The Matt Ryan era began with a bang. The Falcons appeared in the playoffs for four of the first five seasons of his career, including two number one seeds. The last three seasons have been the polar opposite. The Falcons have failed to make the playoffs or even post a winning record, which is something that they did in each of Ryan’s first five seasons. However, their record has shown improvement. After going 4-12 in 2013, the Falcons won 6 games followed by 8 games last season. With the additions Atlanta made this offseason, the time feels about right for the Falcons to get back into the playoffs.
Atlanta is poised to be a better team, but that is not going to guarantee them a better record. Atlanta has the toughest schedule in the NFL this season, according to last year’s team records. They will have seven games against opponents who participated in the playoffs last year (Chiefs, Broncos, Seahawks, Cardinals, Packers and Panthers (2)). They also have several matchups against up and coming teams like the Rams and Raiders, and not to mention the four matchups against the Bucs and Saints in which they finished 0-4 last year.
They will also suffer from being in the NFC. The NFC was a tougher conference last year and looks to be even tougher this year. The Vikings, Cardinals, Rams, Seahawks, Packers, Panthers, Cowboys, Giants, Redskins and Bucs will all be heavily competing for playoff spots. It might take 11 wins to clinch a wild card berth in the NFC this season, and given the Falcons schedule, that number is going to be extremely difficult to reach.
The NFC is going to be so competitive, that the Falcons might just have a better chance at winning the NFC South outright than shooting for a wild card bid. But to do that, Atlanta will have to dethrone the Panthers, who have won three straight division titles and are coming off a franchise best 15-1 season. Atlanta would love to think it’s possible, but the Panthers, even without Josh Norman, are still going to be one of the best teams in the league. The chances of the Falcons winning the NFC South are slim.
It’s hard to ever predict how a season is going to go. Injuries can change the course of a season in an instant. However, 10 wins will nearly always put right on the cut line for a playoff spot. If the Falcons want a shot to make the playoffs, they are going to have to put together at least 10 victories.
The key to Atlanta getting to 10 wins is going to be their divisional matchups. The Falcons finished last season 7-3 outside of the division and only 1-5 in the division. That was coming off a 2014 season in which they went 5-1 against the division. With the Falcons having such a tough schedule outside of their division this season, they will have to win at least four games in their division to reach 10 wins. Beating the Panthers is going to be tough, but the Falcons should have the upper hand in their matchups with the Saints and Bucs. Playoff teams pick on the weaker teams in the division. If the Falcons want to establish themselves as a playoff team, they have to pick on the Saints and Bucs.
Unfortunately, Atlanta, like every NFL team, is going to disappoint us with a dreadful performance against a terrible team and lose. It happens every year. In order to make up for that, Atlanta is going to have to come up with some key road victories against elite teams. Atlanta has to go out West to face the Raiders, Rams, Seahawks and Broncos this season. All of these teams have playoff aspirations, but the Falcons are going to have to win at least two of these games to reach the 10-win mark.
The Falcons made terrific additions this offseason. Alex Mack will solidify the offensive line. Mohammed Sanu will serve as a nice counterpart to Julio Jones and Justin Hardy will emerge as a reliable option. Draft picks like Keanu Neal and Deion Jones will have early impacts. The team will be much improved, but it is going to be difficult to reach 10 wins.
Here is how I see the season going game by game
Vs. Bucs (W)
@ Raiders (W)
@ Saints (L)
Vs. Panthers (L)
Vs. Chargers (W)
Vs. Packers (L)
Vs. Cardinals (L)
Vs. Chiefs (W)
@ Rams (W)
Vs. 49ers (W)
Vs. Saints (W)
Final record: 9-7
I just see the Falcons having a tough time in the division once again. The NFC South has become one of the best divisions in football. The Saints are nearly impossible to beat in the Super Dome, and the Falcons have to go in there on Monday night. The Bucs head coach is now Dirk Koetter. Koetter is the old offensive coordinator for Atlanta and definitely has his team ready every time they face Atlanta. It is going to be tough to beat them twice in one year. Finally, the Panthers are probably the most complete team in the NFL heading into this year. Atlanta was lucky to win one last year, and I am not confident enough to say they are going to do it again.