Good news: The team is accustomed to its coaches, and vice versa. Bad news: The schedule is much more difficult. Good news: The defense is faster. Bad news: The defense is younger. What will it all mean for the 2009 Falcons? Something like this:
Miami, Sept. 13: The first pass of Matt Ryan’s first season went for a touchdown. The second pass of his second season will do likewise. This won’t become a negative until he’s as old as George Blanda. Falcons 27, Dolphins 17.
Carolina, Sept. 20: Here’s what we private detectives call a red herring. The Panthers come to the Dome, exploit the Falcons’ remade secondary and lay early claim to the NFC South title. Panthers 23, Falcons 17.
At New England, Sept. 27: Speaking of an exploited secondary, here come Messrs. Brady and Moss and Welker, and there go 41 big fat points up on the ol’ Foxborough scoreboard. Patriots 41, Falcons 14.
At San Francisco, Oct. 11: The Falcons come off their bye and begin to put things right. And didn’t the annual trip to San Fran used to be a nightmare? What happened to the Niners, anyway? Falcons 30, 49ers 17.
Chicago, Oct. 18: New quarterback in Chi, as you’ve doubtless heard. Won’t matter. The Bears still haven’t gotten over those final 11 seconds from last season, and now Jason Elam does it again. Falcons 23, Bears 20.
At Dallas, Oct. 25: Not much in-between with the Cowboys. Depending on the observer, Dallas is either a Super Bowl team or NFL’s the most overrated club. It won’t look overrated this day. Cowboys 28, Falcons 20.
At New Orleans, Nov. 2: When last the Falcons played on Monday night in the Superdome, they were overwhelmed in the Katrina Game. They won’t be overwhelmed this time. They won’t win, either. Saints 31, Falcons 24.
Washington, Nov. 8: The Falcons are under .500 and are 0-2 in the NFC South, which makes this a gut check. It will also be the game on which the season turns. Defense starts to grow up. Falcons 31, Redskins 14.
At Carolina, Nov. 15: The Falcons weren’t better than the Panthers in September, but they are now. They’ll win a massive road game and serve notice that the division title is still within their reach. Falcons 23, Panthers 17.
At New York Giants, Nov. 22: Boy, the schedule just won’t let up, will it? The Falcons give the NFC’s best team a royal scare, but the noise and the cold and the opponent prove too tough. Giants 24, Falcons 20.
Tampa Bay, Nov. 29: Don’t look now, but the schedule is about to ease, just in time. The Falcons nose back above .500 with a comprehensive win over the club that dumped Jon Gruden. Falcons 30, Buccaneers 14.
Philadelphia, Dec. 6: Let’s assume this one’s sold out. Let’s assume this gets moved to Sunday night. Let’s assume Michael Vick not only plays but scores the winning touchdown. Eagles 27, Falcons 24.
New Orleans, Dec. 13: It’s starting to coalesce — offense, defense, Mike Smith’s pregame speech. The Falcons bear only slight resemblance to the team of September, and that’s good! Falcons 33, Saints 20.
At New York Jets, Dec. 20: Back to the Meadowlands for a much easier assignment. The Jets are OK, but they’re not the Giants. And the Falcons, bang on cue, are really rumbling. Falcons 23, Jets 14.
Buffalo, Dec. 27: Confetti drops from the ceiling two days after Christmas. The Falcons clinch a second consecutive winning season for the first time ever. Only took 43 years. Falcons 30, Bills 17.
At Tampa Bay, Jan. 3: Two days after Georgia wins the Outback Bowl in Raymond James Stadium, the Falcons win the NFC South. They finish 10-6 and head to the playoffs. Wasn’t easy, though. Falcons 28, Buccaneers 13.