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Looking at the remaining Falcons schedule with fresh eyes

Is Atlanta’s slate shaping up to be more difficult or less difficult than it seemed heading into Week 1?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 30 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Pitt v Michigan State Photo by Chris McDill/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’re four games into Atlanta’s 2022 schedule, and thus far we’ve had a few expectations upended. The Rams may have beaten the Falcons, for example, but they look vincible in a way that you wouldn’t have necessarily anticipated heading into the season. The Saints also beat Atlanta, but they look like a heaping pile of burning refuse three weeks later. The Seahawks and Browns, meanwhile, are competitive football teams, with the former being a bit of a surprise, and the Falcons beat both.

That leaves Atlanta at 2-2, which is about where I’d hoped they’d be at this point in the schedule. Is the slate ahead as difficult as it looked like in August, though, or have things changed? Let’s take a fresh look with fresh eyes.

Week 5: Buccaneers

With the Buccaneers’ offense off to a bit of a slow start and injuries piled up among their pass catching options, Tampa Bay looks a little more beatable than they did coming into the season. This will still be the toughest matchup of the year thus far for Atlanta, but with Tom Brady banged up and five of his top receiving options at least somewhat limited this week in practice, it should be a little less intimidating than it appeared ahead of Week 1.

Verdict: Slightly less tough than expected

Week 6: 49ers

In many respects, a similar challenge faces the Falcons the very next week. Kyle Shanahan’s vaunted offense is still quite good but isn’t really rolling yet, but the stellar defense run by DeMeco Ryans is ensuring that doesn’t matter all that much. The 49ers lost Trey Lance for the year, but they’re still one of the better football teams in the NFC, and this matchup won’t be an easy one for Atlanta.

Verdict: As tough as expected

Week 7: Bengals

They started off the year slowly and there are still issues to fix, but Cincinnati has won their past two games over the Dolphins and Jets 54-27, and appear to be rounding into form. If they get Joe Mixon rolling they’ll be extremely dangerous once again, but by the time they face the Falcons I’m expecting the Bengals to be a challenging matchup, just as we expected heading into the season.

Verdict: About as tough as expected.

Week 8: Panthers

The easiest matchup of the season, in all likelihood, with the only potential mitigating factor being a post-Matt Rhule firing bounce at some point this season. Carolina’s defense has a ton of talent but hasn’t quite played as well as you’d think, and the offense is basically a mess. Carolina is a bad football team, and if the Falcons continue to play like they’ve been playing, they should beat them twice.

Verdict: As easy as expected

Week 9: Chargers

A really good football team that is also struggling a bit on the ground. If you have Justin Herbert and an opportunistic defense loaded with talent, which Los Angeles certainly has, you’re going to be a bit of a nightmare matchup every week no matter what. Injuries are inevitably and already taking their toll on the Chargers, but again, they’ll be a difficult matchup for Atlanta so long as Herbert’s good to go.

Verdict: About as tough as expected.

Week 10: Panthers redux

See above. It’s possible Rhule will be fired in between these two games, but otherwise the Panthers Atlanta sees in Week 8 will be very similar to the Panthers they see in Week 10.

Verdict: As easy as expected

Week 11: Bears

Chicago seems like a real-time experiment to crush a young quarterback’s spirit. We’ll see if Justin Fields and Chicago football more generally can rally and rise from the wreckage of years of bad football, but I don’t think it’s happening this season, and I don’t think they can withstand the might of the Falcons. That was fun to type.

Verdict: As easy as expected

Week 12: Commanders

This is the one game that I think looks simple now but won’t be by the time we get there. Washington is way, way too talented to be lousy, even with Carson Wentz at the helm of the offense, and I think they get the ship righted to the point where they’re playing quality football late in the season. They’ll still be a beatable team if they get there, but it’s not going to be a pushover matchup.

Verdict: A moderate challenge

Week 13: Steelers

This might be a pushover matchup. I just am not a big Kenny Pickett believer, and I think even if he does turn out to be something, it’s unlikely to happen in his rookie season on a Steelers team trying to rebuild this thing in real-time.

Verdict: About as easy as expected

Week 14: Bye

Week 15: Saints redux

The Saints are a hilarious tire fire right now. Could that get better as the season goes on? Sure. Will it? I sure hope not, and I think the Falcons won’t make the same mistakes that doomed them the first time.

Verdict: Easier than expected

Week 16: Ravens

This defense containing Lamar Jackson? I don’t think so, sadly. There’s a lot more that will go into this matchup than that, but ultimately the Ravens are a good team helmed by one of the most ridiculous quarterbacks in the game of football. It’s not going to happen.

Verdict: As difficult as expected

Week 17: Cardinals

Another team that’s too talented to be this off-kilter, but also coached by a guy who seems like kind of a doofus, and also one without the caliber of defense that will be able to effectively slow the Falcons if they’re rolling. I’m not saying this is a definite win, but I think even an improving Cardinals squad isn’t good enough to pencil in the Falcons for a loss.

Verdict: Easier than expected

Week 18: Buccaneers redux

At this point in the season, it’s anyone’s guess whether a 45-year-old Tom Brady will be healthy, and whether Tampa Bay will be in a position to rest starters. This is the one game where I’m going to say everything is to be determined, because forecasting this far ahead for a divisional game seems foolish.

Verdict: TBD

So much can change as the season rolls on that the conclusions I’m drawing now likely won’t hold by late in the year, when teams like the Commanders and Cardinals may well have figured things out and provide a more formidable challenge than expected. Still, from where we sit right and based on what we’ve seen to this point, I think it’s fair to say this schedule looks a little easier on balance than we expected.

Given that the Falcons are also more competitive than many of us anticipated, that could very well mean that Atlanta’s in playoff contention deep into the year, which would be welcome. They technically were late last year, but they weren’t good enough to actually push their way into the postseason, whereas this year they might be if things break right. The hope is that matchups that looked tough like the Commanders, Bengals, and even the Saints end up being a little easier and more straightforward than we originally thought, and the Falcons keep swiping wins with their potent offense and opportunistic defense. If they can get steal one of the next two games against the Buccaneers and 49ers, I’m officially going to be optimistic about their chances of clubbing their way to a winning season.

What are your expectations for the remaining Falcons schedule?