As it is tradition in the NFC South, the Atlanta Falcons will fall back to Earth after winning the Division and NFC Championship in 2016. If only the team had to deal with the normal Super Bowl hangover; the Falcons must also deal with arguably the most historically humiliating loss in history.
The Atlanta Falcons survive the off-season mostly intact with no significant free agency losses and a preseason with no major injuries. And while former Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s departure to become Head Coach of the San Francisco 49ers is the most noteworthy change, that should not have a severe impact on such an experienced unit.
For the second year in a row, General Manager Thomas Dimitroff and Head Coach Dan Quinn made defense the personnel priority in free agency and the draft. The Falcons used their top two picks to acquire Defensive End Takkarist McKinley and Linebacker Duke Riley. Both rookies made strong showings in the pre-season while free agent Dontari Poe bolsters a defense that gave up 4.5 yards per rush and 15 rushing TDs in 2016.
Now, what’s in store for the 2017 Atlanta Falcons? If expectations are based on last year’s success, this could be a disappointing season. The Falcons not only face a tougher schedule than last year but they have to contend in a stronger NFC South Division.
Week 1 (Sep 10) @ Chicago Bears
The Falcons couldn’t have asked for a better road opponent starting their season at Chicago in the warm part of early September. The 3-win Bears seem to be in a re-building phase dumping much of their offensive talent to start a youth movement. To make matters worse for them, and somewhat easier for the Falcons, they lose emerging talent, Cameron Meredith for the season allowing the Falcons to key in defensively on the run.
Result: Win 24-6
Week 2 (Sep 17) Vs. Green Bay Packers
A 2016 NFC Championship rematch, the Green Bay Packers return to Atlanta to avenge their shot at the Lombardi Trophy. This time, the Pack doesn’t take their opponents for granted and jump out to an early lead; a position in which the Falcons have had a difficult time finding success. The Falcons’ young secondary talent will be victims of two quick-strike TDs from Aaron Rodgers in the first few possessions and pressure the offense to become one-dimensional.
Result: Loss 21-41
Week 3 (Sept 24) @ Detroit Lions
Which Detroit Lions will the Falcons face at Ford Field? Will it be the perennially “much improved” pre-season darlings that play like champions (on paper) or the underachieving all-aptitude squad that gets pundits’ and fans’ hopes up just to finish just outside the playoffs by week 17? Atlanta more than likely marches into this game against a winless Lions who fail to capitalize on the home-field advantage.
Result: Win 27-13
Week 4 (Oct 1) Vs. Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills are a team in transition with new head coach Sean McDermott attempting to put his stamp on the team. There are question marks abound in Buffalo including which version of LeSean McCoy will show up as well as the health of Quarterback Tyrod Taylor (if he is the starting QB by week 4). The Falcons should hold serve with a relatively easy matchup. The Bills have a chance if they can get to Matt Ryan early and often.
Result: Win 9-14
Week 6 (Oct 15) Vs. Miami Dolphins
Coming off their bye-week, the Falcons host the Dolphins now led by Quarterback Jay Cutler who gives them a passing threat they haven’t had in decades (to think, they could have had Drew Brees). Balanced with a Jay Ajayi-led run game and a group of young and talented receivers, the Dolphins won’t be pushovers in the inter-conference match. Still, the Falcons pull this one out with an extra week of rest and at home as well as a classic Cutler pick returned for a touchdown.
Result: Win 17-20
Week 7 (Oct 22) @ New England Patriots
The Super Bowl LI rematch, this time not on a neutral site, the New England Patriots host the Atlanta Falcons stronger than ever. Not only will the Falcons enter hostile Gillette Stadium in the fall but face a reloaded offense. The Patriots should make short work of the Falcons on prime time Sunday Night Football marking the beginning of a downslide for the rest of the season.
Result: Loss 10-42
Week 8 (Oct 29) @ N.Y. Jets
The second of a three-game road trip, the Falcons face off against the New York Jets. Potentially the beneficiary of a second bye-week courtesy of a Jets franchise that purged their roster in a rebuilding/sandbagging season in hopes of drafting Wyoming Quarterback: Josh Allen. Odds are that Atlanta will escape with a win but if the black cloud over New Rutherford, NJ prevails, the Jets will hand the Falcons their third loss of the season contributing to them picking fifth in 2018 and settling for some player sure to be a future bust.
