Tonight the NFL released the 2014 schedule and the Falcon’s will have a great chance to make the playoffs. Here is how I see the season playing out:
Week 1– Home v.s. New Orleans: A team is never supposed to lose its home opener but I believe that the Saints retooled defense featuring Jarius Byrd will effectively shut down Atlanta’s explosive passing game and they will have to rely on the run. However, with the current running backs on the roster I don’t see that happening. Unless Mike Nolan’s defense improves drastically it looks like the only way to win is to win in a shootout and as of right now New Orleans has the better defense on paper.
Score: NO 31- ATL 17
Week 2– Away v.s. Cincinnati: This game will be a breeze or it could be a challenge depending on which Andy Dalton shows up. If good Andy is playing it will be a shootout but if bad Andy sees the field it will be a breeze for the Falcons. Although the Bengals lost their defensive coordinator in Mike Zimmer this defense still has some scary pieces that can give Matt Ryan and company some difficulties. However, I still like Atlanta’s chances to beat the Bengals and earn their first win of the season.
Score: ATL 28- CIN 7
Week 3– Home v.s. Tampa Bay: The Bucs made some serious changes in free agency this offseason. They added a respected head coach, upgraded at quarterback and got better on defense. This defense, while absent of Darelle Revis, is actually better and more well-rounded than in 2013. However, the Bucs offense is a different story, they do not currently have a receiver outside of Vincent Jackson and Josh McCown, while serviceable as a backup, will find it extraordinarily difficult to repeat his success as a starter. The Falcons offense may have some troubles moving the ball on offense, but a couple of plays from the Atlanta’s defense will be what makes the difference.
Score: ATL 17- TB 3
Week 4– Away v.s. Minnesota: If you are looking for an offensive explosion from the Falcons this is the game to look for. Although Mike Zimmer is now head coach I do not believe he will turn around a defense that ranked 31st against the pass in his first year. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White should feast on this secondary. Desmond Trufant should have a big day covering Greg Jennings and should intercept a pass from the quarterback duo of Matt Cassel/ Christain Ponder.
Score: ATL 42-MIN 21
Week 5- Away v.s. New York Giants: The Giants are always a hard team to predict. Last time the Falcons and the Giants played each other Atlanta pummeled them 34-0. However, in the 2012 playoffs the Giants cruised past Atlanta to win the superbowl. It depends on which version of the Giants show up this week but I believe that New York’s retooled offensive line will protect Eli Manning enough time to make plays and the addition of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the secondary will give Matt Ryan fits.
Score NYG 24- ATL 17
Week 6- Home v.s. Chicago: What Marc Trestman did with the Bears offense was nothing short of phenomenal. However, Chicago’s defense left much to be desired. Although Jay Ratliff resigned with the Bears in the offseason their defense is still susceptible to the run. In order to win the Falcons will pound the rock with Steven Jackson early and often. This game will be a shootout because of Trestman’s explosive offense and putrid defense. Whoever has the ball last will win. I will give the advantage to the home team.
Score: ATL 41- CHI 37
Week 7– Away v.s. Baltimore: This game will be an exciting one to watch. The duel between Flacco and Ryan will take center stage. Both teams are looking to bounce back and make the playoffs after failing to qualify last season. Although Ryan has better weapons on offense the Ravens defense will have their number in this game. The home crowd at Baltimore is always intimidating and will contribute to their victory.
Score: BAL 31- ATL 21
Week 8– Home (London) v.s. Lions: A trip to London will expose the Falcons to English culture and a win. The defense will force a couple of turnovers and Matt Ryan will capitalize on them. This game also has the makings for a shootout because of the prolific offenses but I think the Falcons will play mistake free football for the most part and leave Wembley stadium at 4-3 heading to the BYE week.
Score: ATL 38- DET 24
Week 9– BYE Week.
Week 10– Away v.s. Tampa Bay: The Bucs have had the Falcons number for the past two years at home. This time it will be a little different. Coming off of a BYE week the Falcons should be well rested and ready to play. The defense should mesh together and the offense should be their normally explosive selves. Lovie Smith’s squad will have no idea what hit them.
Score: ATL 31- TB: 14
Week 11– Away v.s. Carolina: The Panthers/Falcons rivalry will take place late in the season which should make it more interesting for fans, or nerve racking (depending on who you ask.) Although the defense is elite the one question remaining is who is Cam Newton going to throw the ball to. I was not a big fan of OC Mike Shula’s play calling, their success came at the expense of an improved defense, putting Newton out on the field with receivers who were third options at best in their previous stints would scare me if I was a Panther’s fan. The score should reflect a defensive battle but it will be due to the lack of respect to Carolina’s passing game.
Score: ATL 10- CAR 9
Week 12– Home v.s. Cleveland: The Browns are coming to town. Even though they have some interesting pieces I do not believe that they will have enough in the tank to compete with a Falcons squad that looks playoff bound at this point. The game should be lopsided.
Score ATL: 41– CLE 14
Week 13- Home v.s. Arizona: Bruce Arians’ Cardinals were a tie breaker away from being a playoff team least year. I don’t see anything telling me that this year will be any different. Going into the latter portion of the season the last opponent I want to face is the Cardinals. The offense is loaded and the defense is elite. Atlanta will lose but it will be close.
Score: ARI 31- ATL 27
Week 14- Away v.s. Green Bay: Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense will be dangerous this year. Before Rodgers’ injury the Packers were playing their best ball. Eddie Lacy gave them a balanced attack. The Falcons will have trouble stopping the offense and since the game is in Green Bay I don’t see them leaving with a victory.
Score: GB 34– ATL 13
Week 15- Home v.s. Pittsburgh: Atlanta will surprise its fans with a victory this week. The Steelers’ offensive line is putrid and will not give Roethlisberger time to throw the ball or open any running lanes. Matt Ryan will have a big day and expose Pittsburgh’s aging defense.
Score: ATL 28-PIT 3
Week 16- Away v.s. New Orleans: Atlanta will come to the Superdome energized and will leave with a decisive victory. Drew Brees will be sacked multiple times and Atlanta will get its revenge from Week 1.
Score: ATL 28 NO 10
Week 17– Home v.s. Carolina: Atlanta (10-5) will rest its starters and prepare for the wildcard game. Cam Newton and co. will expose the defense without its most important pieces but the Falcons will still keep the game close.
Score: CAR 21 ATL 13
Final Analysis: The Falcons will go 10-6 and make the playoffs as a wild card team. The offense will find success and the defense will be much improved from last year’s 4-12 campaign.