2014 Atlanta Falcons Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions, Info and Analysis

Knox Bardeen@knoxbardeenNFC South Lead WriterApril 24, 2014

2014 Atlanta Falcons Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions, Info and Analysis

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    Everyone can breathe now: The 2014 regular-season schedule for the Atlanta Falcons has been released by the NFL.

    For some time, the Falcons have known that they’ll play their normal six games against the NFC South and also face the NFC and AFC North divisions this season. Atlanta’s others two games, based on order of finish last season, are against the Arizona Cardinals and the New York Giants.

    Now, in addition to whom they’ll play, the Falcons know when and on what TV network.

    Injuries plagued the Falcons last year as Atlanta fell from 13-3 in 2012 to 4-12. Can Mike Smith get his team back to the playoffs?

    Here is a look at the complete 2013 Falcons schedule, with a game-by-game analysis and prediction.

Week 1: Saints at Falcons

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    Date/Time: Sunday, Sept. 7, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    If you take a look at the last eight losses the New Orleans Saints have handed the Atlanta Falcons and split them by venue, the average margin of victory in the Georgia Dome by the Saints is 3.25 points. At the Superdome, the Saints beat the Falcons on average by 11.5 points over that span.

    Atlanta would much rather play New Orleans in the comfort of the Georgia Dome. But the Falcons are still 1-4 at home since 2009.

    For some reason, Saints coach Sean Payton has had the Falcons’ number since he arrived in New Orleans in 2006. And even though Atlanta should be better in 2014 than it was in 2013 because of the combination of players returning from injury, holes filled via free agency and a high draft pick in each round, the Falcons still don’t have enough talent on the roster from top to bottom to handle the Saints.

    New Orleans will come into the Georgia Dome and beat Atlanta in a close game.

    Score Prediction: New Orleans 20, Atlanta 17

    Last Meetings (2013):

    Week 1: New Orleans 23, Atlanta 17 (Superdome)

    Week 13: New Orleans 17, Atlanta 13 (Georgia Dome)

Week 2: Falcons at Bengals

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    Date/Time: Sunday, Sept. 14, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: CBS

    The Atlanta Falcons have won their last three meetings against the Cincinnati Bengals, but the games were played between 2002 and 2010. That’s not all that recent.

    When the two teams meet this season, it’ll be the first time Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green and Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones will face off against one another. Cincinnati took Green with the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft. Atlanta moved up 21 spots and took Jones just two picks later.

    Both receivers have flourished.

    Green has gone over 1,000 yards receiving in each of his three seasons and has 3,833 yards in his career on 260 catches. He also has 29 touchdown receptions.

    Jones missed 11 games last season and three during his rookie year, but has 2,737 yards receiving on 174 catches and 20 touchdowns. Green has had the better career thus far, but Jones has the higher upside.

    We’ll get to see them together for the first time in Week 2, but the winning team will be the better on defense. Advantage: Bengals.

    Score Prediction: Cincinnati 30, Atlanta 23

    Last Meetings:

    Oct. 29, 2006: Atlanta 29, Cincinnati 26 (Paul Brown Stadium)

    Oct. 24, 2010: Atlanta 39, Cincinnati 32 (Georgia Dome)

Week 3: Buccaneers at Falcons

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    Date/Time: Thursday, Sept. 18, 8:25 p.m. ET

    Network: CBS/NFL Network

    When it comes to two teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons, teams that underachieved last year and need to vastly improve their rosters via the draft in May, playing at home is crucial.

    You can argue that the talent on offense is a little better in Atlanta, but on defense the Bucs have the edge. Both teams are looking to get better on both sides of the football, but right now, in this rivalry, venue matters.

    Atlanta is 5-1 in the Georgia Dome against the Bucs since 2008 and that record should improve to 6-1 this season.

    The Georgia Dome is a catalyst to quarterback Matt Ryan, and the Falcons defense just tends to move quicker while at home.

    Beating the Bucs is going to be no easy task, but this is a game the Falcons should win.

