In looking at the Falcons' schedule for 2014, it's not easy to narrow down the easiest stretch of games, really. Of their 13 opponents for the coming season, six made the playoffs in 2013. Their strength of schedule, .512, is good for the 11th-toughest in the league.
At first glance, it looks like the easiest stretch for the Falcons may be the one that begins week 3 against the Buccaneers and ends with the game against the Lions in week 8. None of the teams Atlanta will face during that stretch made the playoffs last season. Those teams--the Bucs, Vikings, Giants, Bears, Ravens, and Lions--averaged a winning percentage of .412 last season. None made the playoffs, and the best record, shared by the Ravens and Bears, was 8-8.
Take that with a grain of salt, because only two of those games are physically home games for Atlanta, and going on the road is often a different story. The game against Detroit is technically a home game for the Falcons, but it's being held in London, so it's really not. Also, last season's record isn't a sure predictor of this season's performance. The Falcons are certainly hoping and expecting to bounce back from a disappointing 4-12 finish in 2013. Surely other teams are, also.
In looking at the toughest stretch, on paper, it's probably the last five games of the season. Atlanta will likely need to finish strong, and they'll face the Cardinals, who inexplicably seem to have Matt Ryan's number. They'll travel to Green Bay to take on the Packers in a night game in December. The easiest game, theoretically, in this stretch is the home matchup with the Steelers, who missed the playoffs last season but are generally in the mix. The final two games of the season are division matchups against the two NFC South teams that made the playoffs last season, the Saints and the Panthers.
These five teams combined winning percentage in 2013 averages .619. Three of the five made the playoffs, and Arizona only missed the playoffs because they share a division with Seattle and San Francisco. In a year when the Falcons will need to keep up momentum and finish strong, it's not an ideal schedule there at the end of the season.
What do you think about the Falcons' schedule for 2014? What stands out to you as the easiest and toughest stretches?