The Atlanta Falcons roll into the second half of the season in pretty terrific shape, with a largely healthy roster, a favorable record, and prime position in the NFC playoff hunt. What we all want to know, then, is what the second half of the season will bring.
The Falcons currently stand at 6-2, which is better than I would have dared dream at the halfway point of the season. There's little question that the second half schedule will be more challenging than the first half, however, with tougher matchups and a team that's played shaky football this last month.
Week 9: @ San Francisco 49ers
This is one of the easier games remaining for Atlanta, even though a road game in a stadium with bad turf makes me wary. San Francisco is simply a mess right now, a rudderless team with an overmatched coach, miserable quarterback play, even more miserable line play, and no clear path out of their current quagmire. They can be surprisingly feisty at times, but I've got this one down as a win.
Week 10: Bye Week
This should be a welcome break after that 49ers game, and it allows the Falcons to rest up a bit before they take on some tougher teams. But what will we do without football?!
Week 11: vs. Indianapolis Colts
This one is dangerous because of its unpredictability. The Colts are a bad, messy football team right now, but they have a legitimately talented quarterback, terrific receiving options, and an occasionally opportunistic secondary. If Chuck Pagano somehow rights the ship over the next couple of weeks, or if he's fired and replaced by an interim coach that gives the team a little bounce, the Falcons may be dealing with all they can handle here.
This might be the most controversial choice I make, here, but I think this is going to be a loss.
Week 12: vs. Minnesota Vikings
Could the Falcons lose two straight at home? Let's hope not, but the Vikings are one of the two toughest challenges on the entire schedule, so that possibility is there.
Teddy Bridgewater is improving, Adrian Peterson is as good as he's ever been, and the defense is absolutely not a joke. They'll give the Falcons all they can handle, and unless the Falcons are playing much crisper football than we've seen from them thus far in 2015, I think this is also a loss.
Week 13: @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It's the Buccaneers. Road games and divisional games are tougher by their very nature, but I believe the Falcons are capable of beating the Bucs on the road, and I do believe they'll clean up some of the mistakes that have plagued them thus far. This is a win.
Week 14: @ Carolina Panthers
This is the only slam dunk loss on the schedule, in my eyes. The Panthers are a legitimately strong football team, even if they're surviving on Cam Newton, a quality defense, and duct tape right now. Having to go into their house after another divisional road game is a tough task, and while the Falcons could win this one, I'm thinking it's unlikely they will.
Week 15: @ Jacksonville Jaguars
A third straight road game, but the Falcons are drawing the Jaguars...and I'm a little concerned by that. Even with Blake Bortles, T.J. Yeldon and a nice little receiving corps, this isn't a great football team, and the defense is merely adequate. With the Falcons potentially smarting from a rough loss against the Panthers, this one's kind of tough to call, and I fear it's going to be one of the games where the Falcons stumble. Chalking it up as a potential loss.
Week 16: vs. Carolina Panthers
Same tough matchup, home field advantage. There could be a lot at stake in this game, depending on how the two teams fare leading up to it, but this is one I think the Falcons will be motivated and prepared to win, even if it's likely to be close.
Week 17: vs. New Orleans Saints
Sweet revenge, at home, with a playoff spot or playoff seeding potentially on the line? That's a win, Sean Payton's sorcery be damned.
In the final analysis, I have this team going 4-4 in the second half of the season, a step down from their first half performance, but enough to leave them at 10-6 and very much in the playoff hunt. There are a thousand variables that could wreck this one way or the other, most of them related to injuries for the Falcons or their opponents, but suffice to say if the season breaks this way, the Falcons are likely headed for the playoffs, and they'll match my preseason prediction.
How do you expect the second half to shake out?