    Score Prediction: Atlanta 27, Tampa Bay 26

    Last Meetings (2013):

    Week 7: Atlanta 31, Tampa Bay 23 (Georgia Dome)

    Week 11: Tampa Bay 41, Atlanta 28 (Raymond James Stadium)

Week 4: Falcons at Vikings

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    Date/Time: Sunday, Sept. 28, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    One of the first matchups you look at when you see the Minnesota Vikings on the schedule is how running back Adrian Peterson is going to hurt the defense.

    Last season, Peterson probably could have earned a performance bonus from his game stats against Atlanta alone. The Falcons run defense was that bad. But the free-agency period has been solid for the Falcons in regard to stopping the run, so Peterson might eat a little in this game, but he won’t feast.

    After you look at the Peterson matchup, the Falcons need to find where they can do damage. That’s obviously through the air.

    Adding cornerback Captain Munnerlyn might help a little, but this Minnesota defense was ranked 31st against the pass last season, and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan should have a bountiful day.

    Both teams still have questions to answer, but the answers for the Vikings are tougher and further off than those of the Falcons.

    SCORE PREDICTION: Atlanta 28, Minnesota 13


    Dec. 21, 2008: Atlanta 24, Minnesota 17 (Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome)

    Nov. 27, 2011: Atlanta 24, Minnesota 14 (Georgia Dome)

Week 5: Falcons at Giants

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    Date/Time: Sunday, Oct. 5, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    There’s no real telling how long it takes for a team to get over being embarrassed. Is it one payback win? Two, maybe? Or does the sting stick forever?

    The New York Giants not only knocked the Atlanta Falcons out of the 2011 playoffs, they pummeled them by the score of 24-2. The next year during the regular season, the Falcons got to act out revenge by beating the Giants 34-0.

    Are the two teams even?

    There probably won’t be much made of this as a payback game, and rightfully so. But this is a time for the Falcons to start their step-up process and climb out of the huge 4-12 hole they dug themselves into last season.

    The Giants were huge buyers in free agency this offseason. They added cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond and Zach Brown, not to mention they beefed up on offense, too.

    But even though the Giants finished last season with a much better record, the Falcons should be able to head into New York and come away with a win.

    Score Prediction: Atlanta 24, New York 16

    Last Meetings:

    Jan. 8, 2012 (2011 Playoffs): New York 24, Atlanta 2 (MetLife Stadium)

    Dec. 16, 2012: Atlanta 34, New York 0 (Georgia Dome)

Week 6: Bears at Falcons

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    Date/Time: Sunday, Oct. 12, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    The Atlanta Falcons are a dome team and they’re a home team. When they welcome the Chicago Bears it will be with smiles on their faces because there will be no weather or wind involved.

    Now, the Falcons will have to tend with a duo at wide receiver that’s just as electric as the home team. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey will cause fits for the young Atlanta secondary. But so too will Roddy White and Julio Jones for the Falcons. You’ll be hard pressed to find four better receivers all on the same field on the same day, so enjoy that aspect of the game.

    This game is going to come down to rushing the football. Can Atlanta take advantage of the Bears’ last-ranked run defense from a year ago?

    The Falcons have already made some additions to the offensive line via free agency. Expect more to come in the draft. Just as important, running back Steven Jackson should be healthy and ready to show Falcons fans what he didn’t in 2013.

    The Falcons win this one at home, and Jackson has a huge day.

    SCORE PREDICTION: Atlanta 24, Chicago 20


    Oct. 18, 2009: Atlanta 21, Chicago 14 (Georgia Dome)

    Sept. 11, 2011: Chicago 30, Atlanta 12 (Soldier Field)

Week 7: Falcons at Ravens

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    Date/Time: Sunday, Oct. 19, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    You may be bored with it, and they certainly are, but it’s impossible to talk about the Atlanta Falcons and the Baltimore Ravens without comparing Matt Ryan to Joe Flacco, and that’s always going to be the case.

