At the end of December, the 2014 opponents of each NFL team were announced. The Falcons will be facing their normally scheduled NFC South rivals both at home and on the road. They are also scheduled to play the AFC and NFC North division teams as well as Arizona. On February 11th, the strength of schedule was released based on winning percentages of the teams on someones schedule. The Falcons sit at the 11th toughest schedule and by far the toughest in the NFC South. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come in at 19th, the reigning division champs the Carolina Panthers tied at 22nd and the much hated New Orleans Saints tied at 23rd. Go figure the Falcons coming off a disappointing season would have the toughest schedule in the division. But, there are a few factors that could make that schedule easier if we have the scheduling Gods on our side.
The 2014 home opponents look like this: New Orleans, Tampa, Carolina, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Arizona. The 2013 opponents are: Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Green Bay, Minnesota, Baltimore, Cincinnati, NY Giants. First let’s talk about the opponents as a whole. The common factor with these teams are that they all have dynamic receivers. Atlanta’s young but strong secondary will be challenged often. Now lets break down the home games. The division opponents come to Atlanta every year I am not going to spend time breaking them down. We played Arizona last year, and they seem to be Matt Ryan’s krypotonite hopefully he can figure them out and give us a solid game. Chicago’s defense will be an interesting one to monitor leading up to the game. Cleveland could have rookie phnom Johnny Manziel along with rising Pro Bowl receiver Josh Gordon which would bring a lot of excitement to a typically boring Cleveland Browns team. The Detroit Lions will be a "home opponent" but the game will be played in London on October 26th which will make for a very interesting Sunday with a 9:30 a.m. EST kickoff time. Finally, the Pittsburgh Steelers who will be coming to Atlanta for the first time since 2006. The Falcons were led by Mike Vick and Warrick Dunn, my have things changed!
Now lets break down the road opponents. The first reaction I believe I had and shared with others with was "Are you kidding me? We have to go back to Green Bay!" We also have to go to many other cold weather cities such has Minnesota (don’t forget they are not in a dome this year) who will be playing at the University of Minnesota. They will also be traveling to Baltimore and Cincinnati. However, before you panic the dates of these games have not been set. What does that mean you ask? It means that we could get lucky enough to play GB in September or early October. If you ask yourself "why does that matter?" the answer is because that means no freezing temperatures or a chance of a snowstorm! That would be a huge break for Atlanta, because nobody wants to travel to Lambeau field in the snow! Minnesota is not going to be as strong as GB in my opinion so that is not as much of a worry for me. However, a late showdown in the season with Baltimore or Cincy would be very tough. Both teams look to be in the mix for the postseason next year as well as carry strong defenses.
To wrap it all up, yes it is easy to look at the number 11 next to toughest schedule and be worried. But, there are several factors to be in play and if the Falcons want to win the Super Bowl they are going to have to beat good teams both at home and on the road. If the Falcons build the Super Bowl caliber team we hope they do, then the schedule will only prepare them for the postseason.