The Falcons open their season in the Steel City against the 2008 Super Bowl Champion Steelers. Obviously, this is going to be a really tough game against one of the best defenses in the NFL, especially considering the Falcons offensive struggles against 3-4 teams. Yes, it is very true that Ben Roethlisberger will not be playing and their left tackle was injured for the year, but fans shouldn’t kid themselves that this will be easy. They’ll be playing one of the best teams of the past decade and in one of the toughest environments. Of course the first game is never a must-win, but if the Birds drop this one with no QB and LT, then it will likely be a long season.
The Falcons open their season at home against the Cardinals, a team who made some of the biggest noise at the end of preseason with the release of former 1st round draft pick Matt Leinart. Derek Anderson takes over Ken Whisenhunt’s team minus Anquan Boldin, Kurt Warner, Karlos Dansby, and Antrel Rolle. The Falcons look to be favored in this game and definitely should win. The Birds have to win the games they’re supposed to and this certainly is one of those games. The new secondary will get a huge test against arguably the best receiver in football and the inclusion of Steve Breaston and Early Doucet.
This has trap game written all over it if the Falcons don’t pay attention and take the 49ers seriously. The team from San Fran will have revenge on their minds after the embarrassment they suffered at the hands of the Falcons last year, 45-10. The 49ers will likely have their defense ready to play and have arguably the best defensive player in the NFL on their side in Patrick Willis. The offense has a lot of potential with Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, and two first round draft pick offensive linemen. Quarterback play will be where the Falcons will have to show out and pressure Alex Smith or whoever is their QB. A raucous home crowd should help the Birds take this one.
Much like the Cardinals game, the Falcons need to win this one when they’re supposed to. The Browns may have an upward trajectory with Mike Holmgren taking over as president, but they’re still a few years and drafts away to getting back to respectability. Will Seneca Wallace or Jake Delhomme be the starting quarterback when the Birds travel to Cleveland? The defense will likely have its issues, but the offense may have some potential with Jerome Harrison, Mohammed Massoquoi, and Ben Watson now giving the Browns some punch. The Falcons can’t get caught looking ahead to Philadelphia and must take the Browns seriously, but this shouldn’t be a very difficult win.
Many Falcons fans hearts will want this one really bad after the embarrassment that the Eagles brought to the Georgia Dome and Atlanta last year. This is the type of game that will certainly be needed if the Falcons hope to make the leap to get to 12 or 13 wins and enter the discussion of home field advantage or first round byes. The Birds definitely can go up and beat the Eagles in Philly with no Donovan McNabb, but it will be very tough. The Eagles still have a ton of talent on defense and had another great draft class that included defensive end Brandon Graham. Kevin Kolb is the big question mark taking over and could be a star or sink as a first time starter. Regardless, the Eagles still have an unbelievable wealth of talent on offense in Desean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, and Lesean McCoy. Fans will want this one, but it might be too tough in Philadelphia.
This one might be one of the biggest battles of the season. The Cincinnati Bengals had an excellent year in 2009 and made the playoffs, only to get bounced in the first round by the New York Jets. They have some of the best offensive potential in the league with Carson Palmer having Cedric Benson, Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, and new draft picks tight end Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Shipley. They have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league and an improving defense. This will be one of the toughest battles for the Falcons and thankfully they get the Bengals at home in Dome. This one might go either way, but the Falcons need this one.
It took the Falcons 59 minutes to beat, at the time hapless, Buccaneers in the Georgia Dome. The Falcons won the game at the very end in which the Birds could have suffered a major disaster in their 2009 campaign. New quarterback Josh Freeman made the Falcons look silly and their defensive end injured Matt Ryan what turned out to be several games. The Bucs seemingly had a good draft class and added to an already good defense. The Birds better not take them lightly, but questions still remain on Raheem Morris being the right head coach for Tampa Bay. Atlanta’s got to take care of business, and it shouldn’t take 59 minutes.
