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Looking ahead to the remaining Falcons schedule

Atlanta’s 2-3. Who is left on the schedule?

NFL: DEC 27 Falcons at Chiefs Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Falcons have finished five games on their 17 game slate for 2021, and currently own a 2-3 record. It would be fair to say we don’t have the full measure of this team yet—as we’ll discuss later, what has happened so far probably hasn’t budged your expectations for the year all that much—but we’ll get one over the next 12 games.

The remaining schedule features a couple of games that look like likely wins even for this Falcons team, as well as a couple of games they probably would need something resembling a miracle to win. Everything else will depend on whether this Falcons team is making real progress and/or has yet to hit its ceiling as a squad for this year, but it’s still a fine time to review what’s ahead in brief.

Let’s take a quick look at every game left on the schedule and think a little bit about how winnable they look from here in the aftermath of this Week 6 Sunday.

Week 7: @ Miami Dolphins

This Dolphins team is somewhat of a mess, but like the Jets before them, they will be coming off a get-right game. Unfortunately for Miami, they only beat the hapless Jaguars and will be playing a week after traveling to London against a rested Falcons team, but it would be a mistake to dismiss this chances given that they have real talent, even if they don’t have the results.

Tua Tagovailoa is back but he and the Dolphins looked bad against Jacksonville, but the team doesn’t lack for pass-catching weapons and the defense has some truly gifted players like rookie pass rusher Jaelen Phillips and the great Xavien Howard at cornerback. All that talent hasn’t added up to much, and assuming Atlanta doesn’t come out playing terribly, thy ought to win this one.

Week 8: vs. Carolina Panthers

The Panthers won’t have Christian McCaffrey for this matchup and Mike Davis, who filled in so credibly last year, is now in Atlanta. That’s something to watch for a team that is headed in the wrong direction, dropping two in a row against the NFC East and one against the Vikings after three wins to start the season had folks talking about a resurgent Sam Darnold and Carolina’s smothering defense.

This is going to be a tough one for Atlanta, even minus McCaffrey, because the offense is credible and the defense is capable of utterly shutting down the Falcons if they’re at all sluggish. The hope will be that Atlanta’s sharp at home and Darnold continues to struggle, which will give the Falcons a chance to triumph in a squeaker. The good news is that Darnold certainly had his issues in a loss to Minnesota and Carolina is reeling right now.

Week 9: @ New Orleans Saints

I have no idea what to make of the Saints. They beat the Packers 38-3 and have handled Washington and New England capably, but they got smoked by the Panthers and dropped one to the Giants, of all teams. Like Atlanta, they’re somewhat of a work in progress.

What makes the Saints tough is the combination of Sean Payton pouring his heart and soul into every Falcons game, Jameis Winston remaining a truly dangerous gambler against a secondary that is still unproven, and an opportunistic secondary that has picked off 9 passes in five games. Throw in a hostile road environment and a win here might be tough to get, though admittedly extremely sweet.

Week 10: @ Dallas Cowboys

The Panthers and Saints games are divisional matchups, which means chaos reigns, but the Cowboys are a bit of a different beast. We’re talking about one of the best offenses in football and a capable enough defense under Dan Quinn, and the Cowboys have dispatched tough Panthers and Chargers teams along the way. This might be the single toughest matchup left on paper, especially because I’m expecting the Buccaneers to be a bit injury-marred as a veteran team with outrageous injury lucky in 2020.

To beat the Cowboys on the road, the Falcons defense will have to step it way, way up and play well enough on offense to keep up with a Dallas team that will still likely score a ton of points. Unless the Falcons have some truly impressive improvement in them, this is probably the closest thing to an absolute lock to be a loss that’s left on the schedule.

Week 11: vs. New England Patriots

New England looks like an interesting matchup, given that their offense is pretty ho-hum but their defense is quite good. There’s time for Bill Belichick to get this thing going and for Mac Jones to truly arrive, but the Patriots remain a team in search of a standout facet on their offense. Their defense, meanwhile, has been opportunistic and sometimes downright difficult to push past, making them something like a more established and talented version of the Jets.

