The Falcons signed Osi Umenyiora (above, with Giants) to bolster their pass rush after releasing John Abraham (Getty Images)

Last season’s record: 13-3

Key players released: DE John Abraham, CB Dunta Robinson, RB Michael Turner, T Tyson Clabo

Retired: C Todd McClure

Key free agents lost: LB Lawrence Sidbury, T Will Svitek, CB Brent Grimes, DT Vance Walker, QB Luke McCown

Key free agents re-signed: S William Moore, G Garrett Reynolds, T Sam Baker, TE Tony Gonzalez

Key free agents added: RB Steven Jackson, DE Osi Umenyiora


1 (22nd) Desmond Trufant Cornerback Washington
2 (60) Robert Alford Cornerback Southeastern Louisiana
4 (127) Malliciah Goodman Defensive end Clemson
4 (133) Levine Toilolo Tight end Stanford
5 (153) Stansly Maponga Defensive end Texas Christian
7 (243) Kemal Ishmael Safety Central Florida
7 (244) Zeke Motta Safety Notre Dame
7 (249) Sean Renfree Quarterback Duke

Analysis: No one can accuse General Manager Thomas Dimitroff and Coach Mike Smith of standing pat after the Falcons’ 13-win regular season in 2012 and Super Bowl near-miss, with a narrow loss to the 49ers in the NFC title game. They performed a mini-overhaul, in fact, by releasing defensive end John Abraham, cornerback Dunta Robinson, tailback Michael Turner and right tackle Tyson Clabo.

The Falcons re-signed safety William Moore, guard Garrett Reynolds and left tackle Sam Baker and they made a couple attention-grabbing moves in free agency by adding running back Steven Jackson and defensive end Osi Umenyiora. The question is how much production they’ll get from the two high-profile newcomers. Umenyiora is 31 and has reached double figures in sacks once in the past four seasons. He had six sacks in 16 games last season for the Giants. Jackson ran for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past eight seasons for the Rams, but he turns 30 in July and has had just shy of 2,400 NFL carries.

The team’s biggest offseason move of all probably was convincing tight end Tony Gonzalez to postpone retirement for (at least) one more year. He remains extremely reliable, with 93 catches last season. The normal rule about being wary of a player’s advancing age doesn’t seem to apply to him, and he is the perfect complement to wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones. As long as quarterback Matt Ryan remains healthy and in the lineup, the Falcons should be formidable again on offense.

They focused on their defense, particularly their secondary, in the draft, after releasing Robinson and losing fellow cornerback Brent Grimes in free agency. The path to an NFC South title is likely to be far more difficult this season, with the possible resurgence of the Saints and the Buccaneers’ trade for cornerback Darrelle Revis. Still, there’s little reason to believe the Falcons won’t remain in the thick of the chase for the division title and a top NFC playoff seed.

Why Redskins fans should pay attention: The teams play on Dec. 15 in Atlanta in a game that could have significant playoff implications for both. If the Redskins want to take the next step from division winner and early-round playoff participant to viable Super Bowl contender, the Falcons are among the NFC teams they’ll have to overtake, along with the 49ers, Seahawks and Packers. Those are the four NFC teams that had more regular season victories last year than the Redskins’ 10 (the Vikings and Bears also had 10 wins each).

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Conversation starter: Which team should be regarded as the team to beat in the NFC entering the 2013 season?

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