The biggest difference with this year's Falcons isn't tangible, DE John Abraham told PFW.
It's not the personnel, although the roster received two big upgrades in rookie WR Julio Jones and DE Ray Edwards thanks to the aggressive offseason maneuvering of GM Thomas Dimitroff, who clearly believes the time is now for his team.
Abraham, entering his 12th season and sixth with the Falcons, senses the hunger to get over the hump is greater than ever in Atlanta.
"The only thing about this year is we probably have a bigger chip (on our shoulder) than the year before," Abraham said.
The Falcons were sent home in the playoffs without a win for the second time in three seasons on Jan. 15, when the Packers dealt them a devastating 48-21 loss. Atlanta is looking for its first playoff win since the '04 season.
"It's tough," Abraham said. "A couple years before we played Arizona in the playoffs and end up losing. They end up going to the Super Bowl and then Green Bay came to our house and pretty much handed us whatever we could take and they end up being Super Bowl champs.
"It kind of sticks in your mind. … It feels a little worse when the team that beats you ends up going to the ultimate game."
Abraham, a two-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler, has achieved rare individual success. He finished fifth in the league with 13 sacks last season and is 10 sacks away from moving into second on the Falcons' all-time sack list.
But Abraham turned 33 in May and might not have many seasons left. He never has been on a team that made it past the divisional round. Entering his contract year, he said winning is more important to him than money at this point in his career.
One of his priorities during training camp was helping to instill that sense of urgency in the team's young D-linemen.
"I'm trying to harp on them about how serious it is and how important it is for us older guys to get there this year," Abraham said. "… I'm going to do a lot more pushing. If I need to be (an) ass about it, I'm going to because I know we have a good thing going here and I don't want (the defensive line) to be the reason we don't get there."
A leadership position is one Abraham says he didn't always feel comfortable in. That has changed over the past few seasons.
"A lot of times before I didn't want to be the guy to stand up and say stuff because I didn't want to put ripples in the water, but now I don't care," he said. "I'm 33 now. I've been in the league. I've proven myself so I feel like I have the right to tell certain people certain things. If they get mad, oh well. … We're going in a very positive direction and I'm trying to make sure everybody understands that getting it now is really better than trying to get it later."
Younger players apparently have been receptive to the message. Roles and jobs on the D-line are up for grabs this preseason and Abraham said he doesn't think motivation is an issue.
"I really feel like no one has a choice," he said. "I'm not trying to call one guy out. We have 15 guys in that room right now, nobody has a (guaranteed) seat in that room right now. Even me. I feel like I still have to prove myself. I think everybody in the room feels that way. We might keep eight, nine guys, so almost half the room might be gone.
"I don't think anybody needs a fire under him right now. I feel like everybody feels like there is pressure on their back. My pressure is more just to lead and be the guy they can come to and talk to."
Abraham said he hasn't spent much time looking beyond this season. He said he loves Atlanta and being close to South Carolina, where he was born and raised. He expects to continue living in the area long after his playing days are over, but told his agent, Richard Rosa, not to talk to the Falcons about a contract extension until this season is over.
"I told my agent don't talk to them about an extension or anything," Abraham said. "Let's just have a good time this year. I'm old. I don't want to have that thing lingering with me for the whole season. A lot of guys try to handle it during the season and they don't produce like they should. I don't want to go through that. I just want to play football and have a good time."
Celebrating a title, rather than a new contract, sounds better to Abraham at this stage of his career.
"There's a bigger goal for me than just getting more money," he said. "I really want a championship."