I don’t know where the Falcons will be, record-wise or otherwise, by the time they hit this point. I do feel like they’ll tell us how seriously we should take their final few games by whether they’re competitive (or even win) against a solid but unspectacular team at home.

Week 12: @ Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m., Sunday, November 28

The Jaguars are a mess. They may not even have Urban Meyer at the helm by this time, and regardless of whether they do, this is one of the few teams in football that can emphatically say they’ve been much worse than Atlanta in the first few weeks of the season. I’m not going to rule out dramatic strides or a win against the Falcons—the Falcons aren’t exactly world beaters and don’t figure to be later in the year—but this feels like a win right now and will likely feel like one heading into Week 12. Beating the Dolphins is a great thing for Jacksonville—they badly needed that confidence builder, the way the Falcons did when they beat the Giants—but it’s not a needle mover.

Week 13: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m., Sunday, December 5

The Falcons are at home, the Bucs may not be as healthy as they were in Week 2, and Atlanta will have weeks to gel on offense and defense. That means this is likely to be a more competitive effort, but at this point it’d be tough to expect any kind of dramatic win unless Tom Brady retires to focus on his health cult side business. Tampa Bay weathered Atlanta’s best shot and then stomped them into the turf last time these two teams met, so I imagine the Falcons will struggle to pull this one off in the cozy confines of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Week 14: @ Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m., Sunday, December 12

See above for the Panthers, who could have recovered their footing a bit by this point in the 2021 season. So long as they’re heavily reliant on Darnold, though, I’m not sure they’ll be more than a borderline contender with a truly ferocious defense, which is of course more than enough to beat the Falcons in Charlotte unless Atlanta’s at the height of their powers.

Week 15: @ San Francisco 49ers, 4:05 p.m., Sunday, December 19

An interesting matchup for several reasons. We don’t know yet whether Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance will be under center, for one, but we also don’t know how good this team actually is after they’ve beaten the Lions and Eagles fairly narrowly and lost to 2.5 good teams in the form of the Packers, Cardinals and Seahawks. The defense still has loads of talent and that vaunted Kyle Shanahan rushing attack is still quality, but Deebo Samuel and George Kittle are the only pass catchers really cooking so far.

It doesn’t feel like we have the true measure of this team, in other words, except to know that they ought to be better than they are. If they’re healthier in Week 15 and Lance is the quarterback, it’s going to be a tough road matchup. If they’re still banged up, players like Brandon Aiyuk haven’t come on and it’s the Jimmy G show, it’ll still be tough, but it’ll certainly feel a lot more winnable.

Week 16: vs. Detroit Lions, 1 p.m., Sunday, December 26

Like the Falcons and Jaguars, the Lions are a team in transition. They’re also a struggling team, one that just got stomped by a score of 34-11 by the Cincinnati Bengals. Like Atlanta, Detroit’s ceiling feels capped this year by the talent on hand to some extent, and with Jared Goff under center that cap feels a little lower and more solid than the one for the Falcons. Barring any weird circumstances over the next 10 or so weeks, this feels like it should be an expected Atlanta win.

Week 17: @ Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m., Sunday, January 3

Okay, I lied earlier. This feels like the game most likely to be a loss, given that you’re asking the Falcons to travel to Buffalo in January and beat one of the best teams in the NFL. The Bills are loaded on both sides of the ball, it’s going to be frigid for a team used to playing in warmer climes and the gap between these two teams from a talent perspective is significant. I’ve had this one down as a loss in pen for a long time, and that’s not changing.

Week 18: vs. New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m., Sunday, January 9

A home game against the hated Saints? The same question marks apply to the Saints writeup above, but ending the year with a win against New Orleans would feel pretty great regardless of what happens the rest of the way. Let’s hope they can at least end the season on a high note.

The floor for this Falcons team feels like five wins to me, with three easy-looking matchups and a couple of manageable ones ahead, and the ceiling still very much feels like eight or nine victories given that it’d be tough to expect them to beat the Bucs, Bills and Cowboys and sweep both Carolina and New Orleans.