Atlanta Falcons: Taking a Look at the Dirty Birds' 2011 Schedule
The Atlanta Falcons were the best NFC team in the 2010 regular season, going 13-3 and winning the NFC South. The Dirty Birds are led by young quarterback Matt Ryan, who is quickly becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
Ryan has been helped out his first three years by a strong running game that is led by the consistently tough Michael Turner. Turner's strong running on the ground helps pave the way for play action passes to the likes of Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, and now Julio Jones.
White may be the game's best wide receiver while Gonzalez may be the best tight end of all time, though he is aging a bit at this point in his career. Top 2011 draft pick Jones will hopefully help the offense become more explosive in 2011.
The defense is left by a strong trio of John Abraham, Curtis Lofton and Brent Grimes. Abraham was one of the best pass rushers in football last season when he racked up 13 sacks.
Lofton is young, talented, and clearly the leader of the defense. He is extremely solid against the run and can make plays in coverage. He should be helped out this year by 2010 draft pick Sean Weatherspoon.
Grimes is one of the best cornerbacks in the league. He uses his extreme athleticism to play with most any receiver. He is helped out in the secondary primarily by Thomas Decoud, Dunta Robinson and William Moore.
The Falcons are among the favorites to make it to the Super Bowl at this early stage, but they have a fairly difficult schedule they will have to run though, so Ryan is going to have to continue his progression and become the elite-level quarterback many believe he can become.
Now we will look at the Falcons' upcoming schedule.
Week 1: @ Chicago Bears
While winning the last game of the series is a positive (in 2009), both teams are much different from the last round. Brent Grimes was not a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback and Matt Ryan was just a rookie.
It was the Bears first year with Jay Cutler and they didn't yet have Julius Peppers (pictured). The Bears are a better team this time around and it will take a balanced offensive attack for the Falcons to win.
The Bears offensive line struggled at times last year, but Cutler showed great growth in his second season as a Bear. The defense is also going to be tough with Peppers and future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher.
Prediction: Falcons sneak away with a close win.
Week 2: Vs. Philadelphia Eagles
I'll spare you the history lesson that is Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons. Instead we'll take a look at the present. The Eagles manhandled the Falcons in last year's Week 6 meeting and both teams improved heavily during the season.
The Eagles have some of the best skill position players in the league with Vick, running back LeSean McCoy, and wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
The key to the offense is still without a doubt Vick though, and after a smoldering hot start to his season he did slow down some towards the end of the season.
The Falcons' best chances are to try and get Vick to feel the heat from blitzes and just try to get the ball out of his hands quickly. The offense is going to need to grind it out and find themselves a few explosive plays. Should be a good one.
Prediction: Falcons gets revenge at home after a blowout loss last season, win a close one.
Week 3: @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Falcons swept the series in 2010, but the Buccaneers are much like the Falcons and are on their way back up after a few weak seasons.
The Bucs are led by Josh Freeman and Mike Williams, both pictured. Both are young and extremely talented, and they form one of the best duos in the league. Their running game is led by LeGarrette Blount, a big bruising tailback with great athleticism.
The key for the Falcons will be making Freeman uncomfortable in the pocket and keeping Blount under wraps. Offensively they will need to make a few plays in the passing game to hopefully open up the run game for Turner.
Prediction: Falcons lose their first game of the season in a close loss.
Week 4: @ Seattle Seahwaks
This will be the third playoff team that the Falcons face in the first four weeks, and then you include the Bucs, and that is quite a rough start to the season. The Seahawks still aren't a great team though.
The key will be to pressure Matt Hasselbeck and just to wrap up Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks couldn't do much with the Falcons end their last meeting.
Prediction: Falcons win this one in fairly easy fashion.
Week 5: Vs Green Bay Packers
The last team to defeat the Falcons will continue their rough start to the season. This will be a key matchup as both teams should be fighting hard for an early step up for a playoff spot.
The key is obvious: Stop Aaron Rodgers. After completely embarrassing the Falcons in the postseason, Rodgers is looking to be on his way to one heck of a career.
The Falcons were able to beat the Packers last year in the regular season though, and with a little more luck and a better pass rush I think they barely pull this one out.
Prediction: Falcons come away with this one at home in a close win.
Week 6: Vs Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers were awful last year, and could be awful again this year. I think they will improve though, but will still finish last in the NFC South.
At this point in the season it is very likely that Cam Newton will be on the on the field more and more if he's not starting, regardless of how ready he actually is.
