I erred egregiously in my preseason assessment of the 2010 Falcons. I had them going 12-4, winning the NFC South and playing Dallas for the NFC title. They went 13-3, won the NFC South and wouldn’t have played Dallas had they reached the NFC title game, which they didn’t. I’ll try to do better this time.
At Chicago, Sept. 11: The Bears played for the NFC title and, like the Falcons had done, lost to the Packers. Had the Falcons and Bears played in the Dome last January, the home team would have won by two touchdowns. At Soldier Field the visitor will win by one touchdown. Falcons 20, Bears 13.
Philadelphia, Sept. 18: Until they tripped over the Packers, the 2010 Falcons had been routed only once. That came in Philadelphia on a day Michael Vick didn’t play. (Kevin Kolb did, and quite well.) The Falcons keep trying to get faster, but Philly still seems too quick for them. Eagles 27, Falcons 21.
At Tampa Bay, Sept. 25: The Buccaneers won 10 games last season and have been tapped as the rising power in the NFC. But nine of those victories came against teams that finished with losing records. Meaning: Not so fast, rising power. The Falcons go to 2-0 on the road. Falcons 24, Buccaneers 17.
At Seattle, Oct. 2: Here’s where the stiff early schedule takes it toll. The Falcons are better than the Seahawks, but coming off three rough games and facing a long trip to the not-so-sunny Northwest, they’ll slip. Didn’t think they were going to win all their away games, did you? Seahawks 17, Falcons 14.
Green Bay, Oct. 9: When last they met, the Falcons came within 28 points of victory. But the Packers were hot, and the Falcons, who hadn’t played a truly rotten game all season, played a truly rotten game. That outcome has become a rallying point in Flowery Branch. It’ll show. Falcons 24, Packers 20.
Carolina, Oct. 16: We pause to assess. The Falcons have opened with five playoff teams from 2010, with three of the games on the road, and have gone 3-2. They’ll have their way with the Panthers. When last Cam Newton played in the Dome, his team won 56-17. Not this time. Falcons 56, Panthers 17.
At Detroit, Oct. 23: This is kind of a scary game. The Falcons should win, but this is another given Sunday in the NFL, and we know what that means. With Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh, the Lions have enough good players to cause some palpitations. Falcons 23, Lions 21.
At Indianapolis, Nov. 6: The Falcons come off a bye week and get Peyton Manning in his house. There was a time when this would have seemed a bridge too far. That time is gone. Peyton still’s a great player, but the Colts aren’t what they were. And the Falcons are really good. Falcons 30, Colts 21.
New Orleans, Nov. 13: When he gets done suspending players who aren’t yet pros, Roger Goodell needs to do something about this Falcons-Saints series. These games are so boring! (Yes, I’m kidding.) Last season the Falcons won there and lost here. This time will be different. Falcons 30, Saints 27.
Tennessee, Nov. 20: The Titans came close to winning a Super Bowl on this field, but that was in January 2000. Which was a while ago. Over the offseason Tennessee fired the respected Jeff Fisher and promoted assistant Mike Munchak. I’m not seeing that as any sort of upgrade. Falcons 33, Titans 10.
Minnesota, Nov. 27: Another new, yet old, quarterback for the Vikings. After the (retired-for-the-moment) Brett Favre, the Purple has turned to Donovan McNabb. He’ll do OK. The team won’t. New coach Leslie Frazier is picking up the pieces left after Brad Childress was canned. Falcons 28, Vikings 17.
At Houston, Dec. 4: Another pause for stock-taking. The Falcons are 9-2, having won seven in a row. They’re again playing for the NFC’s No. 1 seed. Here’s where the the bandwagon hits a pothole. It’s way past time for the Texans to do something, and this has to be a year of arrival. Texans 17, Falcons 16.
At Carolina, Dec. 11: A get-well game, even if it’s on the road. The Falcons will enter having won five of six against the Panthers, and nothing will happen to arrest the trend. Only questions: Will Cam be starting by then and, if not, what will Rev. Cecil Newton have to say about that? Falcons 31, Panthers 20.
Jacksonville, Dec. 15: That’s correct. For the first (but not the last) time this regular season, the Falcons won’t be playing on Sunday. This is a Thursday night game. Shame it’s not against a better opponent, though. Those who have the NFL Network will be tuning out by halftime. Falcons 41, Jaguars 14.
At New Orleans, Dec. 26: OK, here’s a non-Sunday game against a superb opponent. Falcons-Saints in that other dome on the Monday night after Christmas. In England they call Dec. 26 Boxing Day. In New Orleans they’ll remember it as the night their Saints clinched the NFC South. Saints 30, Falcons 27.
Tampa Bay, Jan. 1: No, it’s not the Rose Bowl, but this is a game of weight on New Year’s Day. The Falcons need this to clinch a wild card. They’ll get it. They’ll finish 12-4. They’ll win two playoff games and reach the NFC title game against Philly. Who’ll win then? Stay tuned. Falcons 35, Buccaneers 20.
By Mark Bradley