Result: Loss 12-13
Week 9 (Nov 5) @ Carolina Panthers
If the past two weeks weren’t hard enough for the returning NFC champs, they end their road trip against division foes, Carolina. The team I project to win the South in 2018, the Panthers hand the Falcons their fourth loss of the season on the strength of a healthy Cam Newton and rejuvenated defense.
Result: Loss 13 – 24
Week 10 (Nov 12) Vs. Dallas Cowboys
Coming off a NFC-best record 13-3 in 2016, the Cowboys come to Atlanta to prove that last year was not a fluke. If Ezekiel Elliott’s status remains the same as of today, he will be returning three games fresh off a 6-game suspension. If the Cowboys successfully deploy an offensive strategy of controlling the time of possession, they will leave Atlanta with a win.
Result: Loss 24-14
Week 11 (Nov 20) @ Seattle Seahawks
The Falcons brutal skid continues thanks to another road trip to one of the most difficult places for opponents. Dan Quinn returns to Seattle to face Russell Wilson and the 12th man and potentially reeling from four straight losses. If the Falcons hope to pull off the upset, it will be because of their efforts on defense. Can they corral a mobile Wilson and pressure him into mistakes? The Seahawks withstand the rush and wrap up Week 11 Monday Night with a win.
Result: Loss 7-17
Week 12 (Nov 26) Vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The first of a three-game home stand, the Falcons return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium but there is no respite. Hosting another NFC South opponent, the Tampa Bay Bucs come to town to take advantage of a Falcons team on their heels. Armed with new additions: DeSean Jackson and rookies O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin, the Bucs intend to out-firepower the high-flying Falcons. However, the prideful Falcons don’t fall to the Bucs and get a win in a high-scoring game.
Result: Win 31-21
Week 13 (Dec 3) Vs. Minnesota Vikings
The enigmatic Minnesota Vikings can be a tough team to figure out. Starting the season hot with five straight wins and led by the last-minute addition of Sam Bradford at starting Quarterback and a seemingly unstoppable defense, Minnesota remarkably finished the season at .500. In his six seasons in the NFL, Bradford has only played a complete season twice so it’s not a given he will be starting by this point behind an offensive line that gave up 38 sacks in 2016. Regardless, the Atlanta offense should be able to do just enough to win in a low-scoring, defensive game.
Result: Win 9-13
Week 14: (Dec 7) Vs. New Orleans Saints
Finally, after 14 weeks, Atlanta hosts their most-hated rivals: the New Orleans Saints. No longer contending for a division title, the Falcons’ goal is to spoil the Saints’ rally to overtake Carolina. Atlanta will jump out to a big lead but these contests always go down to the final second. Drew Brees will lead his team to a 4th quarter rally but come up short in the first of two annual meetings.
Result: Win 28-24
Week 15: (Dec 18) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Falcons travel to Tampa Bay after an emotional win versus the Saints only to fall short against the Bucs. Jameis Winston continues to improve and leads his team on offense while Matt Ryan and the Falcons fail to respond.
Result: Loss 9-20
Week 16 (Dec 24) @ New Orleans Saints
Part 2 versus the Saints, the Falcons travel to the other Mercedes-Benz dome to close out the Saints’ hopes of a post-season (or at least a division title). In a back-and-forth fight, the Saints and Falcons settle the contest in overtime with the Falcons winning on a Matt Bryant field goal. Atlanta doesn’t salvage their playoff hopes but they drag the Saints into the Swamp of Eternal Sadness with them.
Results: Win 31-28 (OT)
Week 17 (Dec 31) Vs. Carolina Panthers
Atlanta ends a disappointing season hosting the NFC South-winning Panthers. Still contending for home-field advantage in the playoffs, the Panthers do not elect to rest their starters. The Falcons put up a good fight at home but the Panthers secure their bye winning a close one on the road.
Result: Loss: 24-21
2017 Season Results: 8-8
The Falcons finish the season at .500 after crashing back to Earth in the wake of a dream 2016 season. Pro Bowl mainstays like Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Devonta Freeman should still have their usual statistical seasons; they just won’t be reflected in the win-loss column. The combination of competing in a fierce division, playing tough road games throughout the midseason, and the letdown from the Super Bowl will be too much for the Atlanta Falcons to overcome in 2017.