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 most difficult games of the Atlanta Falcons are the focus.
Atlanta Falcons Most Difficult Games in 2017
8. Week 13 vs. Minnesota Vikings
The Falcons have an incredibly difficult second half schedule, and that’s highlighted by the fact that only two of the games on this list take place before Week 10. Checking in at number eight on this countdown is the Minnesota Vikings, a team that doesn’t usually get the respect it deserves. Yes, they collapsed in 2016 after a 5-0 start, but this franchise is loaded with talent, particularly on defense.
There are very few stop units that pose a legitimate threat to the Falcons offense, but this is absolutely one of them. For a team that is built to score points in bunches, the Dirty Birds could find themselves frustrated early and often. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, and company had better be at their best in this one.
None of this is to imply the Vikings are the best overall team the Falcons will face all year. After all, Atlanta is set to face some of the most potent offenses in the league this season. However, thanks to that sterling defense, Minnesota will provide one of the toughest overall challenges, and that’s what this list is all about.
7. Week 16 at New Orleans Saints
The Falcons close out the season with three straight contests against their divisional rivals, and there was no way to drop these games any lower on this list. The only difficult decision was how to rank them. By now, you already know that Drew Brees can stand toe-to-toe with Ryan, and in what projects to be an improved NFC South, this game could have playoff implications.
New Orleans is due for a breakthrough after several years of .500 football. This is a talented team, and if rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore and the rest of the defense can perform adequately, things could turn around in a hurry for this franchise. Even with Brees currently unsure of his contract situation, this could be a big year in “the Big Easy”. There’s no reason to think this game won’t affect the NFC South divisional race in a significant way, and the high stakes associated with a Week 16 game vault this contest up the list.
6. Week 17 vs. Carolina Panthers
What a way to end the season. Two divisional rivals. The last two NFC Champions. The last two NFL MVPs. A true showdown. By that logic, the sixth slot almost seems too low for this contest, but after the Panthers struggled so mightily in 2016, it’s understandable.
Still, Carolina has spent much of the off-season surrounding Cam Newton with talent, and recent reports indicate that the former Heisman Trophy winner will run the ball less in 2017. A healthy Newton with a strong supporting cast could very equal a fourth divisional title in five years for this franchise. One disappointing year won’t prove to be this team’s downfall, and for that reason, the Falcons must be prepared for a formidable challenge.
5. Week 15 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Monday Night Football)
While the Week 16 and 17 dates with New Orleans and Carolina could go a long way toward determining the final NFC South standings, it’s this game that could prove to be the most important, and it’s for that reason that the Week 15 showdown with Bucs earns the highest ranking of the three.
Put simply, on paper, the Bucs pose the greatest potential threat to the Falcons’ in the division, and this game could prove to be the tiebreaker that determines an NFC South champion. This could be a high-stakes, high-scoring, nationally televised affair, and for that reason, it deserves such prominence on this list. This could potentially end up being the most significant game the Falcons play during the regular season.
4. Week Two vs. Green Bay Packers (Sunday Night Football)
The Falcons’ first regular season game in their new home, the state-of-the-art Mercedes-Benz Stadium, is also one of the toughest games on their schedule. In an NFC Championship rematch, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will make their way to town in the hopes of spoiling the new facility’s roll-out. After all, the Falcons embarrassed the Pack to the tune of a 44-21 drubbing back in January, so a revenge narrative will likely be on the menu.
So shouldn’t the Falcons be expected to replicate that dominant display? Not necessarily. Yes, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan left for San Francisco, but there are other reasons why history might not repeat itself this time around. For one, the Falcons defense really hit its stride during the playoff run. That’s certainly exciting, but this is a unit that struggled all season long before ultimately containing Rodgers and Russell Wilson in a pair of big games.
Is it fair to expect the same result a second time against perhaps the most talented quarterback of our generation? I’m not so sure, but this game could easily turn into the shootout that we were treated to in Week Eight last season, that saw the Falcons barely eke out a 33-32 victory. Vic Beasley and the rest of the Falcons’ pass rushers are going to have to be productive in this one, because if Rodgers has time to throw, it could be a long day for Atlanta’s young secondary.
3. Week 10 vs. Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys are one of the most famous franchises in professional sports, but somehow they still managed to surprise people in 2016, en route to a 13-3 season that resulted in the top seed in the NFC. The Falcons, of course, caught just as many people of guard, locking up the number two seed in the process. However, fans were never treated to a match-up between these two dominant teams last season, which is unfortunate because it likely would have been electric.
In 2017, that’s about to change. In Week 10, the Falcons will host the Cowboys in what could prove to be an incredibly important NFC match-up. Will these two franchises be competing for the top seed next season? It’s far too soon to say, but speculation is half of the fun. Neither the Cowboys or the Falcons will sneak up on anyone this year, but they won’t be able to avoid each other any longer. Expect an exciting game that could reasonably go either way.
2. Week 11 at Seattle Seahawks (Monday Night Football)
The Falcons handled the Seahawks fairly easily with a 36-20 victory in the Divisional round last season, but in 2017, things could be very different. For one, that victory was earned at home in the Georgia Dome and as NFC West teams can tell you, traveling to Seattle is a whole different animal.
Furthermore, stud safety Earl Thomas was sidelined for that contest, and the ‘Hawks defense just wasn’t the same without him. A healthy Thomas will be a game-changer, and Seattle remains one of the league’s most talented teams, and a true Super Bowl contender. It would be an absolute shock if the Falcons were to drop 36 points on them in their house.
A lower-scoring, hard-fought contest is likely in store this time around, and that is Seattle’s style of football. The Seahawks will likely be the toughest game on a lot of team’s schedules, but not every team has to face a daunting task like the Falcons do in Week Seven.
1. Week Seven at New England Patriots (Sunday Night Football)
It couldn’t be anyone else. Falcons fans are as tired of hearing about 28-3 as Garfield is of Mondays but the fact remains, this Super Bowl re-match will be the defining moment of the 2017 season for this franchise. How the Falcons respond to this challenge will tell us a lot about their resiliency and ability to overcome adversity.
It will be an emotional contest, that much is certain. But it’s up to the Falcons to avoid falling victim to the narratives surrounding the game and just perform. The events of Super Bowl LI are in the past and the 2017 season is what this game is all about. The bottom line is that the Patriots remain the most successful franchise in the NFL, and the league’s true standard-bearer. A victory over them on Sunday Night Football would be an incredible boost to the Falcons’ Super Bowl chances.
Hyped for the 2017 season yet? Be sure to check out the Falcons’ easiest games in 2017 as well.