The Falcons’ 2018 schedule was released on Thursday night and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Falcons beat writer D. Orlando Ledbetter broke down each opponent for the upcoming season.
After the exhibition schedule, the Falcons will play at the Eagles in a rematch of last year’s NFC Divisional Playoff game to kick off the NFL season.
Friday, Aug. 10 at Jets, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 17 vs. Chiefs, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 26 at Jaguars, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 30 vs. Dolphins, 7 p.m.
Week 1: Thursday, Sept. 6 at Eagles, 8:20 p.m. (NBC)
> Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles went 13-3 and went on to win the Super Bowl last season. Quarterback Carson Wentz is expected to return from reconstructive knee surgery and will take back over for Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles. The Eagles defense is led by defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. The Eagles also added former Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett in free agency. The Eagles added former Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow to help provide depth. Last meeting: Eagles won 15-10 in the divisional playoff round on Jan. 13, 2018, at Lincoln Financial Field. Overall series: Eagles lead the series, 16-13-1.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16 vs. Panthers, 1 p.m. (Fox)
> Carolina Panthers: The Panthers are re-tooling the offense for quarterback Cam Newton with the addition of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. The Panthers also waived long-time running back Jonathan Stewart. They picked up wide receiver Torrey Smith in a trade and signed former Vikings slot receiver Jarius Wright. The Panthers signed former Falcons defensive tackle Dontari Poe to help solidify the interior of the defense and keep blockers off of middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. The Panthers will be without stellar linebacker Thomas Davis, the former Georgia star, for the first four games of the season while he serves a suspension for using performance enhancing drugs. The home team won in both games last season. Last meeting: Falcons won 22-10 on Dec. 31, 2017. Overall series: Falcons led the series 28-18.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23 vs. Saints, 1 p.m. (Fox)
> New Orleans Saints: Quarterback Drew Brees is back for his 13th season with the Saints and 18th in the NFL. Brees did not show signs of slippage as he led the Saints to the NFC South title and the divisional round of the playoffs last season. The Saints are hoping that running back Alvin Kamara can follow up his sensational rookie season. The Saints added former Jets linebacker Demario Davis and former Panthers safety Kurt Coleman in free agency. A couple of former Saints, offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod and cornerback Patrick Robinson, returned to the team via free agency. Last meeting: Saints won 22-13 on Dec. 24, 2017 at the Superdome. Overall series: Falcons lead the series, 51-46.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30 vs. Bengals, 1 p.m. (CBS)
> Cincinnati Bengals: Marvin Lewis enters his 16th season as the Bengals head coach. He’s reached the playoffs seven times, but has not won a game. The Bengals’ offense is built around former Georgia standout wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton. The Bengals went 7-9 last season and finished in third place in the AFC North. The Bengals signed former Bills linebacker Preston Brown and former Buccaneers tackle Chris Baker to help on defense. Last meeting: Bengals won 24-10 on Sept. 14, 2014, at Paul Brown Stadium. Overall series: Bengals lead series, 8-5.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7 at Steelers, 1 p.m. (Fox)
> Pittsburgh Steelers: This one will feature to the game’s best wide receivers in Antonio Brown and Julio Jones. The two have contrasting styles but both have been highly productive over the past four seasons. The Steelers, who also feature quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Le’Veon Bell, went 13-3 last season but lost in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs. Last meeting: The Steelers won 27-20 on Dec. 14, 2014, at the Georgia Dome. Overall series: Steelers lead the series, 13-2-1.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14 vs. Buccaneers, 1 p.m. (Fox)
> Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs, who are led by quarterback Jameis Winston, are coming off a disappointing 5-11 season. Former Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is Tampa Bay’s coach and is headed into his third season. Former Falcons head coach Mike Smith is the Bucs’ defensive coordinator. The Bucs defense is anchored by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, a six-time Pro Bowler, and linebacker Kwon Alexander. The Bucs added defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul in a blockbuster trade with the Giants. Last meeting: Falcons won 24-21 on Dec. 18, 2017, at Raymond James Stadium. Overall series: Falcons lead the series 25-24.