    In the 2008 NFL draft, Atlanta selected Ryan third overall. A whopping 15 picks later, the Ravens took Flacco, creating a permanent quarterback competition between the two.

    To add flames to the fire, Flacco has a Super Bowl ring. To some people, that tips the scale toward him right then and there. But if you have half a brain, you know that titles are a team effort and shouldn’t be the only factor in comparing quarterbacks.

    Ryan has more career passing yards, more touchdowns and fewer interceptions. Flacco has two more career regular-season wins and eight more playoff wins (plus the Super Bowl), and you can see why this is a difficult argument.

    When it comes to head-to-head meetings, Ryan won their only game against one another in 2010. This year, Flacco will even the score.

    Score Prediction: Baltimore 24, Atlanta 21

    Last Meetings:

    Nov. 19, 2006: Baltimore 24, Atlanta 10 (M&T Bank Stadium)

    Nov. 11, 2010: Atlanta 26, Baltimore 21 (Georgia Dome)

Week 8: Lions vs. Falcons (London)

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    Date/Time: Sunday, Oct. 26, 9:30 a.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    There are a ton of questions surrounding this game between the Detroit Lions and the Atlanta Falcons, and not all of them are about X’s and O’s.

    Which team is going to handle the flight overseas better? Do East Coast fans really have to wake up at 9:30 a.m. to watch? (Actually, that might make the football day pretty cool.) Are the chips that come with fish and chips like potato chips or are they French fries?

    This game in London is really going to throw a monkey wrench in just about every aspect of this game prior to kickoff. Once the ball is put in play, however, the game time and the dimensions of the field are exactly the same as if it were being played in the states.

    Atlanta is going to have to take advantage of Detroit through the air, as the Lions gave up 246.9 passing yards per game last season. It's also going to have to highlight its second-year star cornerbacks, and hope they are ready for an aerial assault from the Lions.

    If Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford can contain the Lions passing attack, the Falcons win this one easy.

    Score Prediction: Atlanta 26, Detroit 20

    Last Meetings:

    Oct. 23, 2011: Atlanta 23, Detroit 16 (Ford Field)

    Dec. 22, 2012: Atlanta 31, Detroit 18 (Ford Field)

Week 9: Bye

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    The Falcons were scheduled with a Week 9 bye. It comes after their trip to London to play the Lions.

Week 10: Falcons at Buccaneers

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    Date/Time: Sunday, Nov. 9, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    Both the Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have something to prove in 2014 after identical 4-12 seasons a year ago. Another similarity is the fact that both teams have more talent than their records showed.

    It’s now, however, time to show that 4-12 seasons are something of the past.

    The Bucs spent a truckload of money in free agency to bring in some names that will immediately impact the team. Cornerback Alterraun Verner, defensive end Michael Johnson, quarterback Josh McCown, offensive tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith are some of the names that will help upgrade this roster.

    The Bucs also have a new head coach in Lovie Smith and a new general manager in Jason Licht to help turn around this franchise.

    The help Atlanta has received thus far has been in filling holes like guard Jon Asamoah and, to a certain extent, defensive end Tyson Jackson and defensive tackle Paul Soliai, who could help the Falcons usher in more of a 3-4 look on defense.

    The draft will be huge for both teams, as will getting back some key players from injury. But when it comes to this game in Tampa, just like last season, the Bucs should win. This time it’ll be closer, though.

    Score Prediction: Tampa Bay 28, Atlanta 23

    Last Meetings (2013):

    Week 7: Atlanta 31, Tampa Bay 23 (Georgia Dome)

    Week 11: Tampa Bay 41, Atlanta 28 (Raymond James Stadium)

Week 11: Falcons at Panthers

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    Date/Time: Sunday, Nov. 16, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    The Falcons had won eight of their last 10 meetings with the Carolina Panthers and five in a row before Week 14 of the 2012 season. Since then, the Panthers have won three in a row.

    The tide may have turned in this divisional rivalry, but more than likely, the last two wins by the Panthers were that team taking advantage of an injury-riddled Falcons team in 2013. Atlanta will likely be back at full strength when it begins play in 2014, but will that be enough to take down the reigning NFC South champions?