The Falcons did dominate the Panthers in both games last year, and that shouldn't change this year.
Prediction: Falcons win by double digits at home.
Weed 7: @ Detroit Lions
The Lions are one of the popular sleeper teams for 2011, and very well could make the playoffs this year if they can remain healthy in key positions.
Are they good enough to beat the Falcons? If Matthew Stafford is healthy, then I'm afraid that they are. This will be a very tough game on the road, and one that the Falcons can lose if they don't play well. Luckily we have one of the more consistent quarterbacks in the league calling the shots.
Prediction: Falcons win a very game that comes down to the final minutes.
Week 9: @ Indianapolis Colts
I think that Peyton Manning will be coming back in a big way in 2011 after a sub-par season, for him, in 2010.
Its always tough to beat Manning and the Colts, and this game will be no different. Playing it on the road will make it an even bigger challenge for the Dirty Birds.
Prediction: Falcons lose as Manning shows that he still has something left in the tank. Being in Indianapolis is just too much this time around.
Week 10: Vs New Orleans Saints
Last season, not only did the Saints and Falcons split the series, but they also won the road games in the series.
The Saints ended the season on a disappointing note, but with a strong draft they are right back in the mix as Super Bowl contenders.
This will be yet another tough game for the Falcons, and luckily they do get them at home, where I think they will hold their ground a pull out the win.
Prediction: Falcons win in a close game in the final minutes.
Week 11: Vs Tennessee Titans
The Titans weren't very good last season and they may not be this season. They do have some very good players though in the likes of Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt, among others.
Still, it will be tough to beat Atlanta at home this season, and I don't expect the Titans do it this time around.
Prediction: Falcons pull off a double digit win.
Week 12: Vs Minnesota Vikings
This will another tough game as I see the Vikings being a better team than they were last year, though the defense might take a slight step back against the run.
At home though, the Falcons should be able to win this one.
Prediction: Falcons win by 10
Week 13: @ Houston Texans
Once again the Texans had one of the best offenses in football, and once again they had a losing season.
As long as the Texans struggle to stop people on defense, I think the Falcons have the advantage in this one. they will need to be careful though, as the Texans can certainly beat them if they make any mistakes.
Prediction: Falcons win by a touchdown.
Week 14: @ Carolina Panthers
This will be the first time that the Falcons play a team for the second time in the season, and they get a good draw for that in the Carolina Panthers.
At this point we will know everything we need to know about both the Falcons and the Panthers, who will be fighting to stay around .500 at this point in the season.
I think this will be a tougher game than the first, and could come down to the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Falcons win this one, sweeping the series, in a close fashion.
Week 15: Vs Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars went 8-8 last year in large parts thanks to a strong running game, and that should be the case this year.
This is my upset watch of the year for the Falcons, who aren't incredibly strong against the run. They will need to force some mistakes from Blaine Gabbert or David Garrard to make sure they can keep the Jaguars' rushing attack off of the field.
Prediction: Falcons squeak by, but could very easily lose this game.
Week 16: @ New Orleans Saints
After losing to the Falcons earlier in the season, the Saints (much like in 2010) will be playing knowing a win will put them back in the division race.
The Falcons should still have some success against the Saints this time around, but Drew Brees has always been good when his team needs him to be. This game should be no different.
Playing in the Superdome will also hurt the Falcons, and they just aren't able to pull this one out.
Prediction: Falcons lose late in the game.
Week 17: Vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After losing to the Bucs earlier in the season, the Falcons will now be trying to keep the Saints away from the division title and could be fighting off the Bucs as well.
This game will likely decide the fate of all three teams, and I expect the Falcons to play to their fullest in front of what will be a packed Georgia Dome.
Expect the Falcons to try and open up the game early to soften the defense, then grind it out with Turner. This should be a win, but it will yet another tough game for the Dirty Birds.
Prediction: Falcons win game and division.
As you now know, I expect a repeat performance with a 13-3 record for the Falcons in 2011. It could swing anywhere from an 11-5 record to a 15-1 record though.
The Falcons should be in good shape heading into the playoffs, as with that record they should have either the No. 1 seed or the No. 2 seed.
I expect Ryan to continue his ascension to becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and I think he will in fact become an elite quarterback in his fourth season.
This could be the breakthrough season for the Falcons and I'm just hoping that they don't have to run into another extremely hot team in the playoffs.