The Falcons' 2014 schedule is out and with that come the predictions! In spite of being a 4-12, third place team, we ended up with the 11th toughest strength of schedule based on 2013 wins.
I wish the schedule would come out after the draft (How about we swap the draft with the schedule release dates?) to get a better feel for what players the team picked up and how much impact they may or may not have on the team. For instance, if we drafted Clowney, I think we'd do a little better against, well, everybody. That'll probably happen regardless of who we get in the first round but since it hasn't happened yet, we might end up with Dave instead of Clowney.
Now, for the predictions. I'm going to predict these based on part statistics, part my gut feeling. I actually haven't pre-predicted these on paper yet so I'm going to be blunt and honest about each one.
Ya'll are pretty optimistic on the polls, with most of the votes being for 10 wins or greater. I feel like there might be a twinge of homer optimism there, but as I've said. I'm predicting these as I go. So let's rock!
Week 1: New Orleans Saints - 2013 Record: 11-5
The bane of our existence.
What more needs to be said about this team? They pull cap space out of thin air, they have had our number on a yearly basis and we have to waste one of our precious home games on them first?
It's my understanding they did have to unload a chunk of players from last year's team, so it'll be hard to get a bead on what they want to do. They did add Jairus Byrd and Jimmy Graham is still going to be hell on earth to deal with. An effective pass rush could be the answer to all our problems, and what better time to unleash it than on Drew Brees in Week 1?
It'll be a good game, I believe. I expect any free safety we use to get abused dearly, but again, an improved pass rush would do wonders. Both our O and D lines will be cast into the fire from the beginning. That bodes well for the future, but it may not bode well for this game.
As long as we have Matty, though, we'll always have a chance. I have a feeling this'll be a real slobberknocker. I expect Champ Bailey to be thrown at early and often. That might not work very well considering it's week 1, but it's worth a shot.
If we win, and I mean if, it'll be because we played efficient defense and stole the game at the buzzer.
I think, contrary to some of the belief around this site, that TD has a plan and has stuck to it from the very beginning. Don't forget we signed three very big names to free agency contracts within a couple hours of free agency. The safety issue IS a problem but DeCoud was so bad last year that I'd be inclined to believe anyone we use will be better than him.
Week 2: at Cincinnati Bengals - 2013 Record: 11-5
The Bengals won their division by three games. That includes the Steelers and Ravens, who both finished 8-8. That by itself is surprising, but I tell ya, I'm not sold on the Bengals. Andy Dalton is good enough to win, but that defense is suffocating.
Football Outsiders has Cincy's offense as literally average. Their defense, however, was ranked 5th and in the same DVOA neighborhood as any of the top defenses except Super Seattle's.
The Falcons did have some success against good defenses last year if you go by FO's metrics. Tampa Bay was 8th and lost to the Falcons once (all three other NFCS teams were in the top 10. Ouch). The Falcons took both the Saints (10th) and Panthers (3rd) to the wire once each. They beat the Bills (4th) and Rams (11th) also.
Then again, we had no business beating the Redskins, and they weren't very good.
The Bengals feast on having superior line play, especially on the defensive side of the ball. It's no secret the Falcons need to upgrade at tackle, but the signing of Jon Asamoah stands to play a big part on keeping super DT Geno Atkins in check, and that could be the difference in this game.
I feel like this game is a toss-up. It's at Cincy, it's early in the year. If we're healthy, we can take them. The problem is that there are just so many unknowns. We beefed up our defense to stop the run, and if the Bengals can't run, Dalton is susceptible to mistakes. We've got a bunch of new faces and will rely not only on rookies once again, but the hope that players will pick up on base 3-4 tendencies by then.
Week 3: Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 2013 Record: 4-12
Our second divisional game pits us against the Bucs, the team the shared in our NFC South misery last year. The difference between them and us is that we're opposite in terms of what did well last year. Their defense was good, our offense was good, etc.
They have a new coach in Lovie Smith, who is defensively oriented. Their defense was already pretty good according to Football Outsiders and I can't see it improving a whole lot, if at all. When you lose a guy like Revis (+18.2, PFF) and replace him with Mike Jenkins (-2.6, -7.5 coverage) and Alterraun Verner (9.5 overall, 4.9 coverage, 4.6 penalty), you're bound to have some dropoff.
They also signed Major Wright. He has some familiarity with Lovie Smith's scheme, but uh...believe it or not, he was the single worst defensive back by an enormous margin last year. Cortland Finnegan was pretty terrible though, as was Johnathan Banks (TB)
DeCoud was actually better than Major Wright. Think about that for a moment, then ponder what will happen when he's on the field.
Done giggling like a little girl yet? Don't stop, it'll ease the pain until this actually happens. Or doesn't.