    Not in Bank of America Stadium.

    Atlanta’s offense should run smoother than it did last season with a healthy Roddy White and Julio Jones manning the wide receiver positions. Throw in a working Steven Jackson (he missed time with an injury too) and Atlanta may score more points.

    But we’re talking about the second-ranked defense in the NFL here. And Atlanta is traveling to Carolina to play the Panthers at home, without tight end Tony Gonzalez.

    The Falcons don’t have enough yet to pull off this win.

    Score Prediction: Carolina 26, Atlanta 20

    Last Meetings (2013):

    Week 9: Carolina 34, Atlanta 17 (Bank of America Stadium)

    Week 17: Carolina 21, Atlanta 20 (Georgia Dome)

Week 12: Browns at Falcons

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    Date/Time: Sunday, Nov. 23, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: CBS

    The Cleveland Browns don’t do much on offense. That’s been an issue for some time now. Last season they finished 27th in scoring with only 19.3 points per game.

    Ben Tate running the football should help, but the fact that most people outside Cleveland (and probably some within the city limits) couldn’t tell you that Brian Hoyer likely will be the starting quarterback this season for the Browns is a definite detractor.

    The Browns will likely do very little to score points on the Falcons, which means Matt Ryan only has to punch the football into the end zone two, maybe three times to win this football game.

    The Falcons offense should be improved from 2013 with a healthy White and Jones. Just how improved depends on how well the Falcons do in the draft.

    Score Prediction: Atlanta 27, Cleveland 17

    Last Meetings:

    Nov. 12, 2006: Cleveland 17, Atlanta 13 (Georgia Dome)

    Oct. 10, 2010: Atlanta 20, Cleveland 10 (Cleveland Browns Stadium)

Week 13: Cardinals at Falcons

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    Date/Time: Sunday, Nov. 30, 4:05 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    The Falcons finished in third place in the NFC South and therefore face the third-place teams from the NFC West and East this year. That’s unfortunate that this year was the NFC, because had it been the year where the division rotates through the AFC, Atlanta could have played teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars or the Miami Dolphins.

    Instead, the Falcons must face the best team that didn’t make the playoffs last season in the Arizona Cardinals.

    The Cardinals lost their two best tacklers from last season in Karlos Dansby and Yeremiah Bell. That might help a little, but this Arizona run defense was still ranked No. 1 in the league last season. Don’t expect a big day running the football for the Falcons.

    Arizona also got better in the secondary with the addition of cornerback Antonio Cromartie. That means it’ll be even tougher to throw against this defense.

    Remember the last time Arizona played in Atlanta. The Falcons won the game, but Ryan threw five interceptions. The Falcons aren’t good enough to recover from an outing like that this year. They’re likely not good enough to beat the Cardinals even if the Falcons play clean football.

    Score Prediction: Arizona 26, Atlanta 24

    Last Meetings:

    Nov. 18, 2012: Atlanta 23, Arizona 19 (Georgia Dome)

    Oct. 27, 2013: Arizona, 27, Atlanta 13 (University of Phoenix Stadium)

Week 14: Falcons at Packers

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    Date/Time: Monday, Dec. 8, 8:30 p.m. ET

    Network: ESPN

    The last three times Atlanta has played the Green Bay Packers, the Packers have won. And that includes a 2010 playoff beatdown at home to the tune of 48-21.

    Sure, the Packers went on to win the Super Bowl as a six seed, but that was a year Atlanta was primed to make its mark on football history. That loss still hurts.

    Atlanta traveled to Green Bay last season and blew a 21-10 halftime lead to lose 22-21. That wouldn’t sound quite so bad until you consider that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn’t lead the comeback. It was Matt Flynn.

    Rodgers will be back under center (even though Flynn seemed good enough to handle the Falcons on his own) for the Packers and slinging the football around like the elite quarterback that he is. This is bad news for the Falcons.

