First, let me say thanks for this opportunity to guest write for my esteemed colleague formerly of Clayton County. As a fellow alumni of Jonesboro High School (shout out HD83), I can only say things have gone downhill.
So, it’s my privilege to break down the 2013 schedule, one of my favorite parts of the season. Evaluating every team that we’ll play is fun, but before that, let’s look at some interesting facts about the schedule.
1. The Falcons play 5 nationally televised games this year. The most I can ever remember and though I couldn’t confirm, I’m willing to bet the most in franchise history. They will play two Monday Night Football (MNF) games against the Jets on Oct 7th and in San Francisco on Dec 23rd. They also scored two Sunday Night Football (SNF) games against the Patriots on Sep 4th and at the Packers on Dec 14th. Finally, they have one Thursday Night Football (TNF) game when they host the Saints on Nov 21st.
2. The Falcons will spend 4 straight weeks at home from week 4 to week 7, though week 6 is a Bye.
3. They only play back-to-back road games twice this year: at the Cardinals and at the Panthers in weeks 8 and 9; then at the Bills and at the Packers in weeks 13 and 14. This is a much better travel schedule than last year when the Falcons had zero back-to-back games at home or on the road.
4. They have one short week with the TNF game against the Saints following a Sunday game in Tampa Bay. So that’s a tough match coming off will likely be a tough game in Tampa, but at least we are at home for the short week.
5. Other than the BYE week which follows the first MNF game, the other MNF game (in San Francisco) is followed at home against the Panthers. This is a tough game against the NFC Champions on the west coast, only to turn around and travel home for a short week to prep for a division rival.
6. Travel is not too bad with only the San Francisco and Cardinals games being out west, though Green Bay in mid-December could be a bit cold.
7. The Falcons will play a total of 10 games inside with the Dolphins, Panthers, Bucs, Bills, Packers, and 49ers being outdoors.
Next, let’s examine how the games are arrayed in terms of trying to map a way to the playoffs. Though recent history has shown that you can make the playoffs with 9 or even 8 wins, most hold to the belief that 10 wins pretty much guarantees you a spot and 11 or 12 should lock up the division. Of the 16 games, the Falcons play 6 in their own division (2 each against the Saints, Panthers, and Bucs). If you win all 6, you can take the division to the bank. At a minimum, you better win 3 and more likely 4 to have decent playoff hopes.
The Falcons have a total of 12 conference games in the NFC. The 6 we just talked about plus 4 from the NFC West (Cards, Rams, Seahawks, and 49ers). Now that may seem tough with the Hawks and 49ers, but remember our entire division has to play them as well. If you can win 3 of 4 here, to go with 4 of 6 from above, you have 7 of the 10 wins you need.
The NFC South also matches up with the AFC East this year. So we all get to play the Pats, Bills, Jets, and Dolphins. Win 3 of these 4 (specifically Bills, Jets, and Dolphins) and you now have your 10 wins. However, if the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins are easy for our Birds, then they are as well for the Saints, et. al.
So that brings you to the last two games to make up the 12 from the NFC. These are the only games that will differ on our rival’s schedules. We get the Packers and Skins while the Saints drew the Cowboys and Bears. The Bucs got the Eagles and the Lions and the Panthers drew the Giants and the Vikings. In theory, since these games are based on where you finished the previous year, we drew the 2 hardest games, but teams change every year and match ups always play an important role.
The point I leave you with is this: winning 4 of 6 in the division is a must (we didn’t last year going 3-3, but we won every other game). Follow that with 3 of 4 from the AFC East and NFC West and you have 10 wins. Then split the Packers and Skins and you make it to 11 and an easy playoff berth. 11 wins could also win the division but not home field advantage throughout.
Of special note, we often debate in the Cage about “this game is huge” vs. others who say, “It’s just a game, they all count the same”. Actually, they don’t all count the same. Without going through every procedure (http://www.nfl.com/standings/tiebreakingprocedures), the basic order for tie-breakers is head-to-head, games within the division, games in common, and games within the conference. So in terms of tiebreakers, all the games within the conference are more important than the AFC games. In other words, if I can go 12-4 let me win all NFC games at the cost of the AFC games.
The Falcons have seen a mixed bag on opening day during the Smitty, TD, Ryan era. They beat Detroit in 2008 34-21, beat Miami in 2009 19-7, then lost to Pittsburgh in 2010 9-15 (the day we saw the beginning of Turner’s end), lost to Chicago in 2011 12-30. Last year, they rebounded to beat Kansas City 40-24. I think that last year was a better representation of where this team is going. It was the first real shift to a pass-first team. The first game of 2013 is against the hated Saints in their house. The story line will be all about the Saints so get ready for that.
