ATLANTA,GA- The Atlanta Falcons are just two days away from their season opener against a tough division rival in the New Orleans Saints. Many Georgia-based fans are expecting the Falcons to at least make the playoffs and possibly a Super Bowl appearance for the future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez.
Allow me to divert your attention from the NFL for a moment to draw a quick parallel. The Georgia Bulldogs and the Falcons both suffered a heart wrenching loss while nearing the precipice of the end zone. The Georgia Bulldogs had their plates full with the inspirational Tajh Boyd, and a Clemson Tiger team that managed to squeak out a victory over Les Miles’ LSU Tigers. Now, the Falcons are facing an equal challenge. The emotionally ecstatic Drew Brees and a pissed off Sean Peyton. This year the Saints will play like they have something to prove even if the sentiment is self-fabricated.
Making that comparison, one may think that I might have the Falcons not winning the NFC South this year. With the Carolina Panthers stacking their defense and Tampa Bay’s acquisition of Darrelle Revis, the Falcons cannot afford to let Matt Bryant decide the fate of almost half their wins or losses this season.
Here is a quick rundown of my take on the Atlanta Falcons season.
At New Orleans Saints (L)
Since Matt Ryan has taken the reins as quarterback for the Falcons, his win percentage against the Saints sits at about 30 percent. With all of the dangers listed above I think this game comes down to whoever has the ball last and I am predicting that will be Drew Brees & company. Saints win 28-21.
Hosting St. Louis Rams (W)
Jeff Fisher is a good head coach and I believe the Rams will have a winning season. However, expect Steven Jackson to take out some of his residual anger on the team that had him run straight into stone walls made of stout linebackers for years. Falcons win 30-21.
At Miami Dolphins (W)
The receiving corps of the Falcons is too talented to be contained by the Dolphins secondary even though the Dolphins front seven looks promising this year. Falcons win 17-14.
Hosting New England Patriots (W)
The loss of Tom Brady’s most valuable targets will take a toll but Brady will eventually get back to form and turn those rookie wide receivers into Pro Bowlers this year. This will not happen by the fourth game of the season though. Falcons win a close shootout 35-34.
Hosting New York Jets (W)
The Jets are going to play at the Georgia Dome while being hosted nationally on ESPN? With or without Mark Sanchez at the helm, this game is a highlight reel in the making. The Falcons steamroll the Jets 38-17, most of the Jets’ points will come in garbage time.
Whew, three weeks of whooping on the AFC East sure works up a sweat.
Hosting Tampa Bay Buccaneers (L)
If Doug Martin is healthy and still running wild I think this game comes down to the corners and their ability to cover each other’s big play receivers. I think Atlanta drops the big play here and suffers another heart wrenching loss after a great win streak. Tampa Bay wins 20-17.
At Arizona Cardinals (W)
I haven’t been convinced that Carson Palmer can get the job done ever since I saw him go down with that knee injury so many years ago. I do however respect Larry Fitzgerald with a half-decent quarterback though. The defense hasn’t shown me enough to give me a second thought. Falcons win 24-14.
At Carolina Panthers (W)
Cam Newton is going to have his hands full this season. I think the Falcons’ defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has spent all offseason game planning for quarterbacks like Newton and Colin Kaepernick. Falcons win their first division game in overtime 23-20.
Hosting Seattle Seahawks (W)
One of the toughest matchups the Falcons will face this season. Both of these teams are equally talented and mimic each other with very good balance. In last year’s playoffs the Falcons were able to gash this team with Michael Turner. Now the Falcons have acquired a running back equally as talented but with greater downhill speed. Expect Jackson to be the difference maker here in this close game. Falcons win 24-21.
At Tampa Bay Buccaneers (W)
At this point in the season I am counting on a few injuries to both teams, and the Falcons have done a fairly good job at staying healthy, especially two premier players in Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. Matt Ryan closes the deal as Josh Smith begins to flounder late in the season again. By this time Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford should be confidant and solidifying their roles in this defense. Falcons casually stroll to a 24-10 win.
Hosting New Orleans Saints (W)
This epic rematch at the Georgia Dome will be extremely intense this year due to the NFL making an outstanding schedule this year. Both teams will be vying for the number one playoff berth position as the Saints will have more division wins but more non-division losses than the Falcons.
The Falcons will need to win this game to pull ahead in the rankings. At home in the dome they are familiar with, the game will boil down to defense. The Falcons have added a lot of young talent during the offseason that will be able to handle this moment better than the players the Saints have drafted. Falcons win in the dome 31-24.
At Buffalo Bills (W)
After last week’s emotional rollercoaster this game will be the Falcon’s ultimate test of not getting distracted. E.J. Manuel will probably be a bust but the Bills still have C.J. Spiller who can bust an 80-yard touchdown at anytime. Let’s not forget about the mouthy diva Steve Johnson either, he is still an underrated deep threat.
For this game I have two scores. If the Falcons are riding the high the Bills take them to overtime and lose with a safety 32-30. However, if they are challenged in the first quarter the Falcons win 42-19.
At Green Bay Packers (L)
At this point in the season Aaron Rodgers’ pass protection should have had enough time to gel with each other. No amount of time this season will prepare Atlanta’s young secondary for Aaron Rodgers however. Brady’s receivers will be easier to handle than Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones all over the field. Prepare to see the “Lambeau Leap” a few times as the Packers turn up the heat to secure their number one seed. The pass rush will fail Atlanta and the Packers win 38-24.
Hosting Washing Redskins (L)
Even if Robert Griffin III doesn’t quite make it this far in the season with his style of play, this game will be one of those heart wrenching losses. Kirk Cousins or RGIII are in an excellently balanced system designed by Mike Shanahan. Alfred Morris is a well disciplined running back but in the Shanahan system he has transformed into a complete beast. With 10 wins secured the Falcons will just need one or two more to lock up the number one seed as the Saints will be nipping at their heels all season long. Unfortunately, the run defense of the Falcons will break down this game. Redskins win in overtime 28-21.
At San Francisco 49ers (L)
Another epic rematch with epic consequences, at this point the 49ers will be tied with Seattle in division wins and in non-division wins. Atlanta will be in a similar position. The 49ers are stacked deep on defense, but their offense will start to show signs of weakness as there will not be enough receivers to make the big plays that they made last year.
Ryan will be sacked hard and sacked often as Julio and Roddy struggle to even get open. Gore and Jackson will run hard but traditional running will be hard pressed in this game. Expect to see Jacquizz Rodgers and Kendall Hunter have great games. Someone will get hurt in the Falcons secondary, allowing Colin Kaepernick the small window of opportunity to throw the game-winning touchdown. 49ers pull it off in the final seconds 24-17.
Hosting Carolina Panthers (W)
With the Saints locking up the division the Falcons will be emotionally drained as their efforts the past three weeks seemed to be wasted. With hope slipping away they face a familiar foe. The Carolina Panthers trot into the dome with an identical win-loss record. This game will determine who is going to the playoffs as a wildcard and who gets to have an extended Christmas break with the family.
Samuel L. Jackson will be contacted to make another Rise Up commercial for the upcoming game. Arthur Blank will call for a Falcon red-out of the Georgia Dome. Fans will cleverly craft “Stay out of our redzone” signs. Tony G will make an excellent pregame speech that will immortalize him in Falcons history. Mike Nolan will call exotic blitzes that Cam Newton will misread. All of this will result in a crazy back-and-forth game that the Falcons take control of in the fourth quarter. The city of Atlanta wins 37-27.
Season Record: 11-5
Feeling confident? Feel Free to give me your own predictions on the Falcon’s season in the comments below.