The Atlanta Falcons have unveiled their 2017 season schedule, and we’ve got an in-depth look at what we think the think the team will do with this new slate of games.
We were one game off in 2016 – predicting a 10-6 record in an 11-5 year, but we had no clue the team would crack off a historic offense and a Super Bowl run (though one that came up short).
In 2017, how do we think the team will do? Let’s take a look.
WEEK ONE – AT CHICAGO
THE OPPONENT: The Chicago Bears are, quite frankly, not a very good football team right now. They are still tinkering at the QB position, with Mike Glennon, a former backup who’s unproven as a full-time starter, behind center. Their offense has holes that still need to be filled (namely WR1 after losing Alshon Jeffery to the Eagles), and their defense is a high/low variable unit that still needs major work in the secondary and on the defensive line. Will they have a dramatic turnaround in John Fox’s third season? No clue. But, right now, they’re not, on paper, an intimidating unit, even at home. Though, OLBs Pernell McPhee and Leonard Floyd are the major disrupters on defense, and should be respected by offenses around the league. Talented LBs Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, both missing time in 2016, will also get a chance to play together, perhaps, for a full season. Also, Promising young RB Jordan Howard enters his second season with the franchise.
THE VERDICT: The Falcons will obviously have a major chip on their shoulder entering the season. Their last time on the football field in the Super Bowl will long be remembered as a franchise low for fans, but this team is too talented, tight and well-coached to suffer a major Super Bowl slide. They shouldn’t struggle too much against a Chicago team who likely will be trying to forge a new identity when the season begins. It’s an opportune first opponent to help Atlanta get the season started off right, though it delays the official home opener for Mercedes-Benz Stadium by a week. Chalk it up as a win for Atlanta, though the offensive line will need to be alert for McPhee and Floyd.
WEEK TWO V. GREEN BAY
THE OPPONENT: After dropping the NFC Championship to the Falcons in January, the Green Bay Packers will likely be looking to repay the favor in September when they make their way down to the opening regular season night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Falcons’ first game back on Sunday Night Football since 2013 will see them take on a Packers team that is a bit of a question mark in 2017. No one can doubt the greatness of QB Aaron Rodgers, who played some of his best football in the second half of 2016, but there are questions on both sides of the ball. The offensive line lost G T.J. Lang to Detroit, and the defense has major questions in the secondary and linebacking core. They also lost veteran pass rusher Julius Peppers. As long as they have Rodgers, the Packers will be contenders. But, they are contenders who look ahead to 2017, arguably unsure of what’s coming their way.
THE VERDICT: The Green Bay Packers will be hungry to avenge their two losses to the Falcons last year, and we predict the Falcons will be riding high after a nice win against Chicago in Week One. The game is in primetime, where the Falcons have found an unsung swagger under head coach Dan Quinn. The focus will be more on the stadium than the game that night, and despite a strong push from Green Bay, we expect Atlanta to open their stadium with a win. The Green Bay secondary, even with an influx of draft talent, could still be on unsure footing on what to do with Julio Jones and the various weapons the Falcons have at their disposal on offense. It’ll certainly be close, but the Falcons should be able to notch their first win in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on the first at-bat.
WEEK THREE AT DETROIT
THE OPPONENT: The Detroit Lions are a difficult group to gauge. QB Matthew Stafford, the team’s best player and thermostat of quality, was great in 2016 until he wasn’t due to injury, and as went Stafford, so went the Lions. HC Jim Caldwell hasn’t done poorly at all in his second head coaching stint, with pieces on both sides of the ball. They’re an incomplete team, with needs in the running game, passing game, linebacking core, pass rush and secondary. But, they were good enough to finish 9-7 in 2016, near-champions of the NFC North. If Stafford gets back to his pre-injury self, the Lions will be a tough out in 2017. RB Zach Zenner could be poised for a breakout year, particularly with the improvements on the offensive line (see RG T.J. Lang, RT Ricky Wagner).
THE VERDICT: The Falcons get their second road game out of the way early in Detroit, who shouldn’t be a tough obstacle for the explosive Falcons offense. They will score, but it’ll be up to the Falcons defense to get pressure on Stafford, which will be tougher with an improved blocking unit. Containing Zenner will also be important, arguably the best non QB/OL player on offense. It will be closer than Falcons fans would hope it to be, but the Falcons should earn a hard-fought win here.