All ESPN and the NFL Network will want to talk about is the return of Payton (who Jimbo73 seems to think I look like… sigh) already has the pundits picking the Saints for a glorious comeback. Payton is a hell of a coach, especially when he’s allowed to cheat… and Drew Brees is an elite QB, but I saw the Falcons get better this offseason and the Saints continue to regress. Their defense was bad last year and likely could be worse this year. They added to their secondary, but ask Trufant how hard it is to cover JJ11. Add in the running game of Stephen Jackson and I see the Falcons (on a mission) beating the Saints handily. This will remind folks of the Denver or San Diego games from last year. Falcons 34 Saints 13 (1-0)
The Rams were a mediocre team last year and not much will change this year. They did add Jake Long, Jared Cook, and traded up for Tavon Austin in an attempt to help Sam Bradford. We’ll see how that pans out, but I’m not sure Sam will ever live up to his first round pick. Regardless, they did nothing to bolster their running game when Stephen Jackson came to the Falcons. So you can expect to see our D sitting on the passing game (which is what we try to do anyway). While the St, Louis D is better than the Saint’s D, Atlanta showed last year against the toughest defenses that they can and will score (Seahawks and 49ers).
Unlike those two games, I can’t see Bradford leading a comeback even with an improved line and some new targets. Finally, let’s not forget what this game likely means for SJax39. Playing against his old team in his new nest will be tons of motivation and I expect he has an epic game… likely NFC rushing award for the week. Therein lays my only fear. Smitty needs to stay with the pass and let SJax39 get his as an afterthought. Don’t lean so heavy to the run that you give away the game or even let the Rams stick around. In the end, Matty Ice and JJ11 will blow the roof of the dome. Falcons 28 – Rams 6 (2-0)
The Dolphins may be trying for the moniker of 2013 Dream Team. They brought in a ton of veterans like Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson, Dustin Keller, and even our Tyson Clabo on offense. On defense, they grabbed Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe. The Falcons also brought in Osi and SJax39, but those two compared to the 7 or 8 medium to big names the Dolphins signed is a pretty big difference. At the end of the day, most teams live or die with their QB, and I still can’t put my faith in Ryan Tannehill.
His rookie season wasn’t horrific, but even if we conceded that it was adequate, most QBs regress in year 2 (a theme we’ll see this year). Matt Ryan’s worst year was his second as was Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, and others. I’m not claiming to understand the phenomenon, but I also don’t get the Madden curse. Just don’t let Matt Ryan anywhere near it. Regardless of whether you believe in the sophomore slump, the Dolphins are a mediocre team much like the Rams and the type of tem the falcons must beat to get to the post season. Falcons 31 – Dolphins 17 (3-0)
The Pats come to town for the 2nd big game of the season. Say what you want about their TEs Gronkowski and Hernandez, but after training camp, 4 preseason games, and 3 regular season games, the Pats and Tom Brady will have figured their offense out by now. Mat Ryan, regardless of what some will say plays rather well in big games during the regular season (Baltimore in 2010, Broncos 2012, and Cowboys 2012).
The last time the Falcons beat the Patriots was 1998… Could this be the next time the birds win on their way to their 2nd Super Bowl? Unfortunately not. I’d love to circle this game as the coronation of Matt Ryan surpassing Tom Brady as he begins his decline, but I think coaching will win this game. Frankly, how could you even begin to compare Smitty to Belichick? It’s not even Luke against Yoda… it’s like Jar Jar Binx against Yoda. Anyway, the Birds will fly high in the first half only to lose to Tom Terrific in the end. Patriots 34 – Falcons 27 (3-1)
As does the rest of the country, I am subjected to the musings of two idiots we know as Mike and Mike on ESPN. I hate it, but there’s not much to choose from if you want to catch up on the world of sports in the morning. However, listening to these two windbags should have convinced you of at least two things. First, the Irish are the most overrated team in college football. Second, the New York Jets are the Atlanta Hawks of football… maybe worse. The Jets stink from the front office to the field. The few decent players that they do have receive little to zero coaching from that moron Rex “Kardashian” Ryan.
The Falcons are a better team from top to bottom and the Jets will be trying to figure out if Geno Smith can be their next QB. From what I saw from him during and after the draft, he may not mentally make it to this game. If Osi can get to him once in the 1st half, look for at least 3 INTs following. Another game the Falcons should win, especially if they want home field advantage. More importantly, don’t subject us to a week of Greeney cheering a win over our beloved Birds. Monday night, after a loss… Atlanta wins big. Falcons 41 – Jets 13 (4-1)
This is Part 1 of Coop’s Guest Post. Part 2 will come next week. Feel free to bring your predictions, or you can wait until our Annual Season Prediction Competition in a few weeks.
Special thanks to Coop for awesome post!!!! We would love to have you write a guest post on anything regarding the Falcons (game wrap-ups, position / player analysis, pre-game matchups, etc.) If you’re interested in writing a guest post, please email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org
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