Nobody knows how any of these teams will look going into the individual matchups, but I think the Falcons have a pretty favorable schedule without considering their lack of home games. Besides divisional opponents, Atlanta doesn’t have a super tough gauntlet except for a few games. However, the Falcons were still a four-win team in 2020, so they shouldn’t have the edge over many of these teams on paper. I still believe in Arthur Smith and this offense, so I think they will be much improved in 2021. A lot can change between now and week one, and even more from week one until Atlanta sees some of these teams. Injuries, trades, and tons of other unknown factors will play into these games on both sides. For the sake of this exercise, I won’t be including division opponents, but I do think the NFC South as a whole will be pretty stacked in 2021 from top to bottom.
11. Philadelphia Eagles (Home, 9/12)
The Falcons get a bit of a break in their home opener; they’ll face a depleted Eagles roster with Jalen Hurts making a road start under a new play-caller. Hopefully, with Dean Pees calling the defense for the Falcons, Atlanta can take advantage of an inexperienced coach and quarterback. While Philly did add Devonta Smith, Atlanta is a much more talented team on paper and has no reason not to start the season 1-0.
10. Detroit Lions (Home, 12/26)
The Lions and the Falcons have played some really close games over the years, but the Lions are entering an era without Matthew Stafford, Kenny Golladay, and Marvin Jones. I really liked their draft, and while I think Brad Holmes has Detroit headed in the right direction, this is another game the Falcons should be able to win — especially at home.
9. New York Jets (London, 10/10)
I think Mike LaFleur and Robert Salah will be great for the Jets, which could make this a sneaky tough game, especially considering it will be played in London at 9:30 AM EST. However, they’re another young team with a rookie quarterback that Dean Pees should be able to take advantage of early in the season. The Jets had a nice draft, and while this isn’t a true home game, I still think the Falcons should win this one.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars (Away, 11/28)
While the Jaguars will be the talk of the town with Trevor Lawrence at the helm, the “17th game” on the Falcons schedule is bound to be an interesting one. I’m not too sure about some of Urban Meyer’s decisions so far; he’s made a couple of nice moves on top of a couple of head-scratchers. I don’t think he’s going to have a lot of success in the NFL, but this isn’t an awful Jacksonville roster. I think they will be much improved, and the Jags have enough pieces on defense to make this an exciting matchup.
7. Dallas Cowboys (Away, 11/14)
In what will be the first time the Falcons will face Dan Quinn, Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee, and others — the X-Factor for Dallas will be the return of Dak Prescott. Quinn lost an embarrassing game to the Cowboys in 2020, so we’ll have to see if he reverts to being a top-tier defensive coordinator now that he isn’t in a head coaching role. This one should be close, just like the 2020 game.
6. Washington Football Team (Home, 10/3)
Washington still has an excellent defense, and while Taylor Heinicke may not be the most exciting option at quarterback, he gave Tom Brady and the Buccaneers the toughest game they got in all of 2020’s postseason. Chase Young, Da’Ron Payne, Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat, and others will still give any offense fits — I’m not overlooking a tough Ron Rivera squad.
5. New England Patriots (Home, 11/18)
Mac Jones may be the Patriots’ quarterback at this point, but even if they’re rolling with Cam Newton, the Patriots added a LOT of quality pieces in free agency. The Falcons are on the path of Bill Belichick being scorned by his former quarterback winning a Super Bowl, but you know every guy on this roster wants to beat him very badly. The fans feel the same way.
4. New York Giants (Away, 10/26)
The Giants may surprise some folks being as high as they are on this list, but they had a really nice offseason and were not a bad team at all in 2020. Throw in the fact that Saquon Barkley should be back healthy, and this is not a Giants team to overlook. If Dean Pees can make Daniel Jones uncomfortable, the Falcons have a much better shot at getting a win in MetLife stadium.
3. San Francisco 49ers (Away, 12/19)
In another game similar to the matchup with New England, Trey Lance could be leading Kyle Shanahan’s crew by this point in the season. Injuries played a big role in the 49ers missing the playoffs in 2020, but when healthy, they still have a fantastic defense and one of the best play-callers in the entire NFL. The Falcons barely edged out San Francisco the last time they played, and I would expect another close game in Santa Clara.
2. Miami Dolphins (Away, 10/24)
I’ve been pretty critical of Tua Tagovailoa, but this will be his first year with the reigns of this Miami offense under a new play-caller. While I’m not sure he’s a franchise quarterback, he does have one of the best rosters in the NFL around him and a fantastic coaching staff to boot. The Dolphins added Jaylen Waddle and Jaelan Phillips with their two first-round picks, and I thought both were home run selections. I fully expect the Dolphins to make the playoffs, and this will not be an easy matchup for Arthur Smith and company.
1. Buffalo Bills (Away, 1/2/2022)
This will easily be the toughest game the Falcons play all year. Before they come back home to play the Saints in their season finale, Atlanta will play in what is sure to be a frigid matchup in Buffalo against Josh Allen and Brian Daboll. I think the Bills are serious Super Bowl contenders, and playing them in front of a rowdy Buffalo crowd in January is a tall order for any team in the NFL.