Sept 2 (Reuters) - Following are brief profiles of the 16 teams in the National Football Conference (NFC) ahead of the 2013 National Football League (NFL) season:
Head coach: Mike Smith
2012 record: 13-3 (Won the NFC South after starting the season 8-0 before losing 28-24 to the San Francisco 49ers in second round of the playoffs)
Blessed with a well-oiled passing attack effectively orchestrated by quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons have high hopes of going deeper into the postseason after acquiring three-time Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson in March. Once again, though, their defense needs to step up.
Head coach: Bruce Arians
2012 record: 5-11 (Finished fourth in the NFC West)
Larry Fitzgerald is one of the NFL's top wide receivers and the Cardinals will hope his unique talents can be fully exploited by new quarterback Carson Palmer, an off-season trade from the Oakland Raiders. Under new coach Arians, Arizona can be expected to focus on an aggressive passing game.
Head coach: Ron Rivera
2012 record: 7-9 (A one-game improvement over their 6-10 finish in 2011, when Cam Newton had one of the best rookie seasons for a quarterback)
Early-season games with the Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings could determine Panthers' fortunes. Much will again be expected of the talented Newton and from a defense that rated 10th in the league last season in yards allowed.
Head coach: Marc Trestman
2012 record: 10-6 (Despite making a strong start to the season, the Bears became the first team to miss the playoffs after starting out 7-1 since the 1996 Washington Redskins)
Under new coach Trestman, brought in after Lovie Smith was fired in December, the Bears will look to add a much improved offense to their renowned defense. Quarterback Jay Cutler will continue to call the shots and much is expected from former Giants tight end Martellus Bennett, an off-season signing.
Head coach: Jason Garrett
2012 record: 8-8 (Matched their win total from 2011, but missed the playoffs for a third consecutive season after losing their final game, to the Washington Redskins)
Quarterback Tony Romo, retained on a lucrative six-year contract extension, should keep Dallas in the NFC East chase and a sub-par defense should improve under new coordinator Monte Kiffin. Cowboys need a strong finish with late-season games against the Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins.
Head coach: Jim Schwartz
2012 record: 4-12 (A very disappointing season after the Lions finished 10-6 in 2011)
The off-season addition of free agent running back Reggie Bush will boost a Lions offense that flourished last year under quarterback Matthew Stafford, with receiver Calvin Johnson his main target. Defense needed improvement, and the Lions spent three of their top four draft picks in that area.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Head coach: Mike McCarthy
2012 record: 11-5 (Won the NFC North title for a second straight season before losing 45-31 to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional playoffs)
The high-scoring Packers should claim another NFC North title and will once again build their offense around quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who now has the highest per-season salary ever in the league. A few questions remain on defense where linebacker Clay Matthews is the face of the franchise.
Head coach: Leslie Frazier
2012 record: 10-6 (Rebounded strongly from a dismal 3-13 season, beating the Packers in the final game to make the playoffs as the NFC's sixth seed before losing 24-10 to Green Bay in the wild card round)
Inexperienced Christian Ponder is under pressure to prove he is the team's No. 1 quarterback with off-season signing Matt Cassel waiting on the sidelines. However, the team should benefit from the acquisition of veteran wide receiver Greg Jennings, in March, and linebacker Desmond Bishop, in June.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Head coach: Sean Payton
2012 record: 7-9 (After an offseason dominated by the bounty scandal, the Saints started with four straight losses on the way to a tie for last in the NFC South)
With head coach Payton back in charge after a year-long suspension because of the bounty scandal and a big season once again expected from seven-time Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints will look to regain their customary place as the NFC South's best. Defense needs improvement, though.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Head coach: Tom Coughlin
2012 record: 9-7 (Just one season after going 9-7 before peaking to win the Super Bowl, the Giants posted an identical record but did not reach the playoffs)
Inspirational quarterback Eli Manning and a multi-dimensional offense should pave the way to more victories for the Giants in 2013 but a tougher late-season schedule could take its toll. A considerable improvement is needed in defense to make a postseason run.
Head coach: Chip Kelly
2012 record: 4-12 (Fell away after starting the season with three wins in first four games, and failed to make the playoffs before head coach Andy Reid was fired after 14 seasons with the team)
With former Oregon coach Kelly now at the helm, the Eagles are expected to unleash an up-tempo and highly unpredictable offense orchestrated by four-time Pro Bowl quarterback Michael Vick. The defense has been beefed up with the offseason acquisition of linebacker Connor Barwin.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Head coach: Jim Harbaugh
2012 record: 11-4-1 (Won the NFC West for a second straight season, then beat the Packers and Falcons in the playoffs before losing 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl)
The 49ers open their campaign with a tough test against Green Bay but are again the team to beat in the NFC West. Much is expected of quarterback Colin Kaepernick in his first full season as he looks to target tight end Vernon Davis and veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin, an off-season acquisition.
Head coach: Pete Carroll
2012 record: 11-5 (Posted their first winning record since 2007 and beat the Washington Redskins in the wild card round before losing 30-28 to the Falcons in the divisional round)
Renowned for their defense and the offensive threat of running back Marshawn Lynch, Seattle are likely Super Bowl contenders. Quarterback Russell Wilson should build on his impressive rookie season in 2012 and the March signings of defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett add punch to the team's pass rush.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
Head coach: Jeff Fisher
2012 record: 7-8-1 (Made significant improvements under new head coach Fisher after a woeful 2-14 season in 2011, though the Rams have not made the playoffs since 2004)
Much will be expected of strong-armed quarterback Sam Bradford, whose offensive options have been improved considerably with the off-season signings of wide receiver Tavon Austin and tight end Jared Cook. Defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn will again be cornerstones of the Rams defense.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Head coach: Greg Schiano
2012 record: 7-9 (A much improved season after a dismal 4-12 campaign in 2011)
The league's worst secondary last season has undergone a major facelift with the additions of cornerback Darrelle Revis, free safety Dashon Goldson and Johnthan Banks. The Bucs' offense again hinges on quarterback Josh Freeman, wide receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Doug Martin.
Head coach: Mike Shanahan
2012 record: 10-6 (Won their final seven games of the season to clinch the NFC East title before losing 24-14 to the Seahawks in the wild card round of the playoffs)
The Redskins will again be pinning their playoff hopes on talented quarterback Robert Griffin III, who had surgery in January to repair torn ligaments in his right knee. A woeful defense in 2012 needs tightening up.
- - (Compiled by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)