WEEK FOUR – V. BUFFALO BILLS
THE OPPONENT: The Buffalo Bills are another strange team to zero in on. There is obvious talent on the roster, with RB LeSean McCoy coming off a strong year (now with former Falcons FB Patrick DiMarco to block for him) and the defense with top-tier DT Marcel Dareus and rising CB Ronald Darby in tow. Young players DE Shaq Lawson and LB Reggie Ragland also stand to make their impact in their second years. New HC Sean McDermott will likely try to build the Carolina of the north – with QB Tyrod Taylor having flashed strong potential. OC Rick Dennison, a sharp mind, calling the plays will help the offense not rely so heavily on McCoy. But, still, this is not a team that has been to the playoffs in quite some time, and Buffalo typically reaches highs and lows during the year that show a team that truly lies somewhere in the middle. The question is – who will the Falcons see?
THE VERDICT: The Falcons squeaked out a victory against Buffalo the last time they met in Toronto in 2013, but they’ll need to watch Taylor and McCoy in the second home stand at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Bills aren’t a scary team, but they’re not a bad team either. This should be a good win for Atlanta to get started out 4-0 on the year, but Buffalo will be a tougher out in 2017 than some will expect them to be.
WEEK FIVE – BYE
WEEK SIX – V. MIAMI DOLPHINS
THE OPPONENT: The Miami Dolphins could be on the cusp of something big. In his second year, HC Adam Gase is on the verge of nipping at the Patriots’ heels in the NFC East. The Dolphins should be a popular Wild Card pick in the AFC in 2017. QB Ryan Tannehill has played some of his best football under Gase, and RB Jay Ajayi emerged on the scene in his second year in the league. The WR core is talented (Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker), though the offensive line is still a work-in-progress. On defense, the team has monster DT Ndamukong Suh, but still needs help in the pass rush and in the secondary. The Dolphins will be good in 2017. How good has yet to be determined.
THE VERDICT: The Falcons have played well after the bye week in Quinn’s tenure, and it might come at a good time here, with the Dolphins notorious Falcons killers over the last few years. Miami got the best of the fledgling 2013 Falcons crew and have spiked panic in Falconland the last two years in the pre-season after thorough spankings before the seasons have stared. The Dolphins are a physical team with Suh on defense, and they’re dramatically-improved on offense under Gase. We don’t like this game without a bye just as a bad matchup for the Falcons, but the extra rest should be the key to helping Atlanta get the best of a tough Dolphins squad.
WEEK SEVEN – AT NEW ENGLAND
THE OPPONENT: Well, you know about the Patriots. The Super Bowl champs, who snatched happiness from the Falcons in this past February’s big game, will forever be the top dogs of the NFL as long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are doing their thing. The team continues to churn their roster, with new additions WR Brandin Cooks, CB Stephon Gilmore and DE Kony Ealy joining the Pats to terrorize teams. The team maintains its core positions, and could stand to be even better in 2017. Brady shows no signs of aging, and Belichick’s mind is as sharp as ever. The only thing that will ever truly slow this team down will be Father Time finally catching up with the bombastic Bs, but then again, if any duo could outsmart Father Time, it’d be Brady and Belichick.
THE VERDICT: One of the marquee games of the season, the Falcons will be looking to avenge their Super Bowl loss and prove to the league they can beat the best once and for all. But, expect this rematch to be far-closer for four quarters than the last game was. If the game were in Atlanta, we’d be tempted to grant Atlanta their due revenge, but in Foxboro, it’ll be tough to take down the champs. It’ll be a clash of the titans that goes about the way you’d expect a game against New England to go. Better luck next time.
WEEK EIGHT – AT NEW YORK JETS
THE OPPONENT: This Jets team is in need of a new model. HC Todd Bowles started his tenure in the Big Apple off right with a surprising Jets team that completely and totally fell apart in 2016. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t match his 2015 play and ended up on a carousel of quarterbacks that led to great instability on the offensive side of the ball. Key playmaking WR Brandon Marshall and longtime C Nick Mangold are no longer with the Jets, and nobody on the offense truly stands out right now as a game-changer. On defense, they have pieces in DE Muhammad Wilkerson, DT Leonard Williams and OLB Lorenzo Mauldin, but their secondary is depleted and their LB core is a mix of young-and-unproven and proven-but-aging. They’re still trying to figure it out, and a total rebuild just might be what’s needed to get these Jets back in the sky. Watch for talented DT Sheldon Richardson to potentially be on the move in the coming days or weeks.