This game is going to come down to how much the weakness of each team has improved. The Bucs are going with Josh "I sold my soul to be Johnny Unitas for a year" McCown and Mike Glennon, neither of which should scare you. They still have VJax, but it doesn't appear that they made any big free agency signings for their offensive skill positions aside from McCown. As long as they don't get Sammy Watkins (Hint: They won't) we'll be fine.
Yes, I have us at 3-0 so far. We could easily be 1-2 after this week, but I can say with relative confidence we're going to wreck the Bucs in round 1. It's a Thursday night home game after being in Cincy. Not the best of situations, but Cincy to ATL isn't that far.
The Falcons made all the right signings if this plays out. I expect a hot start from this team if we nail the draft. Two home games against division opponents bodes well for our start.
Week 4: at Minnesota - 2013 Record: 5-10-1
The Soliai/TJax signings were made specifically for this game. Actually, they were probably made for several of the games we'll be playing.
Yes, the Vikings had a better record than us. No, I don't expect them to play us tough. As long as we keep Adrian Peterson in check, we should have this game in the bag. Football Outsiders didn't have either their offense or defense rated highly. They'll likely be drafting a quarterback in the first round this year. I don't think that QB will affect their chances against us. That offense will still run through #28.
None of their free agency acquisitions scare me. They signed Captain Munnerlyn and Jerome Simpson, both of whom I'd call nothing spectacular. Munnerlyn has developed into a well-rounded corner, but he's more known for his run stopping ability than his coverage. Simpson is another player that is more well-rounded than spectacular. He earned positive grades on PFF for both his receiving ability and blocking, but neither were spectacular.
4-0! When I scanned this schedule initially, I felt like we could easily go 6-10 or worse. The more I look at these games, the more winnable they look.
I think the Vikings are a team whose arrow won't be pointing up this year as they waste another precious year of Adrian Peterson.
Week 5: at New York Giants - 2013 Record: 7-9
Just from the vibes I've gotten this offseason, this is a team with its arrow pointed down.
Taking a look at their free agency moves, however, paints a different story. They signed Geoff Schwartz away from the Chiefs. He's an excellent guard. Rashad Jennings is a solid RB, and they acquired Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Trindon Holliday, and Mario Manningham. While Holliday and Manningham may not sound like much, Manningham had a big catch in their last SB win.
Notable departures include Hakeem Nicks and Linval Joseph. Those two were pretty important.
Eli Manning was holy smokes terrible last year, as was their offense as a whole. Their defense was actually pretty solid (6th on FO), but it couldn't save a truly putrid offense.
Our first loss of the season! You can point to every number in the book, but you can't convince me that Eli Manning isn't a good quarterback. If I recall right, he had a similarly terrible season a few years ago and bounced back nicely. I anticipate a similar bounce back to relevance this year, which coincides with our first loss. I expect their defense to be similar to last year's, and their offense will surely be better than FO's 31st ranking it earned.
Week 6: Chicago Bears - 2013 Record: 8-8
This team went 8-8 in spite of Josh McCown's Miracle in the Windylands season? Oh, that's right, they had the one safety worse than DeCoud out there. Hmm...
Well, McCown is gone. I know for a fact Jay Cutler can't have the kind of success McCown had, so I'd call that a regression at QB even if Cutler stays healthy. Their defense fell from #1 on FO in 2012 to #25 last year. That's pretty rough. They signed Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston, both of whom are an instant upgrade. They lost Julius Peppers and Henry Melton. I suppose Melton was injured last year but he was a terror in 2012. He'll be missed by them for sure. Based on PFF's grade, Peppers and Allen are a push.
They signed former Saint Brian De La Puente, who was excellent in 2012 and less so in 2013. He'll be an instant upgrade for them.
Oh no! A losing streak!
"You suck! We won't lose to the Bears!" you scream at your monitor. Well, you're probably right. It's a home game, Jay Cutler isn't a reliable winner like Matty, but I really, really, really, really don't like this matchup. Don't forget our defense was terrible last year too.
This is a game that could change to a win easily if we get Mack or Clowney with our first pick. A strong pass rush will be hell to Jay Cutler. Lack of a pass rush (And we'll know whether we have one or not by this week) will spell a loss for us. Brandon Marshall + Alshon Jeffery + Matt Forte's receiving ability + our potential weakness at LB spells a close loss for us. This is more of a "With the team the way it is now" prediction. The draft will blow this all up anyway.
Week 7: at Baltimore - 2013 Record: 8-8
The other 8-8 AFC North team, the Ravens were a team destroyed by free agency last year. They've only signed four people from outside the team this year, including spark plug Steve Smith. Their most notable moves include keeping several good players in house, including Daryl Smith and Eugene Monroe.
