If I’m the Falcons, here’s what I’m hoping: That the lockout ends Oct. 10.
According to the NFL’s just-announced schedule, they’re set to open in Chicago against a team that played for the NFC title. Then they come home to play Philadelphia, which won its division. Then they leave for Tampa Bay, which won 10 games. Then they fly to Seattle to play another division-winner. Then they come back to meet the Super Bowl champions, who came here and won by 27 points not long ago.
Six NFC teams made the playoffs last season. If the NFL opens on time, the Falcons — one of the six — will play four of the others in the first five weeks. Three of those games will be staged on the road, two of them in prime time. That’s not exactly easing into the fray.
The Falcons are scheduled to face Green Bay on Oct. 9. The rest of the way is manageable. Only three of the final 11 games will be against 2010 playoff teams (two against New Orleans, one against Indianapolis). If the Falcons can escape the first month-plus 3-2, they’ll be in great shape. Even 2-3 wouldn’t be bad. But 0-0 would be the best case scenario — if not for those of us on the outside who want to see the local team face Julius Peppers and Michael Vick and Aaron Rodgers, then surely for Mike Smith and the coaches who’d have to prepare for them.
The schedule calls for the Falcons to play one game against the NFC West this season, down from four last season. The West, which had no teams finish above .500, spent last fall propping up the South, which featured three teams that won at least 10 games. That safety net is gone.
But now for the good news: The Falcons won 13 games last season, and if they play the full 16 this time they should be good enough to win 11. That would put them back in the playoffs, probably as division champs, though maybe not as the NFC’s top seed. Which would be OK, too. As the 2010 Falcons can attest, that seeding stuff can be overrated.
By Mark Bradley