Falcons must be quick out of gate, because extremely difficult schedule awaits

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Every year, it’s a common tradition for the major sports websites to line up their writers and have them predict who’ll win each of the NFL’s eight divisions. Some will even tell you who’s going to win the Super Bowl, in a league where parity is king, before a single down is played.

CBS Sports did such a thing, asking its seven writers to predict where all 32 teams will finish in their respective divisions. As for the Atlanta Falcons? Only two of the seven writers had them finishing better than last place in the NFC South. Not one of them took Atlanta to win the division.

This is the uphill climb of a team that struggled to a .500 record a year ago – an organization that’s still just three years removed from an appearance in the NFC title game. But there’s more at play in 2016, and it’s not something the Falcons can control.

Atlanta’s 2016 schedule, to put it bluntly, is about as hard as any schedule you’ll ever see.

The Falcons will have to hit the ground sprinting this Sunday, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to the Georgia Dome. Atlanta is favored by 3 1/2 points, according to MyTopSportsBooks.com, and as they’ll remind you, the Falcons are just 7-9 at home in the last two seasons. If the Falcons want to beat the Bucs, Sunday will be the time, because they’ll play at Tampa Bay on three days’ rest in early November. I can’t see Atlanta winning that one.

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Perhaps that’s the one thing that makes Atlanta’s schedule so tough – they hardly have a chance to catch their breath at any point in the season. After their Week 1 home game, they’ll immediately head to the West Coast for a game against the Oakland Raiders, and they’re on Monday Night Football the next week against the New Orleans Saints, almost exactly 10 years to the day after they famously returned to the Superdome following Hurricane Katrina.

Yeah, that’ll be a real easy one for the Falcons.

From there, it’s a home game against the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers, followed by a road trip to play the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks. We’re six weeks in and there’s not an easy game in the mix.

Follow that up with home games against the San Diego Chargers and Green Bay Packers, and then it’s time for another road trip: first, the aforementioned Thursday night tilt in Tampa Bay, and then it’s off to Philly for a game against the Eagles.

They’ll get a bye week in Week 11, but even the most optimistic Falcons fan will struggle to find five wins in the first 10 weeks.

After the week off, it’s two home games with the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs – two teams that are considered by many to be the favorites in their respective division. Week 14 brings a road game at the L.A. Rams, and in Week 15, they get a shot at the San Francisco 49ers at home. Finish it out with one more against the Panthers and Saints, and with any luck, the final game at the Georgia Dome, against New Orleans, will hold more importance than just bragging rights over a hated rival.

There will be some teams that’ll surprise the world in a bad way, sure, but the Falcons’ 2016 schedule looks absolutely loaded. It seems you’d have to be an optimist to predict an 8-8 season and crazy to forecast anything better than that.

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