -- against the Falcons last year.
Green Bay (8-7-1): The Falcons sure better hope this game happens earlier in the season rather than in December again. Southerner Roddy White is still shivering today from his last trip to Lambeau Field. OK, we’re kidding, but the freezing, snowy weather during Week 14 of last year was nothing the Falcons could joke about.
Minnesota (5-10-1): And if for some reason the Falcons dodge that winter trip to Wisconsin, they still might have to play outdoors in the cold at Minnesota. The Vikings will play the 2014 season at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium. And the Vikings need a new head coach, too.
Cincinnati (11-5): What an aerial show this could be if both Julio Jones and A.J. Green are fully healthy and ready to go for their respective teams. Both players seemed on the verge of challenging Detroit’s Johnson as the league’s top receiver. But Jones is coming off foot surgery, while Green doesn't seem to get as much hype playing in Cincinnati.
New York Giants (7-9): The most intriguing storyline would be veteran defensive end Osi Umenyiora going back to New York to face his old team, if Umenyiora is still in the Falcons’ plans moving forward. He has one year left on his contract, and the organization seems to value his leadership. But he became a designated pass rusher at the end of last season.
Carolina (12-4): Since the Panthers won the NFC South, they’ll have the target on their back. Let’s see if the Falcons can reclaim what they lost after 2012.
Tampa Bay (4-12): The Falcons should be fueled by last year’s embarrassment at Raymond James Stadium, when the Buccaneers jumped out to a 38-6 lead en route to a 41-28 victory.
New Orleans (11-5): No matter the records and no matter the personnel, this bitter rivalry always seems to be a dogfight. The Falcons still lead the all-time series, 46-43.