A familiar matchup will take place during week one in the Georgia Dome. (AJC.com)
I’m going to point out immediately that no predictions will be made in this article. It’s completely irrational to make predictions in April on how a team will do from September to December. With the draft coming up and the possibility of a significant pre-season injury occurring, it’s always wise to wait until late August to make logical predictions.
This will be simply a breakdown of the Falcons schedule and what to expect this year. The spotlight is off them, following a horrific 4-12 season. No fans should be complaining about the lack of national attention. This team needs to prove that they deserve to be put in primetime, which they can with the new flex system being implemented in week five rather than week 11.
Most difficult stretch
What stands out to me automatically is the opening stretch of the season. As fun as the rivalry may be, New Orleans has gotten the better of Atlanta on numerous occasions. Even though the matchup gets everyone fired up, the Saints are still one of the top teams in the NFC. Atlanta will have to be on the top of their game to start off the season right.
Then they have to face Cincinnati on the road next week, which will be a tall order. While Andy Dalton’s play declined dramatically last year, they are still tough at home and extremely physical on both sides of the ball. With Thomas Dimitroff’s objective of getting tougher on both sides of the ball, this will be a great litmus test against a team that emphasizes on bullying teams around at the line of scrimmage. Atlanta could easily start 0-2 and wouldn’t have much time to prepare to rebound. They face Tampa Bay on Thursday night in week three.
What a difference a year makes
It surprised me to see how many Falcon fans complaining about the lack of primetime games. Did you not watch how the team played last season? Multiple primetime games should be rewarded for teams, who were successful last year. It may be tough to swallow for Falcon fans, since the team had four primetime games last year (I don’t count Thursday night games, since every team is included).
They were rewarded with one primetime game on Monday night, which should be exciting against Green Bay. It’s unfortunate that the game will be in December and the conditions will more than likely be jagged. Once again, this will be a great test to see if this team has truly become tougher. Like I said above, Atlanta could earn a primetime game or two by starting off the season well. I’ll admit that night games energize me more than an afternoon game. It’s always cool to know that all football fans are watching your team play, when nobody else is on. Hopefully Atlanta could earn an extra game or two with the upgraded flex system.
Utilizing the bye
It was only a matter of time before Atlanta was going to be picked to play in London. To make matters worse, the game will be played at 9:30 in the morning on the East coast. While practically everything about the game in London annoys me, there is one major positive. They will receive a bye in Week 9, which comes at a good spot.
It’s during the middle of the season, where a team can evaluate the first half of the season. The obvious goal is for all players to rest up and get healthy. After a lengthy trip to London, the bye truly comes at a convenient time. While I wish they were playing a tougher opponent after the bye (Tampa Bay is average at best), no complaints from where the bye was placed.
For those that don’t know, I live in New York. That relegates me from not seeing the Falcons live very often. For the first time since the infamous play loss in 2012, they return to Metlife Stadium to play the Giants. The embarrassing playoff loss will never be forgotten. It was actually my first ever experience seeing the Falcons live. In such a big game atmosphere in the playoffs, they managed to muster up a complete dud. My heart and bank account (270 dollars were the cheapest tickets) took a major hit.
I’m obviously over it, but it’ll never be forgotten. Hopefully Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, and the rest of the offense who was on that team haven’t forgotten that abysmal performance. I’m still thrilled to see them play in New York, especially with a new-look defense. It should be an exciting game under decent conditions. Thankfully it won’t be 28 degrees this time around and I’m not absolutely miserable watching a pitiful game (let’s hope the second part doesn’t occur).
Overall the schedule will be a challenge, but it’s nothing insurmountable. There will be games that Atlanta is a clear underdog and won’t be expected to win. It’ll be important to win many divisional and road games, which are the usual norm for any team that wants to play in the playoffs.
One thing I’ve noticed down the stretch is a difficult slew of games against Arizona, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and Carolina. Pittsburgh and Carolina are very beatable, which is why I didn’t put that stretch as the most difficult. Still this will be a challenge and Atlanta needs to make sure they get off to a good start.
They can’t be playing catch up late in the season, with games on the road against Green Bay and New Orleans. If they need to win four out of their last five to make the playoffs, then Mike Smith could very well be coaching his last year in Atlanta. We shall see how the team continues to rebuild through the draft and how they apply their new additions into their scheme.