This month, Last Word On Pro Football will be analyzing the schedules of every team in the NFL and ranking each game in order of difficulty (with one being the most difficult). This series will be split up into the eight most difficult games (ranked 1-8) and the eight easiest games (ranked 9-16) for each team. In this article, the easiest games of the Atlanta Falcons are the focus.
Atlanta Falcons Easiest Games in 2017
16. Week Eight at New York Jets
Full disclosure: there are no easy games in the NFL. Calling any game “easy” is a considerable exaggeration, as winning in this league is tougher than in any other professional sport. With that said, in order to rank the degree of difficulty for each contest in the 2017 Atlanta Falcons season, we have to start somewhere, and without further ado, let’s dive in.
No, the New York Jets aren’t an easy win (contrary to what some might say), but based on the way the Falcons schedule breaks down, they come in at number 16 on this list. The Jets are preparing for a long season and after releasing a wave of steady contributors like Brandon Marshall, Darrelle Revis, Eric Decker, David Harris, and Nick Mangold, the franchise is an early favorite to land a top five pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The team will probably be more competitive than many are prognosticating, but they likely won’t be a true match for the NFC Champion Falcons.
15. Week One at Chicago Bears
The Bears have had an interesting off-season, but in spite of all the negative publicity, this is a team that could surprise some people in 2017 if all goes according to script. Still, the two teams’ respective quarterback situations make this an easy pick.
For the Bears, Mike Glennon will make his first NFL start since 2014 or Mitchell Trubisky will make his first NFL start, period. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is the reigning NFL MVP. Nothing against the “Monsters of the Midway”, but that’s a stunning disadvantage to be facing in Week One. The Falcons should open the season looking strong.
14. Week Four vs. Buffalo Bills
The Bills have a new coaching staff, a renewed focus, and LeSean McCoy remains in the backfield. That’s not a bad start at all. This team always seems to hover around .500, but they could be poised for big things in the near future. How well they hold up against the Falcons, however, is no certainty.
If Sammy Watkins is healthy and on the field, he gives the Bills a true difference-maker in the passing game. If he’s not, Buffalo will struggle to pick up the chunk plays they will so desperately need to compete with the high-powered Falcons offense. With that said, the Bills enjoyed the sixth-best offense against the pass in 2016, and even after the off-season departure of Stephon Gilmore, this is a team that could catch Atlanta off guard. The Falcons will be the heavy favorites, but an upset remains possible.
13. Week Nine at Carolina Panthers
The Falcons’ first NFC South divisional contest takes place in Week Nine, and it should be a great one. After following up a Super Bowl appearance with a disappointing 6-10 season, the Panthers are primed for a bounce back in 2017. Cam Newton is hoping to re-discover his 2015 MVP form and that’s good news for a team that has seen a lot of upheaval this off-season.
It’s completely reasonable to expect the Panthers to impress once again next season, and quite frankly I’d like to put this game much higher on the list. However, the Falcons have a slew of important divisional contests over the closing weeks of the season, as well as several other 2016 playoff teams on the schedule. This is a very big game, to be sure, but it’s hard to justify a much higher ranking.
12. Week Three vs. Detroit Lions
Speaking of playoff teams, this may seem like a low placement for a franchise that made a post-season appearance in 2016, but it has more to do with the difficulty of the Falcons’ late-season schedule than anything else. The Lions are solid and this game could very easily turn into a shootout between Ryan and his close friend Matthew Stafford.
On the other hand, it’s an early-season contest and the Lions will be without injured left tackle Taylor Decker, so Vic Beasley could very well have a field day in this one. Detroit has assembled an underrated team that doesn’t necessarily get the respect it deserves, but ultimately, the Falcons are the more talented squad on both sides of the ball. This one isn’t a “gimme” by any means, but an Atlanta loss would be a mild upset.
11. Week 14 vs. New Orleans Saints (Thursday Night Football)
The New Orleans Saints have finished 7-9 for three straight seasons, but they still have Sean Payton calling the shots and Drew Brees playing quarterback. In a league full of teams lacking quality coaches and franchise signal callers, New Orleans is fortunate to have both. In spite of a questionable defense and the off-season trade of wideout Brandin Cooks, there is every reason to believe they are capable of challenging the Falcons.
In Brees, Ryan faces one of the few quarterbacks in the NFL who can keep up with him drive for drive. In fact, in the two 2016 match-ups between these teams, the Falcons won by scores of 45-32 and 38-32. Expect points in bunches any time these franchises face off. The only reason this Thursday Night contest doesn’t rank higher on the list is because these two rivals have an even bigger date two weeks later.
10. Week Six vs. Miami Dolphins
As was the case with the Lions, this seems like a low placement for a playoff team, but once again, one glance at the back half of the Falcons’ 2017 schedule illustrates why a Week Six contest against a non-divisional opponent simply doesn’t warrant higher consideration.
However, this is not to take anything away from Miami. In fact, the Dolphins are on the upswing as a franchise. They won ten games in 2016, have one of the league’s brightest young head coaches in Adam Gase, and are expected to continue to feature breakout running back Jay Ajayi.
The Dolphins have long flown under the radar in a division with the Patriots, and that element of surprise could benefit them in a game like this. They will present a significant challenge to a Falcons run defense that ranked 28th in 2016. It would be a mistake to take them lightly.
9. Week 12 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ah, the Buccaneers. The only NFC South rival to defeat the Falcons last season is also one of 2017’s most improved franchises on paper. A team that went 9-7 in 2016 added DeSean Jackson and rookie tight end O.J. Howard to the offense this past off-season, with the goal of taking pressure off Pro Bowl wideout Mike Evans and helping Jameis Winston grow into the franchise passer he’s capable of becoming.
As insane as this sounds, this is only the Falcons’ second divisional contest of the season, and it takes place in Week 12. That mean the franchise will play a staggering five of their last six games of 2017 against NFC South opponents. Every game down the stretch will be of considerable importance, and this is the match-up that will set the tone for all of that excitement. Of course, the two teams meet again in Week 15 for an even bigger face-off, but that’s another story for another column.
Speaking of which………
Hyped for the 2017 season yet? Be sure to check out the Falcons’ most difficult games in 2017 as well.