This team was good at home last year, winning 6 of their 8 games in Baltimore. They lost Arthur Jones, James Ihedigbo, and Ed Dickson. Looks like this team is looking to reload in the draft.
Last year, their offense was Eli Manning tier. Joe Flacco was 40th in DYAR (Manning was 42nd), and he threw 19 TDs compared to 22 INTs. For all those wondering, Matt Ryan and his 4-12 season was 4th in DYAR.
This game will once again come down to the Falcons' draft. If we get a pass rush, we'll win. Problem is, I don't know whether or not we have a pass rush yet.
"We won't lose to them either, you sucker!" you scream as you run up to your attic for your great grandfather's torch and pitchfork.
As bad as Flacco was last year, I believe he wasn't bad at home. They won 6 of 8 games at home, they have a good coach, and Ray Rice is...actually, scratch that. Ray Rice was PFF's worst RB last year. (Wow!) They really were terrible.
That adds even more mystique to them going 6-2 at home. I pulled up their schedule just now. They were destroyed by the Patriots and barely lost to the Packers. Their first three home games were Browns and Texans. Yeah.
Alright folks, come burn my house down. I'm changing my prediction on this one to a win.
Actual Prediction: Win
Week 8: Detroit (In London) - 2013 Record: 7-9
I forget how crappy our record was last year. Honestly, I expect us to run them out of London.
Now, I'll tell you why I feel this way. They lost Willie Young, who was a solid player, and Nate Burleson, who was a solid veteran presence. Their only real signings were Golden Tate and James Ihedigbo. Ihedigbo is more of a run stuffer than a pass coverage safety (and we all know the Falcons don't run the ball). Golden Tate is a solid receiver who should compliment Megatron nicely.
Matthew Stafford is prone to mistakes. Their defense was average and their O was worse than ours. They didn't make their OL any better, so it's reasonable to think they'll be average on both sides again. The Lions are the one team that gets lead to slaughter more than the Falcons do, and I think the Falcons have a pretty healthy English fan base. Ndamukong Suh is a monster, but once again, this is where the Asamoah signing comes into play. Asamoah may not be to OG what Suh is to DT, but it's a hell of a lot better than the Open Door Policy we had at RG last year.
Week 9: Bye
In my opinion, this is a perfect bye. I know the team will be spent after traveling to Baltimore and then subsequently England, and they'll have a full week of rest to make up for the fact they just traveled all over the place.
Week 10: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 2013 Record: 4-12
Here comes the second half of what is a terrible road stretch. The London game is a road game, no matter which way you slice it. Thankfully, the bye week is at the perfect time, as it would spell death if it was anywhere else on the schedule. One would hope that was done intentionally. The Lions' bye week is after the London game as well. Good for you, NFL, for at least setting these two teams up with the bye after the long travel. Whether that's new or not, at least they did it.
For Bucs round 2, I've broken them down already so there isn't much to add.
I feel like this is going to be that stupid loss the Falcons are notorious for having. I think the Bucs are better off in some ways than they were last year, and I feel like they're going to be as good as they'll ever be at this point in the season. We are fresh off our bye, so that could play in our favor. It could also be a problem since we could be looking ahead to...
Week 11: at Carolina Panthers - 2013 Record: 12-4
The winner of last year's NFC South. The Panthers' offense was surprisingly good and their defense was surprisingly extra good. The Panthers feasted on the Falcons' OL and gave Matt Ryan a couple of bad days last year, and sadly I don't see that changing this year.
The Panthers will most certainly pay for letting Steve Smith go. How they could let the soul of that franchise leave the way they did is beyond me, and no addition to that offense this year is going to make up for what he meant. I think it's going to make Cam regress as well.
The most important move the Panthers made was keeping Greg Hardy in house for another year with the franchise tag. They also brought in veteran receiving options Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, and Ed Dickson to help Cam spread the ball around, but none of them will make up for Steve Smith.
You elected not to burn my house down after all and are now pounding on my door. "We can beat them! They signed (garbled)" I can't hear you. You need to shout louder.
If the Falcons games have played out to my predictions, this game will be close. I think their superior defense will be the difference in this one. If Cam Newton protects the ball and their offense plays keep away, their defense will feast on Matt Ryan once again.
Week 12: Cleveland Browns - 2013 Record: 4-12
Ah yes, a battle of two formerly 4-12 teams. I do think Cleveland's arrow is pointing up. They kept Super Center Alex Mack, and they brought in Nate Burleson, Karlos Dansby, Ben Tate, and Donte Whitner. Those are all solid signings. Whether their careers go to die there or not remains to be seen.
Not much to report on the statistical side. Their defense was bad, their offense was bad. They're coming to the Dome.
It's the Browns, they're coming to the Dome. What else is there to say?
