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A Falcons schedule refresher with seven games to go

What teams are trending up, trending down, and figuring to seriously challenge Atlanta?

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The Falcons have seven games to go. At 4-6, they’ve exceeded the expectations most fans and pundits had for them through ten games—I had them around same record at this point, personally, but with very different wins and losses—but having done so they’re now subject to greater scrutiny after dropping three of their past four games. If Atlanta is going to find their way to a winning season, playoff berth, NFC South title, or all of the above, they’ll have to start winning games against their final seven opponents.

This looked like the more manageable stretch of the season over the summer, but as we all know, things change a lot on a monthly basis in the NFL. So how do all these upcoming opponents look for the Falcons? Let’s zoom in.

Week 11: Chicago Bears

Verdict: Trending up

The Bears looked like they were set to blow up the entire team, permanently ruin Justin Fields, and have new general manager Ryan Poles toil away for half a decade with the end result being another mediocre stretch of Chicago football. Quickly and not at all quietly, that has changed.

This team finally seems to have figured out how to play to Fields’ strengths, and over the past six weeks he has thrown for 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions, adding600yards and five additional touchdowns with his legs. They’re still not all that good, but they’re starting to get more out of a limited roster and may have the franchise’s best quarterback since...well, you have to go back quite a ways, we’ll leave it at that. They’re competitive and feisty, and that’s a damn sight better than I expected even half the season ago. Their ability to run, Fields’ arm and mobility, and some slight defensive improvements make them a dangerous foe for Atlanta this coming Sunday.

Week 12: Washington Commanders

Verdict: Sort of where we expected

We’ll see how Washington fares against the Eagles tonight, but I’m not expecting any big surprises. It’s quite possible they’ll have Carson Wentz back under center to give the Commanders a larger range of possible outcomes on offense—some good, some very bad—but this team is just so-so.

They have some great receivers, but they don’t really have the quarterback situation sorted out. They have a stable of talented runners, but haven’t really been able to get anything of them going. They have a defense that should be better than the sum of its parts but really isn’t.

Atlanta’s not in a position to take any team lightly at the moment, and Washington is solid enough across the board to be a problem. They just shouldn’t be able to beat Atlanta on a good day, and they shouldn’t have any big surprises up their collectives sleeves.

Week 13: Pittsburgh Steelers

Verdict: Trending down

The Steelers just beat the Saints, which was great. They still aren’t very good.

The danger with Pittsburgh is that a compelling ground game and capable defense coached by one of the very best head coaches in football is enough to overcome a very shaky rookie quarterback and a raft of roster holes on a good day, and that’s what Mike Tomlin and company did to New Orleans just this past week. They need to be playing a sloppy football team who can’t punish them for their weaknesses—again, hello Saints—to make all of that work, but the 2022 Steelers simply aren’t very good unless they’re getting turnovers and imposing their will on the ground.

Week 15: New Orleans Saints

Verdict: Trending down

To our collective delight, the Saints stink. They’re 3-7 and tied with the Panthers for the bottom of the NFC South, and while Carolina has at least shown some recent signs of life, New Orleans has essentially shut out the hapless Raiders and otherwise gotten eviscerated by every half-decent offense they face. Given their current situation, their lack of a franchise quarterback at the moment—a long-term problem they may share with every other teams in the division—and their deep cap space hole to kick off the spring, the Saints are in a bad spot.

Every game against them is unfortunately rife with frustration, but the Saints winning a hard-fought one against the Falcons early in the year did not prove to indicate that they were actually any good. So long as Atlanta’s healthy heading into this one, they should avenge Week 1.

Week 16: Baltimore Ravens

Verdict: Trending up

This hasn’t been a juggernaut Ravens team, but you know what you’re getting from them: Sometimes smothering defense, the greatness of Lamar Jackson, and occasionally the kind of total team that equals out to having a high-energy laser beam pointed directly at your face. They’re a good team, and with a bye this week and some time to tweak some things, there’s a good chance they’ll be borderline great down the stretch.

This is the only game left on the schedule I don’t think the Falcons have much of a chance of winning on a good day.

Week 17: Arizona Cardinals

Verdict: Trending down

The Cardinals are bad and a mess. They have a decent offense, an awful defense capable of brief stretches of better-than-average play, and one of the worst coaches in the NFL. Kliff Kingsbury is not long for this job unless Arizona starts winning, and they’ve lost four of their last five games owing to their overall ineptitude. It’s always possible they find their footing a bit by this point—or that they get a little bit of a bounce from an interim head coach, given that Kingsbury is probably going to be fired soon—but they should be an opponent the Falcons can tee off on.

Week 18: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Verdict: Trending up

The Falcons were a team on the rise and the Buccaneers were falling into irrelevance just a couple of weeks ago. Atlanta was 4-4, after all, and Tampa Bay was 3-5, having lost in embarrassing fashion three weeks in a row to the hapless Steelers, shaky Panthers, and Ravens.

Unfortunately, Tampa Bay was probably too talented to stay down forever, and they’ve found their footing a bit with back-to-back wins over the also hapless Rams and a more quality squad in the Seahawks. That’s brought them to 5-5 and the head of the NFC South, and chances are they’ll at least play decent football the rest of the way. It’s still very possible the Buccaneers and Falcons will be playing for the NFC South in Week 18, but Tampa Bay doesn’t look like they’ll line up as a pushover.

How many wins do you see left on this slate?