Despite being a Falcons fan since 1980, I still manage to find myself ever the optimist when it comes to this team. I readily admit to being an optimist, so take that into consideration when reading the predictions below. Keep in mind, I believe that the defense will continue to get better (with Vic Beasley taking a big step forward) and the offense will bounce back as well. With that in mind, here's my initial prediction for the 2016 season.
Week 1: Tampa Bay
Starting the season at home, I believe the team will be amped up to prove that last year's collapse was a fluke. Tampa will be an improved team, but I don't think they will have improved enough to take this game.
Week 2: at Oakland
Of all the west coast teams we're facing, this is one that interests me the most. The Raiders have put together a very nice looking roster with some really great players on both sides of the ball. I think their pass rush will stymie the Falcons in a close game.
Week 3: at NO
I hate predicting losses to the Saints, but they will be at home and this will also be the anniversary of the re-opening of the Dome after Hurricane Katrina. The Falcons will struggle to overcome the emotional high that the Saints will find themselves on. Also, Sean Payton is the devil.
Week 4: Carolina
This prediction may be controversial, but the "team to beat" in the division will get their first divisional loss this week. I fully admit that I don't have any great reasons as to why, but I just think after two losses, the Falcons will be ticked off in their first game back home.
Week 5: at Denver
Heading west again will be difficult, but this is not the same Denver team that won the Super Bowl. They will likely be starting either a rookie at QB or Mark Sanchez. They've lost several key defensive players as well. This should be a winnable game for the Falcons.
Week 6: at Seattle
Back to back west coast games are hard, and going into Seattle is always difficult. Dan Quinn finally returns to the team that put him on the Falcons radar, but a combination of the travel and Russell Wilson being dynamic will make this a very difficult game.
Week 7: San Diego
The Chargers could be a surprising team this upcoming year, but they're also having to make the cross-country trip to play us in the Georgia Dome. This one has the potential to turn into a shoot-out, but I like Atlanta's home field advantage in this one.
Week 8: Green Bay
Let's be honest: the Packers almost always feels like it's going to be a loss. Aaron Rodgers always seems to have a career game against us, so even my optimism will take a back-seat to one of the best QBs playing right now.
Week 9: at Tampa
I actually think this game will be much closer than anticipated, but I still believe the Falcons will be the better overall team this year. Tampa has some nice pieces, but the back-end of their defense is a question mark this year. I think the Falcons sweep the series in 2016.
Week 10: at Philly
The Eagles are in near shambles after the Chip Kelly experiment rolled through town. The team gutted their roster and are likely in a bit of a rebuild at this point.
Week 12: Arizona
Another 2015 playoff team comes into town, but they are getting us right after our bye week. The Cardinals are a very good team, but I believe the Falcons will be hitting their stride at this point in the season. Being at home will help and they will be a rested team. This will be a tough game, but I truly believe the Falcons can pull this one out.
Week 13: KC
Despite possibly not having Justin Houston, the Chiefs are still fielding a pretty good team. Travis Kelce could end up setting records. This is a team that went on a tremendous run at the end of last year and shouldn't be overlooked. The Falcons could be in for a tough fight with this one.
Week 14: at LA
The Rams are a team in need of a Quarterback in a big way, as evidenced by their huge trade to nab the number one pick in the draft. Unfortunately for them, rookie QBs rarely have a huge positive impact in year one, and I don't think that changes this year for them. Their defense is still imposing, and Todd Gurley could be the best RB in football next year, but without a QB I think they struggle offensively.
Week 15: SF
The 49ers are another team that is in flux. They tried to get rid of their QB but couldn't make it happen. They've lost several key veterans and are a team that needs desperately to re-infuse the roster with talent. The Falcons should be able to come home and put another W on the board.
Week 16: at Carolina
In what could end up being a critical matchup for the playoffs, the Panthers best the Falcons because I just can't see us taking both games from them this year. They are still an incredibly talented team, and playing them at home makes this all the harder.
Week 17: NO
This is the last game in the Georgia Dome, and it's against our most hated rival. I think the team plays out of it's mind for this game, not only for the emotional element of saying goodbye to the Dome but also because the playoffs will be on the line. The Falcons take this one in a hard fought battle.
Based on those predictions, I can see the Falcons finishing with a 10-6 record and potentially riding that into the playoffs with a wild-card berth. Obviously, as an optimist, this prediction is counting on several things to go right and for the team to improve on both sides of the ball. If that happens though, I think a winning record is a possibility, despite the tough schedule for this year.
What are your thoughts on these predictions?