Week 13: Arizona Cardinals - 2013 Record: 10-6
This game scares me because that team could've probably won any other division in the NFC if they hadn't had to play the 49ers and Seahawks twice each. Not sure who their losses were to in their division, but 4 of their 6 losses were inside their division.
This team should spell sadness for Falcons fans because Matt Ryan has a beautiful 1 TD/9 INT ratio over his past two Arizona Cardinals games. I'm convinced the Cards have some "special" pictures of Matty.
In terms of free agency, it doesn't look like they brought in or lost anyone really noteworthy aside from Dansby. They brought in Jonathan Dwyer, whom I think has starter potential, and they signed Jared Veldheer, the treetrunk-arms former Raider. They also brought in John Carlson, a solid but unspectacular tight end.
Arizona had the second best defense according to Football Outsiders. I don't see that changing. Their offense was a touch below average, largely due to a run game that ranked 25th. I think that will improve. I doubt they'll compete for their division but they'll definitely be in the mix for a wild card spot
I feel like the unholy terror they've instilled in Matt Ryan will continue this season. I dunno if it'll be 0 TDs/5 INTs bad (which we still won, amazingly) but I think Matty will be in for a bad day. That, combined with the fact that Arizona's passing game isn't miserable, will spell a close loss for the Falcons.
Week 14: at Green Bay Packers (MNF) - 2013 Record: 8-7-1
You mean to tell me they won their division?! Geez. Well, their record is irrelevant because they spent part of their season without Aaron Rodgers and he's worth a win or two.
This one's at Lambeau in December. We lost to the Matt Flynn-led Packers last year. Yikes.
The Packers' defense was Eli Manning terrible last year. Yes, worse than ours. Imagine our defense but worse. That was them. Their free agency consisted largely of keeping several players in house rather than bringing players in from the outside. They brought in Julius Peppers who was about equal to Jared Allen in PFF Land. He'll most likely be an upgrade, though I don't know how well he'll fit in GB's (3-4 still, I'm assuming) defense.
Their only major loss was James Jones, but he's replaceable. They kept Sam Shields, James Starks, and B.J. Raji home, among others.
Like the Falcons, as long as their QB remains intact, they'll always have a chance.
This one also depends on our draft. If our pass rush is a thing of terror, we could easily win this one. Problem is, it's Lambeau in December and Aaron Rodgers could easily pick apart our defense if it isn't much better than last year's. They don't run the ball much anyway.
The combination of cold weather plus a rebound by GB just makes this one a loss. We can't win them all.
Week 15: Pittsburgh Steelers - 2013 Record: 8-8
I said the Ravens were the other 8-8 AFC North team but I put them first. Whatever, they were both 8-8.
At first glance, I had this as a loss, but upon further review, I don't know what they've done to scare me. They brought in LeGarrette Blount and Darrius Heyward-Bey. I'm not particularly worried about either of them. They signed Brice McCain, who was the equivalent of Thomas DeCoud, Cornerback Edition.
Their losses are far more alarming for them. They lost Jonathan Dwyer, Ryan Clark, Ziggy Hood, Emmanuel Sanders, and LaMarr Woodley. They didn't replace them in free agency, that's for sure. FO had their offense as slightly better than ours and their defense a good bit better than ours.
It's a Dome game. If it was in Pittsburgh, I think this would be a loss. Soliai and TJax will make this game better for the Falcons since Big Ben is normally not able to be tackled. I think they'll play us close, but it'll be a win.
Week 16: at New Orleans Saints - 2013 Record: 11-5
I previewed them earlier, but this time the game is in New Orleans. I don't have a good feeling about this one.
The Saints play well at home. They went 8-0 at home last year, one of only three teams to do so (One of which was Cincinnati, which I said was a win.....crap.)
Both games against the Saints last year were close in spite of our season having gone down the toilet by Saints Round 2. I think this'll be close, but they'll eke out the win.
I hate the Saints, but Super Dome + the fact it's the Saints = loss.
Week 17: Carolina Panthers - 2013 Record: 12-4
You grow tired of beating on my front door and elect to kick it down. Fearing for my life, I run and hide in a closet. Rather than try and find me, you yell, "Caleb! We can beat them! T hey signed DeCoud!!"
Time to count up the wins and losses.
Overall Record: 9-7
9-7 spells the end of Mike Smith's tenure with the Falcons. Despite what last year's record would suggest, the Falcons were a good team that just fell on a series of hard times last year. I erred on the side of "We still suck" with these predictions. 9-7 is certainly not the floor, but it's definitely not the ceiling for this team. The draft will determine whether this team floors out at around .500 or excels to something greater like a playoff run.
Your thoughts on the schedule and your predictions on this upcoming year are welcome and encouraged!