THE VERDICT: The Falcons, quite frankly, get a nice break here after a predicted road loss to New England. They are a far-superior team, and as long as they can play a good game against Wilkerson and Williams in the middle, they should skate out of Meadowlands with a victory. And, it won’t be winter, so weather shouldn’t be an issue (unless it rains).
WEEK NINE – AT CAROLINA
THE OPPONENT: The Panthers fell off the map after an incredible 2015 season, with QB Cam Newton taking a step back due to an injured offensive line, struggles in the receiving core and his own struggles with accuracy. The defense showed the loss of CB Josh Norman, with WR Julio Jones posting up a 300 yard performance against their Norman-less cornerback stable. In 2017, they will venture with new pieces (LT Matt Khalil, CB Captain Munnerlyn and DE Julius Peppers among them), but without DC Sean McDermott, which could be a sneaky loss. Newton’s play will dictate how Carolina does. If he regains his 2015 form, the Panthers could be an interesting team. If he falters, this is not a worrisome bunch. They could head to the NFC South basement if Newton cannot improve his form.
THE VERDICT: The Falcons have won three straight against Carolina after that embarrassing road loss in 2015, but their first division game of 2017 will be a hard grind. They ran past the Panthers in the last road victory, so it’s hard to truly tell how this one will go. The Falcons could sweep Carolina in 2017 if Newton plays like he did in 2016, but if he plays like he did in 2015, it’s an entirely different situation. It’s hard to tell, but color me a bit skeptical the Falcons can withstand Carolina for a fourth-consecutive match-up. Atlanta would be the better team, but we could see Carolina stealing one here.
WEEK TEN – V. DALLAS COWBOYS
THE OPPONENT: The Dallas Cowboys feel more like the Carolina Panthers as each and every day goes by. They came out of nowhere to claim the number one seed in the NFC, only to come up short in the playoffs. QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott, coupled with Dallas’ intimidating offensive line, were a marvel to watch. The young QB unseated QB Tony Romo for the staring gig, but he’s heading into his sophomore season, where young QBs have been setback before. The Dallas offense isn’t as much of a question as the defense is, which lost a lot of talent to free agency. Rod Marinelli worked wonders with that unit in 2016, but can they continue? Right now, it’d be foolish to bet against America’s team, though whether or not they can once again dominate the regular season is entirely fair game.
THE VERDICT: The Falcons have been a good primetime team under Quinn, and we see them posting up a battle-tested win against the ‘Boys. WR Julio Jones should be fed eagerly here, with Dallas’ secondary a huge concern on their roster at the moment. Dallas will score points, but Atlanta should be able to “Defend the Benz” if they play to where expectations see them being in 2017. Obviously, rattling a young QB is vital, so a good pass rush that night won’t hurt.
WEEK ELEVEN – AT SEATTLE
THE OPPONENT: The Seattle Seahawks have been a spot of a little drama this off-season, with trade talks concerning CB Richard Sherman dominating their headlines. The trade is unlikely, but it could signal a Seattle team that stares the end of an era coming down the pike soon. The Legion of Boom is still talented, but is aging, along with the rest of its decade-great defense. The offense is still a mess on its offensive line. Eddie Lacy adds to a crowded field at running back, while the receiving core remains intact. The Seahawks will need QB Russell Wilson to continue his Hall of Fame career with the same fire, as he’s the Seahawks’ driving force. They’re still an aggressively talented bunch on defense, and they’ve only lost two non-division games at home since 2012 (vs. Dallas in 2014, vs. Carolina in 2015). But, the clock ticks for all, and 2017 could be our first glimpse at a Seahawks team fighting its toughest opponent yet – the idea that all good things must come to an end.
THE VERDICT: The Falcons defeated the Seahawks at home with flying colors in the divisional round of the playoffs after losing a controversial first 2016 outing. Can the Falcons outlast the Seahawks in their nest and become only the third non-NFC West team to notch a regular season win there since 2012? It’s hard to tell. The Falcons will have to play a top-to-bottom great game to best the Seahawks at their house, and after a hard-fought Dallas game, can they win a second-straight primetime game (this one on Monday)? Again, no one can know. It’s a coin flip. Right now, reason says no, with Seattle able to steal another close one. Location is the key here.
