Coming off back-to-back seven-win seasons, the Atlanta Falcons game are set to embark on what could be a pivotal year for head coach Dan Quinn.
The Falcons announced in December they were retaining Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Jason La Canfora questioned, however, whether team owner Arthur Blank will look for a new head coach should the team start slowly out of the gates in 2020.
The level of competition in the NFC South didn’t get any easier for Atlanta. Drew Brees returned to the New Orleans Saints, and Tom Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Still, anything short of a playoff appearance will likely be considered a disappointment.
With the NFL unveiling the regular-season schedule, here’s what the Falcons’ road ahead looks like per the team’s website.
Atlanta Falcons Schedule
|1||vs Seattle Seahawks||SUN, SEPT. 13 1PM | FOX|
|2||vs Dallas Cowboys||SUN, SEPT. 20 1PM | FOX|
|3||vs Chicago Bears||SUN, SEPT. 27 1PM | FOX|
|4||vs Green Bay Packers||MON, OCT. 5 8PM | ESPN|
|5||vs Carolina Panthers||SUN, OCT. 11 1PM | FOX|
|6||vs Minnesota Vikings||SUN, OCT. 18 1PM | FOX|
|7||vs Detroit Lions||SUN, OCT. 25 1PM | FOX|
|8||vs Carolina Panthers||THU, OCT. 29 8PM | FOX|
|9||vs Denver Broncos||SUN, NOV. 8 1PM | CBS|
|11||vs New Orleans Saints||SUN, NOV. 22 1PM | FOX|
|12||vs Las Vegas Raiders||SUN, NOV.29 1PM | CBS|
|13||vs New Orleans Saints||SUN, DEC. 6 1PM | FOX|
|14||vs Las Angeles Chargers||SUN, DEC. 13 4PM | FOX|
|15||vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers||SUN, DEC. 20 1PM | FOX|
|16||vs Kansas City Chiefs||SUN, DEC. 27 1PM | FOX|
|17||vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers||SUN, JAN. 3 1PM | FOX|
Based on their opponents’ 2019 records, the Falcons are tied with the fifth-toughest schedule in the NFL, per John Breech. Of course, that doesn’t reflect whether teams have strengthened or weakened this offseason.
The Falcons and their NFC South brethren drew the AFC West for their inter-conference games in 2020. Atlanta has the misfortune of playing the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on the road, too.
Other than the Chiefs, though, the AFC West is in a state of flux.
The Los Angeles Chargers have a new starting quarterback for the first time since 2005, while the Denver Broncos handed their offense over to Drew Lock when they released Joe Flacco. In Sin City, Derek Carr is on shaky ground after the Las Vegas Raiders signed Marcus Mariota.
Racking up three wins against AFC West opponents isn’t a guarantee but certainly feasible for Atlanta.
The bad news for the Falcons is that they welcome the Seattle Seahawks and hit the road to play the Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. Each of those games could have postseason implications, and Atlanta is arguably the underdog in every one.
In general, the schedule does the Falcons few favors.
Atlanta’s divisional games obviously carry a significant amount of weight, but the team is effectively the third-favorite right now to take the NFC South.
The wild card is the Falcons’ likeliest route to the playoffs, which puts a level of importance on those aforementioned matchups with the Vikings, Cowboys, Packers and Seahawks. Those five teams could all be jostling for positioning in the middle of the NFC standings.
Looking at that group, Atlanta’s Week 1 date with Seattle could carry the most weight.
The Seahawks have finished runner-up in the division for three straight years and they’ll have a hard time overtaking the reigning champion San Francisco 49ers. That puts them in closer competition with the Falcons.
By losing to Seattle, Atlanta would have an even smaller margin of error across a schedule that provides precious few games that could be reasonably considered gimmes.