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My latest piece
Despite having an abysmal 2013 season, the Falcons schedule doesn’t get much easier. They were ranked at eleventh for having the most difficult schedule. With games on the road against the best teams in the AFC North, Green Bay, and losing a home game to play in London. Atlanta has their work cut out for them.
Rather than write up a season-preview, I’m doing something different. I’m sure you’ve read countless preview articles from ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and CBS Sports among other websites. The common consensus in Atlanta is that the offense will remain explosive, but will need to carry the load for an underwhelming defense.
I’ll dissect my expectations by going through game by game briefly. It’s hard to truly breakdown each game, since injuries are bound to happen. This is just a broad prediction on what could possibly happen in 2014. Improvement is a guarantee in Atlanta, but the opportunity to play football in January seems to be slim.
Week 1: New Orleans L (0-1)
It’s rare that a game between both teams doesn’t go down to the wire. Even when New Orleans was at their worst in 2012 or Atlanta in 2013, the games still were highly competitive and intense. I’ll discuss this game more in my in-depth preview on Friday, but I see the Falcons once again falling short.
Week 2: at Cincinnati L (0-2)
Even though they seem to be catching Cincinnati at a good time, I’m still predicting this as another loss. Geno Atkins may be rusty and Andy Dalton’s confidence still could be rocked from last January’s debacle. That doesn’t take away A.J Green’s ability to change a game nor will it affect an underrated front seven. Atlanta’s newly formed offensive line will be challenged early.
Week 3: Tampa Bay W (1-2)
It will already be a must-win atmosphere in Atlanta. They can’t afford to go 0-3, especially against a division rival. It will be a close game, but Atlanta’s defensive line will force Tampa Bay’s offense into being one-dimensional. Josh McCown will be forced into some errant throws and Mike Smith can stop sweating profusely for a week
Week 4: Minnesota W (2-2)
The defensive line will be put to the test against the best running back in football. Thankfully I’m expecting Matt Cassel to still be starting and that is good news for Atlanta. Julio Jones will have a field day against a below average Vikings secondary. This should be a comfortable win, although not a blowout.
Week 5: at New York Giants L (2-3)
I’m expecting to attend this game being that I live in New York. It will be my second experience watching them live, as my first goal will be to see an actual Falcons touchdown live. The wild card loss from 2012 still burns, as well this loss will be. The Giants seem dysfunctional on offense, but Victor Cruz will cause major problems in the slot. Atlanta still doesn’t seem to have answer at the nickel corner back position. It won’t be a blowout like it was in 2012, but an infuriating loss seems likely.
Week 6: Chicago L (2-4)
Chicago is going to be a matchup nightmare for many teams this year. If they remain healthy, they’ll be an offensive juggernaut and have a much-improved defense. Jared Allen and Lamar Houston will cause problems, along with their great depth at corner. Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, and Kyle Fuller could arguably be the best trio in the NFL. Matt Ryan will throw for 300 yards, but will be pressed into a few turnovers. Sadly it’ll be another tough home loss to digest.
Week 7: at Baltimore L (2-5)
The losses keep pouring on, as Mike Smith’s seat is getting hotter. Baltimore has one of the best home field advantages in football. Their offense will be much improved with Dennis Pitta healthy and Steve Smith being a competent number two receiver. Similar to Chicago, I’m expecting Baltimore to be much improved this year. They don’t have great depth, but they have playmakers at essentially every position. Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb are one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL.
Week 8: Detroit (London) W (3-5)
Another difficult matchup, but this is one is favorable. It will be a tale of quarterbacks in a shootout against poor defenses. Matt Ryan is the more accurate quarterback and has better receiving options. Also, I have more faith in Desmond Trufant and safety help in slowing down Calvin Johnson than Rashean Mathis and safety help in slowing down Julio Jones. As long as he gets protection, Ryan should lead Atlanta to a high-scoring victory.
Week 10: at Tampa Bay W (4-5)
One positive note in the Mike Smith era is that the bye week works in his favor. Atlanta usually wins coming off a bye and I’m expecting them to do so here. They may get off to a slow start and Tampa Bay’s defense will come out blazing. Eventually, Tampa Bay’s lack of a second corner alongside Alterraun Verner will cost them. Roddy White is the difference maker in a crucial road win. Matt Bryant will kick the game winner and Atlanta fans will be screaming money at their television screens.
