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How friendly will the 2021 Falcons schedule end up being?

On paper, the opponents don’t look as tough as 2020, but the larger question of how things will line up still remains.

Atlanta Falcons v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Wednesday , the NFL will release its 2021 schedule, including for our Atlanta Falcons. Those looking to see the Arthur Smith-coached Falcons in person this year will be able to start planning ahead, but we’ll also get a better sense of just how difficult this schedule is shaping up to be. That’s important, because coaching and personnel improvements are critical to this team’s turnaround, but an easier schedule would make a big difference.

While we wait a few days until the league’s next big milestone, let’s take a moment to review what we do know about the schedule before its release, and what reasons we have to think it’ll be easier than last year while still potentially far from a cakewalk.

2021 opponents

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What’s favorable

The strength of this year’s opponents does not seem as robust on paper. In 2020, depending on whose strength of schedule you subscribe to, the Falcons faced anywhere between a top 5 and top 10 slate in terms of difficulty, and they responded by wilting en route to a 4-12 season. In 2021, things are easier...on paper.

Just by looking at simple 2020 winning percentages, the Falcons are facing the fourth-easiest schedule in the league. Only the Buccaneers, Bills and Dolphins were good in 2020 and figure to be close to that good again, with the Saints likely to take a major step back owing to the retirement of Drew Brees, cap woes, and puzzling draft class.

There are several opponents here who were bad last year and will likely stay bad, including the Jets (I like Robert Saleh, but it’s the Jets), the Giants, the Eagles and the Lions all should be near the basements of their respective divisions, and if Atlanta’s improvement is genuine that’s four wins they should get right out of the gate. Generally speaking, moving from the NFC North and AFC West to the NFC East and AFC East is at least a move in the right direction.

What’s unfavorable

Atlanta has just 7 home games against 10 road games, which is a ridiculous thing to type after years of a 16 game season. That’s because the team’s 17th game is scheduled to be a road contest against the Jaguars, and one of their home games is going to be taking place in London. This team hasn’t exactly been a great home team to this point in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but that’s still a potential issue, especially with the AFC East potentially looming for cold weather matchups.

Without knowing exactly how the schedule lines up, we don’t know whether the Falcons have a bye week in a quality spot or not, as well. It’s impossible to predict injuries or fatigue, but a very early bye in a grueling 17 game season that features travel abroad would be far from ideal.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the 2020 records don’t come close to telling the full story with some of these teams. The 49ers should absolutely bounce back after an off year, the Jaguars are deeply unlikely to stink that badly again with Trevor Lawrence at the helm, and the Panthers and Patriots are two teams who were so-so in 2020 but had strong offseasons on paper that should at least make them more competitive in 2021. The Cowboys and Football Team also do not figure to be slouches, because Dallas will have Dak Prescott back and Washington was sneakily good last year anyways.

In the end, it’s hard to look at the opponents on the list this year and not expect this to be an easier ride for Atlanta, even if things are rarely as simple as they seem. We’ll see how the full schedule shakes out on Wednesday night, but if Atlanta does get the better coaching and better offensive performances they clearly expect, they should at least handily improve on their dismal 2020.