This will be the much anticipated match-up between Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco and two teams that are on the upswing. The Ravens have made the playoffs in consecutive years and embarrassed the Patriots last year to move to the divisional round in the playoffs last season. They have one of the best and most versatile running backs in Ray Rice powering behind an excellent offensive line and they finally added a huge weapon in Anquan Boldin. And we’re not even talking about the always stellar defense, another 3-4 team, led by future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. This will be a battle royale on national television on Thursday Night Football on NFL Network. The Birds do get this one in the Dome, but the Ravens are a little farther along than the Falcons.
The Rams have their number one quarterback and have attempted to upgrade their offensive and defensive lines. Like the Browns and Buccaneers, the Rams might finally be on their way up, but are still a good ways towards regaining their status in the NFC. The Falcons simply have to take care of business against an opponent that they should beat. The newly revamped Falcons defense should make this game not very close and the offense should be able to put up a good amount of points. A game where the Falcons must win to be contenders in the NFC South and NFC.
Many are picking the Packers to go all the way to the NFC title game and possibly even compete for the whole thing. There’s good reasons for the optimism. The Packers field one of the best quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers and a plethora of weapons that make up one of the best passing attacks in the NFL. The change to the 3-4 was a huge success fielding a superb linebacking corps and one of the leagues top corners in Charles Woodson. They beefed up their OL and DL in the draft and are looking to erase the bad memory of losing to Arizona in overtime in the playoffs. The Birds can certainly win this one, but the Packers offense might be too much.
The Birds return to the place where they erased the ridiculous back-to-back curse forever. The Bucs could be a sleeper team this season or could be on the end of a bad season and will be in search of new coach. Either way, the Falcons must win here on the road against the Bucs. All NFC South teams defend their turf very well so it surely won’t be easy, but the Falcons are simply better than Tampa Bay and have to prove it.
Many fans will probably disagree here, but the Falcons must prove that they can win consistently on the road in the NFC South. Like the Buccaneers, the Panthers could be having a turnaround year or in search of a new coach themselves. The Falcons should win this game, but they haven’t proven they can go on the road in the NFC South and win ones they should. The Panthers have one of the best running back tandems in football in Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart and of course one of the best receivers in Falcons killer Steve Smith. If Jimmy Clausen’s in at QB, then the Falcons absolutely should win, but Matt Moore was superb at the end of last year and might be a lot better than many realize. The Falcons should win, but like last year they may come up a little short.
Some are thinking the Seahawks could be a surprise team or they could be a complete trainwreck. Many fans were looking to get a crack at former coach Jim Mora Jr., but beating slimy Pete Carroll, who oozed out of town just before sanctions rained down at USC, will be as much or more fun. Inexplicably, Carroll is going with the Steve Spurrier-NFL strategy in bringing back all his USC boys. They cut one of their best players in TJ Houshmandzadeh and are primed for a weak year even with a pretty solid draft class. Quarterback issues, running back issues, and wide receiver issues could spell a disaster for the Seahawks. Surely the Birds can’t overlook Seattle, but this one should be easy.
The Falcons nearly stole a game from the Saints at home with Chris Redman and Jason Snelling in tow last season and will probably need a split with the Saints to make the playoffs as a wild-card if they can’t win the division. A team that’s 9-5, at least according to these predictions, will have to win these next two and the playoffs are definitely on the line. The Falcons will prevail in the Dome against the defending champs this time.
The playoffs may still be in limbo with the Panthers coming to town in the season finale. After failing to win in Carolina, the Falcons will definitely stamp their ticket to the playoffs with a rousing win over the Panthers at home. Although the Birds may not get to 12 or 13 wins as they desire, a return to the playoffs will be considered a huge success. This time they have to actually make some noise in the postseason.
So 11-5….too low or too high? Its very tempting to pick the Birds to get to 12 wins with the talent on offense, Matt Ryan entering his 3rd year, and the defense looking to be markedly better. But as evidenced in the preseason, the Falcons will have to prove that their offense can take the next step and fans haven’t seen that at all in limited action in preseason. There are a couple of games the Birds should win (Eagles, Panthers), but will have to show that they have taken the next step towards being elite. A return to the playoffs has to be considered a success, but will have to make some noise in the playoffs this time around. The Falcons might still be a year and needed consistency away from making a deep and serious run.