Though the dates haven’t yet been released, the Atlanta Falcons announced their 2016 opponents earlier this week. Here’s an early look at those foes and what we might expect from them.
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Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – home and away
We know these opponents well. The Panthers could enter the 2016 season as defending champions, the Saints are in flux and the Bucs will likely continue to improve. The NFC South should be more competitive next season.
San Francisco 49ers – home
The Niners will have a new head coach, and it might be a familiar face. Rumors that the San Francisco front office is aggressively courting Saints head coach Sean Payton are picking up steam, and they also might be interested in former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. The Falcons will be looking for revenge after a highly disappointing 17-16 loss earlier this season to a 49ers team that finished with a 5-11 record.
Arizona Cardinals – home
The NFC West division champions will come to the Georgia Dome in 2016, their first trip to Atlanta since 2014. The Cardinals have won at least 10 games in each of their last three seasons.
Kansas City Chiefs – home
The Chiefs will make their once-every-eight-years trip to Atlanta, as the Falcons will play each of the four AFC West teams in 2016. Kansas City enters the playoffs as the darlings of football, having won 10 consecutive games to finish the season. The Chiefs have posted winning seasons in each of the last three years.
San Diego Chargers – home
The other AFC West opponent coming to Atlanta in 2016, San Diego has not had such a great season. The Chargers closed out their 2015 campaign with a 4-12 record, third-worst in the AFC. It appears the franchise will retain head coach Mike McCoy, who was rumored to be on the hot seat after a disappointing year.
Green Bay Packers – home
Expect the Packers to be good, as always. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who missed all of the 2015 season with a torn ACL, will be back, and that’s really bad news for the Falcons. Nelson is quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target, and while the Green Bay offense hasn’t always been on-target this season, getting Nelson back will make them far more dangerous in 2016.
St. Louis Rams – away
Well, we think this game will be played in St. Louis. We’re still not sure if this team will move to Los Angeles in the offseason, but that’s probably a long shot at this point. This will be Atlanta’s first trip to St. Louis since 2010, and the Rams finished the 2015 season with a 7-9 record, missing the playoffs.
Seattle Seahawks – away
It’ll be a reunion of sorts for Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, who’ll return to Seattle, where he won a Super Bowl while coaching that vaunted defense. One thing’s for sure: it would be nice to make this trip early in the season, before Seattle has its annual hot streak toward the end of the year.
Denver Broncos – away
The Falcons will travel to the AFC’s No. 1 seed in this year’s playoffs, but it remains to be seen if quarterback Peyton Manning will be their starter. Regardless, the Broncos will be a very good team in 2016, and the Falcons will have their hands full on that trip.
Oakland Raiders – away
The Raiders are on the rise, finishing 7-9 after more than a decade of mediocrity. Remember that weird trip to the Bay Area the Falcons had earlier this season? This game could be a lot like that.
Philadelphia Eagles – away
Unlike their game against the Seahawks, the Falcons might be hoping their game against the Eagles is later in the season. Philly always seems to start hot and then fade away. We’ll see what happens next year with a new coaching staff.
Photo by Sean BreslinFollow @Sean_Breslin