Falcons can’t afford a slow start in 2020

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In the last two seasons, the Falcons have been plagued by slow starts, leading to back-to-back 7-9 campaigns. They lost four of their first five games in 2018 before reeling off three wins to pull back to .500. However, they were unable to keep that momentum going as they went on to lose their next five in a row. 2019 was even worse, as they dropped seven of their first eight games, ending their season before the midway point. They were able to finish the year on a high note, winning their last five contests, but it was a case of way too little way too late. Now, Dan Quinn, Thomas Dimitroff, and the entire organization are on the hot seat. Playoffs are the expectation, not the goal, and if they can’t start things on a positive note, 7-9 will be a pipe dream.

Nothing about the Falcons 2020 schedule will be easy. According to last year’s win-loss records, they have the second most challenging path to the playoffs in the NFL — behind only the Patriots. However, basing things off the year before isn’t always the best way to determine strength of schedule because it doesn’t account for the significant changes that happen each offseason. Perhaps the most substantial move of the entire spring? Tom Brady leaving New England for Tampa Bay, who the Falcons face twice. The Bucs were 7-9 last year, bringing down Atlanta’s strength of schedule based on last year’s win-loss records. That won’t be the case this year with Brady under center and Rob Gronkowski taking over at tight end, likely giving the Falcons the toughest schedule in football. And the only way they will be able to maneuver this gauntlet is by getting off to a hot start.

Atlanta begins the season with two challenging opponents that have Super Bowl aspirations of their own. They open up at home against MVP candidate, Russell Wilson, and the Seattle Seahawks, followed by a road trip to Jerry World for a matchup with Dak Prescott and the Cowboys. To be blunt: the Falcons have to figure out a way to win one of those. The writing is typically on the wall for teams that begin the year 0-2, especially when the schedule is this difficult.

The road doesn’t get much easier in weeks three and four, as the Falcons have the Bears at home before traveling to Lambeau for Monday Night Football. It goes without saying how challenging that one will be, but Chicago won’t be a pushover either. They are a playoff contender if they can find some competent quarterback play out of either Foles or Trubisky.

Where the Falcons will have to capitalize is in weeks five through nine. Over this stretch, they play the Panthers twice, Lions, Broncos, and Vikings. Minnesota will be a tough one to win on the road, but the other four are winnable, and might even be considered must-wins when looking at what comes next.

Following a bye week after a home game against Denver, the gauntlet begins with a road game in New Orleans. The Falcons get a brief breather when they go back home to play the Raiders (even though that game won’t be as easy as some may think) before playing the Saints again at Mercedez-Benz Stadium. Then Atlanta plays three of their final four games on the road, starting out west versus the Chargers. They follow that with a home game against Tom Brady for the first time of the season, a road matchup with last year’s Super Bowl Champions, before ending it on the road against Brady again.

I don’t think you will find a more challenging stretch of six games than the way the Falcons have to finish their season. The beginning is no cakewalk, but if they want any chance of returning to the postseason for the first time since 2017, they have to find a way to pull out some close wins over high-quality opponents. If they aren’t over .500 before meeting with New Orleans for the first time, they can kiss their Super Bowl hopes goodbye.

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