When the National Football League released its 2016 regular season schedule Thursday night, fans of the Atlanta Falcons were expecting the final result to be far from pretty. Multiple outlets ranked the Falcons’ 2016 opponents as the toughest in the league, so we already knew it was going to be brutal no matter how it shook out.
But there was one particular game that was especially disappointing for Atlanta fans: Monday, Sept. 26, at the New Orleans Saints.
Nearly 10 years to the day after the Saints played in the Superdome for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, the Falcons will have to go back for another Monday Night Football event in Week 3. I say “event” because it will be far more than a game; for New Orleans, it will be a celebration of how far the city has come in a decade.
The Falcons don’t have a chance. There’s absolutely no way they leave New Orleans with a victory.
For the second time in as many years, the Saints will have the Falcons at the Superdome in prime time, while the Falcons were rewarded with a Week 17 home game at 1 p.m. as the other game in the yearly home-and-home with New Orleans. At least this year’s game will be the final regular-season game at the Georgia Dome; that should count for something extra, as long as the Falcons are still in contention at the end of their unenviable schedule.
Since 2006, the Saints have hosted the Falcons for five prime-time games, if you count the one coming up this season. The Falcons have gotten New Orleans for four national broadcasts in the Georgia Dome, but half of those have been lame Thursday Night Football games. Nobody likes that nonsense, and it’s definitely not the same atmosphere as Monday Night Football.
This becomes an unfair advantage for New Orleans because the Saints are a different team in prime time. In the Big Easy, a night game is an all-day affair, and by 7:30 p.m., the Superdome is a complete madhouse. Visiting teams don’t win there at night, especially the Falcons: they’re 0-4 in prime-time games at the Superdome since 2006, losing by an average of 17 points.
Sending the Falcons to that place for night games every other year is ridiculous.
Conversely, if I think about the most exciting games I’ve attended in my 18 years of watching football at the Georgia Dome, more than half were played at night. The Dome is as much of a home-field advantage as anywhere when the atmosphere is rowdy, and just like in New Orleans, it’s a lot crazier in Atlanta when there’s a prime-time game against a big opponent.
I understand that a night game in New Orleans is better for ratings than one in Atlanta. But in a league that stresses fairness and parity, you’d think they’d provide a level playing field for both sides of one of their most underrated rivalries.
Photo: AP/John BazemoreFollow @Sean_Breslin