Ladies and gentlemen, the 2021 NFL schedule is officially here. With the draft in the books and most rosters all but locked and loaded for the fall, we can finally turn our eyes toward the season.
The NFC South promises plenty of intrigue this year, what with the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers being in the division and all. But they're not the only team rife with intrigue. The New Orleans Saints are moving on from legendary quarterback Drew Brees. The Carolina Panthers are beginning the Sam Darnold era. And the Atlanta Falcons are moving forward under a new coach and general manager, with star tight end and No. 4 overall pick Kyle Pitts now in tow.
Speaking of the Falcons, here's a full rundown of their 17-game schedule, including key matchups and a season prediction:
2021 Falcons schedule
vs. Jets (London)
|18||vs. Saints||Jan. 9||1 p.m.||FOX|
Falcons key games
- Week 4 vs Football Team: The Falcons need to knock off other NFC contenders if they want to get back into the playoffs. Washington "won" the NFC East last season and should be in the mix again, but could also end up fighting for one of the wild card slots. With this being a home game for Atlanta, it's especially important that the Falcons secure a win.
- Week 10 at Cowboys: Again, beating conference opponents who could be in the playoff mix is very important. This is also a revenge game for Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who used to be the head coach of the Falcons. Avenging last season's absurd loss to the Cowboys would probably feel pretty nice.
- Week 15 at 49ers: I feel like a broken record, but if the Falcons are going to make a run at a playoff spot, they're going to have to beat some of the other middle-tier teams in the NFC. The 49ers are one of those teams. We don't yet know if it'll be Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance under center for San Francisco, but we do know the Niners will be able to send a ferocious pass rush after Matt Ryan.
Falcons toughest matchup
Week: 17 | Date: Jan. 2 | Time: 1 p.m.
Opponent: at Buffalo Bills
The Bills pose two different types of problems for the Falcons. First, their offense is incredibly explosive and stacked with perimeter threats, perfectly suited to take advantage of Atlanta's weaknesses in coverage. Second, the Bills actually have the type of cornerback depth that can hold up against Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, and one of the most athletic linebacking corps in the league to try to wrangle Kyle Pitts. Throw in the fact that the Falcons have to travel to Orchard Park for this matchup, and it's quite a difficult test.
Falcons projected win total
2021 record prediction: 9-8
The Falcons finished just 4-12 last season, but they had the point differential of a 7.6-win outfit. Teams with that profile tend to win a few more games the following year, and it seems reasonable to expect that from the Falcons -- especially after they added yet another elite weapon to their offense in Kyle Pitts. Throw in a coaching upgrade with Arthur Smith and defensive coordinator Dean Pees, and it's not difficult to see them pushing for a playoff spot. The defense is still lacking in high-end talent beyond Grady Jarrett, though, so it's tough to get them into the double-digit win range.