    Unless the Falcons have a tremendous draft and pull in multiple players that can get pressure on the quarterback, there’s no real way to slow down the most elite of elite passers in Rodgers.

    Score Prediction: Green Bay 33, Atlanta 21

    Last Meetings:

    Oct. 9, 2011: Green Bay 25, Atlanta 14 (Georgia Dome)

    Dec. 8, 2013: Green Bay 22, Atlanta 21 (Lambeau Field)

Week 15: Steelers at Falcons

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    Date/Time: Sunday, Dec. 14, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: CBS

    The Pittsburgh Steelers finished 8-8 last season and haven’t been to the playoffs since 2011. They’d like to get off the 8-8 train (their record in each of the last two seasons) and are going to need a win in Atlanta to make that happen.

    The Falcons don’t match up extremely well with the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s best trait last season was its pass defense, ranked ninth in the NFL after giving up 222.1 passing yards per game. Atlanta’s only real way to move the ball down the field is through the air. At least that was the case in 2013.

    Atlanta ranked dead last in rushing offense and is going to have to prove in 2014 that not only have Steven Jackson’s woes been fixed carrying the football, but the offensive line has learned how to open up holes and stay with blocks.

    In late April, before any draft pick has been made, there’s no real reason to believe the Falcons can instigate a win over a team like the Steelers by running the football.

    Score Prediction: Pittsburgh 24, Atlanta 21

    Last Meetings:

    Oct. 22, 2006: Atlanta 41, Pittsburgh 38 (Georgia Dome)

    Sept. 12, 2010: Pittsburgh 15, Atlanta 9 (Heinz Field)

Week 16: Falcons at Saints

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    Date/Time: Sunday, Dec. 21, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    The Atlanta Falcons entered the NFL as a new franchise in 1966. The New Orleans Saints followed the next season. Their rivalry, based in geography, was soon dubbed the “Dixie Championship.”

    The Falcons took an early lead in the head-to-head battle, winning nine of the first 10 and 20 of the first 27 games. But of late, especially since 2006 when head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees got to New Orleans, the Saints have been top dog.

    The Falcons and Saints have played 16 times since 2006 and Atlanta has only won three times.

    The Falcons were decimated by injury last season, and the Saints switched to a 3-4 defensive scheme and quickly learned to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. Their two meetings were close, but New Orleans still swept.

    Atlanta will likely be made whole before the regular season, meaning all of its offensive weaponry will be back (minus the retired Gonzalez). But that still won’t be enough to beat a New Orleans team in the Superdome that could have enough to make a run at a Super Bowl.

    Score Prediction: New Orleans 27, Atlanta 20

    Last Meetings (2013):

    Week 1: New Orleans 23, Atlanta 17 (Superdome)

    Week 13: New Orleans 17, Atlanta 13 (Georgia Dome)

Week 17: Panthers at Falcons

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    Date/Time: Sunday, Dec. 28, 1 p.m. ET

    Network: Fox

    The Falcons are 5-1 over their last six meetings in the Georgia Dome against the Carolina Panthers. Without wasting any more time setting up this prediction…the Falcons will move to 6-1 this season.

    It’s extremely safe to say that the Falcons roster, from top to bottom, wasn’t as bad as their 4-12 record last year. Injuries took their toll and a lack of depth really kept them from pulling out of that jam.

    Two things will make a 2014 turnaround possible.

    1. Guys like Julio Jones, Kroy Biermann, Steven Jackson, Sean Weatherspoon and a host of others who missed time due to an injury last season will be back.
    2. Because the Falcons will be picking at the top of every round in the draft (and have three compensatory picks), most of the depth issues can be solved with a well-executed draft plan.

    The Panthers still have the dominant defense in this matchup. But Atlanta’s offense is better. In the Georgia Dome, that equates to a victory.

    Score Prediction: Atlanta 20, Carolina 17

    Last Meetings (2013):

    Week 9: Carolina 34, Atlanta 17 (Bank of America Stadium)

    Week 17: Carolina 21, Atlanta 20 (Georgia Dome)