While we daydream about draft picks to come, I thought it would be useful to take a look at another thing that might fill your heart with song and give you optimism for the season to come.
That thing is the schedule, which looks much easier on paper than it did a year ago. Some of that might be the rose-colored glasses one tends to wear after one’s team was just in the Super Bowl, but some of it is because this is legitimately a less intimidating set of teams to play against. Behold.
Home: Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys
Road opponents: Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Seattle Seahawks
We’ll have to see how things line up, but on paper, this is a schedule that looks a bit more favorable than 2016’s. The tough Packers, Vikings, and Cowboys games (and maybe Bills, if you’re being charitable) are all happening in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which can’t hurt. Meanwhile, aside from those likely-to-be-brutal Patriots and Seahawks games, the away schedule looks unbelievably easy on paper, with the Jets and Bears looking like disasters, the Lions a decent, borderline playoff team, and the three mixed bags that are their NFC South opponents.
There are a couple of very difficult matchups on this schedule, and the NFC South is going to be a stiffer challenge than they were in 2016, so I’m not dismissing this slate as a cupcake. But you don’t have to do much hand waving before you come to the conclusion that the Falcons, if they can stay healthy again this year, figure to be able to unearth a winning season, at the very least.
The NFL typically releases the full schedule in the middle of April, so we’ll have a better bead on how this slate is going to stack up then. In the meantime, though, I’ll put myself down as a believer that the Falcons can go to the playoffs after running through this bunch.