WEEK TWELVE – V. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
THE OPPONENT: One of the popular NFC playoff picks in 2017 will be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs put it together in the second half of 2016, though they could not secure a Wild Card spot. They’ve added some solid talent to their roster, with WR DeSean Jackson and DE Chris Baker legitimate names who can cause problems for opponents. WR Mike Evans continues his ascension in the league as a top-flight WR, and QB Jameis Winston has flashed strong play in his topsy-turvy career so far. The defense has plenty of talent with DT Gerald McCoy, OLB Kwon Alexander and LB Lavonte David. The Bucs are the Falcons’ biggest threat to the NFC South crown, but can they finally bridge the gap to fulfill the expectations that have been placed on them in the past? The unsure offensive line and secondary could hold them back.
THE VERDICT: The Falcons went 1-1 against the Buccaneers in 2016, and the same will happen in 2017. Though, the location will be changed. The Falcons should be able to close the deal against Tampa Bay at home in round one of their games, but expect it to be a chippy series, as all division games are.
WEEK THIRTEEN – V. MINNESOTA VIKINGS
THE OPPONENT: The Minnesota Vikings had a similar season to the 2015 Falcons – hot start, dramatic collapse. The team’s offense, led by QB Sam Bradford, did its best to withstand a lacking offensive line, a stunted running game and a lack of playmakers in the passing game. Bradford did his best, but the offense in Minnesota fell apart. The defense has obvious talent, from OLB Anthony Barr to DT Linval Joseph, but they alone cannot carry the Vikings back to the playoffs. HC Mike Zimmer is a smart guy and a great leader, but he needs more from his team in 2017 if they’re to be a competitive group.
THE VERDICT: The Falcons can avenge their 2015 loss to Minnesota here. The Vikings don’t have the offensive firepower to keep up with the Falcons, while Minnesota’s defense will do its darndest to slow Atlanta down. At home after a tough loss to the Seahawks and a tough win against the Bucs, the Falcons will be hungry to right the ship. They can very easily.
WEEK FOURTEEN – V. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
THE OPPONENT: Gross. The New Orleans Saints, despised rivals of our Falcons, have tried to put together a new defense over the last few seasons, with DT Nick Fairley far-and-above the best thing to come out of their recent moves. Their offense needs no defending – QB Drew Brees still plays like Drew Brees, and he’s got talent around him and a very solid offensive line. What will they do to further improve their defense, and will it work? That’s the big question surrounding the Saints for 2017. If they get better on defense and maintain consistency on offense, things could get even more interesting in the NFC South. They’re always a hard out with Brees, but the QB is 38, and doesn’t seem to possess the longevity of a Brady. Is this the final year of the Sean Peyton/Brees era of New Orleans, or is this Saints team primed for one more strong push with the old guard?
THE VERDICT: The Falcons should be able to sweep the Saints in 2017. It’s a risky thing to say, but we feel confident that after Atlanta’s primetime Superdome win in 2016, the Falcons now possess the ability to go 2-0 against New Orleans, even when the Saints are marching on offense. At home for a Thursday night game, look for an emotional, scrappy bout, with the Falcons out on top. They’re the better team, and should have no problems getting hyped up to take on their division rival.
WEEK FIFTEEN – AT TAMPA BAY
THE VERDICT: The Bucs should be improved enough to get a close win against Atlanta.
WEEK SIXTEEN – AT NEW ORLEANS
THE VERDICT: Get out the brooms. The Falcons sweep the Saints for a second consecutive year, though this one will be a brawl.
WEEK SEVENTEEN – V. CAROLINA
THE VERDICT: The Falcons close out their first season in Mercedes-Benz in style, sticking it to the Panthers, and claiming their best regular season record since 2012.
FINAL REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 12-4
THE FINAL VERDICT: The Falcons have steadily improved their record since the 2013 – two games between 2013 and 2014, two games between 2014 and 2015 and three games between 2015 and 2016. We’ll factor in a one game bump here for a Falcons team that is sounder on both sides of the ball. They’ll lose a handful, but they’ll have a strong season that proves Dan Quinn’s plan for this program is one that can sustain itself for years to come.
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