Most people — fans and media alike — don’t have high expectations for the Falcons in 2021. The new regime remains adamant they’re competing to win this year, refuting the “rebuild” terminology many different times. I don’t see the Falcons winning more than eight games, but I welcome the opportunity to admit I was wrong. With the Saints and Panthers uncertainty at quarterback, Matt Ryan and the Falcons could potentially slide into the Wild Card race. I don’t foresee that happening, but at what point in the season would the public begin to recognize Atlanta as true playoff contenders.
Week 2 @ Tampa Bay Buccanneers
The Falcons faithful won’t have to wait too long to measure themselves against the league’s best. The reigning Super Bowl Champions led by Tom Brady will host the Cowboys in the opening week, then will host their divisional rival Falcons. This will be the ultimate test for a first-year regime with new systems on both sides of the ball. If the Falcons were to play Tampa Bay close, it would provide unwarranted ammo. What I mean by that is if Atlanta plays Tampa close and loses by one score, Falcons fans will run with it. Wrong; for the team to convince me they’re contenders, Atlanta will have to travel south and come home with a victory.
Week 4 vs. Washington Football Team
They aren’t the high-profile contender that Tampa is, but the Washington Football Team will have an elite defense with a potentially big-play offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t going to win a Super Bowl, but he can certainly lead this loaded roster to the playoffs. It will be a great test for Arthur Smith’s offense, and Dean Pees will have his hands full defending Antonio Gibson, Curtis Samuel, Terry McLaurin, Adam Humphries, and Logan Thomas. If the Falcons come away with a close win, my eight-game ceiling won’t change. However, if Atlanta goes into Mercedez-Benz Stadium and handles Ron Rivera‘s squad, I will begin to come around.
Week 9 @ Dallas Cowboys
Much like the WFT, the Cowboys have one elite group with an up-and-coming unit opposite of them. The Dallas offense is going to be the real deal if Dak Prescott is healthy. The question will be on the defensive side of the ball for America’s Team. The Cowboys will be another good benchmark for Dean Pees’ defense in particular. If Atlanta’s defensive effort is inspiring and the team takes care of business in Arlington, I will have legit confidence in their ability.
The Bucs are a balanced team with as good of a defense as offense; WFT has an elite defense with an explosive, yet average offense; Dallas has an elite offense with a questionable defense. Each of these games will answer important questions for me, and if the Falcons somehow won all three of these, I would consider them contenders.
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