2013 NFL Schedule: Falcons look to defend title against revamped NFC South

Chris Graythen

Atlanta walked away with the NFC South in 2012, but the Panthers, Buccaneers and Saints are all rebuilding and looking to contend in 2013.

The Atlanta Falcons haven't had an issue with qualifying for the playoffs since 2009.

Winning in the playoffs has been a different story. They put it together in 2012, having hosted the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game. They were well on their way to making it to their first Super Bowl since 1999, but couldn't overcome a furious 49ers comeback in the second half.

This year's schedule could also benefit the Falcons, unless their division rivals are ready to challenge.

The Falcons were without a rival in the AFC South in 2012 as the Sean Payton-less Saints fell apart and the Panthers and Buccaneers failed to live up to hype established in 2011.

In what could be the division's best game, the Falcons will travel to New Orleans in Week 1. The Falcons will keep the bulk of their roster intact as the Saints look to rebuild with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's 3-4 scheme.

The division takes on the AFC East in 2013, and the Falcons host the Patriots and Jets in Weeks 4 and 5 before a bye in Week 6.

The Saints begin the season with two-consecutive divisional games, the Falcons in Week 1 and at Tampa Bay in Week 2. Weeks 12-14 could make or break the team, with road games at Atlanta and Seattle before returning home for a division game against Carolina. They'll end the season at home against the Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay begins the year at the Jets, but their final three games - vs. San Francisco, at St. Louis and at New Orleans - will be tough. For a team that fell apart down the stretch in 2012, head coach Greg Schiano faces an even tougher slate of games to end the year.

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