New jerseys, new coaches, new acquisitions for the roster. The 2020 season is starting to round itself into form a little bit for the Atlanta Falcons. This is no question the most important season for both general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn.
What lies before them, however, is a pretty tough schedule that’s either going to whip them into shape as a Super Bowl contender or seal their fate and possibly see the team start a new chapter in 2021. Let’s analyze the Falcons schedule and point out a few items of note.
Season opener against familiar opponent
Each of the last three seasons, the Falcons have had the “pleasure” of opening up their season on the road at Minnesota (2019), Philadelphia (2018), and Chicago (2017). So it was a slight sigh of relief to see the Falcons at home in week one of 2020.
The opponent is none other than the Seattle Seahawks. The Falcons have won two of the last three against Seattle but the Seahawks did grab a 27-20 win in Atlanta last season, albeit against a Falcons team that was starting Matt Schaub at quarterback. Dealing with Russell Wilson is never fun but maybe having the likes of Dante Fowler Jr. will help. In three career games against the Seahawks while with the Los Angeles Rams, Fowler has produced 3.5 sacks, four QB hits, a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
Key placement of bye week
If you look closely, you’ll notice the Falcons have a bye week that falls on week 10 of the season. That’s a decent spot for the bye in a critical portion of the season. However, take a closer look. The Falcons get their arch rival New Orleans Saints on the road on November 22nd, a week after their bye. If you squint a little more, you’ll notice that the Saints have a physical matchup against the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers in week 10.
So the Falcons get their first crack at their hated rival feeling fresh while the Saints may be coming into that matchup a little battered and bruised. In what will be a likely tight race in the NFC playoff seeding this season, that particular factor maybe the difference in winning the division or being a Wild Card team without a home playoff game.
December to remember
If the Falcons are able to make the playoffs and go on a run this season, they would have definitely earned it. The Falcons are tied for fifth in terms of strength of schedule according to CBS Sports and the heavy lifting of the schedule comes in December.
Check out the final month of the season for Atlanta: vs. Saints, at Chargers, vs. Buccaneers, at Chiefs, at Buccaneers. Let’s say the Falcons win three or four of those five and walk into the playoffs as an 11 or 12-win team. They would look downright scary and would be a team to worry about in the playoffs. Of course, that stretch could break the season, too.
Key player matchups
There is always the factor of games within games. With a daunting schedule ahead of them, there is no lack of talent that Atlanta has lined up across from them. Star wide receiver Julio Jones will be matched up against Desmond Trufant/Jeffrey Okudah (Week 7 vs. Lions), Chris Harris/Casey Heyward (Week 14 at Chargers) and of course his annual dual meetings with Saints corner Marshon Lattimore.
Rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell will see time against receivers such as Seattle’s DK Metcalf, Denver’s Courtland Sutton, Dallas’s Amari Cooper, and Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman. So he will definitely have plenty of opportunities to get acclimated to the NFL life.
One more interesting note. The Falcons have six games against teams that were in the top-13 in rushing defense last season and every one of those teams bring back key personnel within their front seven. So the addition of Todd Gurley to the Falcons offense this offseason will see its fair share of tough tests against units that were very solid against the run last season.