Week 11: at Carolina L (4-6)
The winning streak comes to a halt. Even though Carolina’s secondary is abysmal, they still have the pass rush to cause significant problems. In 2012, Ryan didn’t have time to throw and take advantage of the matchups on the outside. I’m still not confident in the new-look offensive line against premier pass rushing units. Also the Falcons defense showed zero improvement in containing scrambling quarterbacks in the pre-season. Cam Newton may struggle with his accuracy, but he certainly can make defenses pay with his legs.
Week 12: Cleveland W (5-6)
The only soft game on the schedule is here. Minnesota should improve this year, so I’m not expecting them to roll over. Cleveland will eventually roll over, regardless if Johnny Manziel is playing or not. Matt Ryan may struggle in finding the end zone, but the defense will limit an offense lacking playmakers. Eventually Cleveland’s defense will wear down and Atlanta breaks the game open.
Week 13: Arizona W (6-6)
A must win game to stay relevant in the wild-card hunt. Arizona’s defense has given Matt Ryan fits in the past, but they aren’t the same unit. The front seven will miss Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington, and Karlos Dansby significantly. Atlanta will have more success running the ball with Devonta Freeman getting more opportunities. It will be another close one in the Georgia Dome, as Atlanta prevails. Carson Palmer will be forced to throw over 40 times, which doesn’t bode well due to threading the needle far too often.
Week 14: at Green Bay L (6-7)
The only primetime game on the schedule and it has to be against Green Bay in December. Don’t expect Aaron Rodgers to be injured for this one like last year. While Green Bay’s defense still remains soft, the offense is still an absolute juggernaut. Rodgers may not be as efficient as he was in the infamous 2011 playoff game, but he’ll have his way here. A significant blow to Atlanta’s playoff hopes in a lopsided defeat.
Week 15: Pittsburgh W (7-7)
A favorable matchup at home against an average Steelers team. Ben Roethlisberger is still a gamer, but this team is lacking in playmakers offensively and quality cornerbacks. I’m not buying into Pittsburgh’s possible resurgence on defense. Ryan Shazier, Jarvis Jones, and Jason Worilds have upside. They still aren’t players that I’d like to rely on as playmakers. Atlanta wins to stay alive through another strong home performance from Matt Ryan.
Week 16: at New Orleans L (7-8)
At 7-7, the make or break game will be here. Besides Seattle, there isn’t a worse place to play than in New Orleans. The issues in trying to communicate and Matt Ryan not being able to making changes at the line of scrimmage will be affected greatly. In the end, Atlanta’s offensive line and overall defense just isn’t good enough. Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette are an outstanding duo, while Atlanta still doesn’t have an answer for their pass rush woes. Jimmy Graham will have another field day in eliminating Atlanta from playoff contention.
Week 17: Carolina W (8-8)
Both teams will be playing for pride, although this game could play a factor into Mike Smith’s job security. Carolina does possess the pass rush to give Atlanta fits, but they’ll be better prepared this time around. Dirk Koetter will figure out schemes to give help in containing both Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson to allow Matt Ryan to pick apart their secondary. All it will take is 24 points to beat Carolina on most occasions this year. They’ll manage to do so here.
The Falcons will have an overall record of 8-8 finishing in second place. After doing my regular season predictions, they would be tied with Tampa Bay for second place. I’m not going to make a prediction if Mike Smith will be fired. We’ll have to see how the team performs, along with any significant injuries occurring. We’ve seen coaches’ get another year, due to their team being hit with injuries.
As long as several young players make strides this year, that will fulfill my expectations. It’s hard to place any major expectations because of how strong the NFC is. They’re literally no bad teams in the conference. In my regular season predictions, I have Minnesota, St. Louis, and Carolina finishing 6-10 as the worst teams in the conference. Those aren’t bad records compared to a good half of the AFC.
Atlanta simply has too many flaws to have a better record than the likes of New Orleans, San Francisco, and Chicago. Those are the two wild card teams and NFC South winner that I’m predicting. A minor rebuilding process is taking place this year and hopefully 2015, they’ll be ready to compete with the elite once again.