Week 7: Monday, Oct. 22 vs. Giants, 8:15 p.m. (ESPN)
> New York Giants: Eli Manning and Matt Ryan have done battle in the past with Ryan winning the last meeting. However, Manning has a 24-2 playoff victory over Ryan. Pat Shurmur takes over as head coach for the fired Ben McAdoo. The Giants went 3-13 last season and finished in last place in the NFC East. The overly dramatic Odell Beckham Jr. will try to bounce back from a season-ending fractured ankle that caused him to miss 12 games last season. The Giants also added left tackle Nate Solder in free agency. Giants tight end Evan Engram, the former Hillgrove High and Ole Miss standout, will get to play in front family and friends. Last meeting: Falcons won 24-20 on Sept. 20, 2015, at MetLife Stadium. Overall series: Falcons lead the series 12-11.
Week 8: Bye
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4 at Redskins, 1 p.m. (Fox)
> Washington Redskins: The Alex Smith era starts after the team finally moved on from quarterback Kirk Cousins. Washington went 7-9 and finished third in the NFC East last season. The Redskins added linebacker Pernell McPhee, cornerback Orlando Scandrick and wide receiver Paul Richardson in free agency. They are re-tooling on defense after having the 27th ranked scoring defense (24.2 points per game) and the 32nd ranked rush defense (134.1 yards per game) last season. They let go starting cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland, linebacker Trent Murphy, linebacker Su’a Craves, defensive end Junior Gallette and linebacker Will Compton. Last meeting: The Falcons won 25-19 on Oct. 11, 2015, at the Georgia Dome. Overall series: Redskins led the series, 14-9-1.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11 at Browns, 1 p.m. (Fox)
> Cleveland Browns: Former Falcons offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is back for his third season with the Browns, who are trying to rebound from an 0-16 season. They traded for former Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor and are expected to select a quarterback with the first overall pick in the draft. New general manager John Dorsey is attempting to build the defense around defensive end Myles Garrett and linebacker Jamie Collins. Last meeting: Browns won 26-24 on Nov. 23, 2014, at the Georgia Dome. Overall series: Browns lead series, 11-3.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18 vs. Cowboys, 1 p.m. (Fox)*
> Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys, who went 9-7 and finished second in the NFC East last season, return to Atlanta for the second consecutive season. They dumped high-priced wide receiver Dez Bryant and will turn the offense over to quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. Right guard Zach Martin sets the tone up front on a mean and nasty offensive line. The Cowboys signed wide receiver Allen Hurns in free agency. The five-year veteran caught 64 passes for 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Jaguars in 2015. Last meeting: Falcons won 27-7 on Nov. 12, 2017, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Overall series: Cowboys lead the series 14-11.
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 22 at Saints, 8:20 p.m. (NBC)
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2 vs. Ravens, 1 p.m. (CBS)*
> Baltimore Ravens: Quarterback Joe Flacco, who was the first quarterback taken after Matt Ryan in the 2008 NFL draft, will lead the Ravens into Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Since winning the Super Bowl and paying Flacco a lucrative contract, the Ravens have fallen on hard times. They have missed the playoffs in four of the past five seasons. Running back Alex Collins rushed for 973 yards last season to pace the Ravens. Last meeting: Ravens won 29-7 on Oct. 9. 2014, at M&T Bank Stadium. Overall series: Ravens lead the series, 3-2.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9 at Packers, 1 p.m. (Fox)*
> Green Bay Packers: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is back to guide the Packers. He was not happy with the release of quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt and receiver Jordy Nelson, his favorite target. But the Packers still have several weapons and added tight end Jimmy Graham in free agency. Defensively, the Packers are moving in a different director with new coordinator Mike Pettine. The Packers plan to build their revamped defense around tackle Mike Daniels, linebacker Clay Matthews and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Last meeting: Falcons won 34-23 on Sept. 17, 2017, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Overall series: Packers lead the series, 15-14.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16 vs. Cardinals, 1 p.m. (Fox)*
> Arizona Cardinals: Former Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks will be in his first season as the Cardinals head coach. The Cardinals went 8-8 and finished third in the NFC West last season. Veteran quarterback Carson Palmer retired over the offseason while receiver Larry Fitzgerald returned. The Cardinals picked up Sam Bradford to play quarterback and will likely select his heir-apparent in the draft. Defensively, the Cardinals are led by Chandler Jones, who had 17 sacks last season. Former Grayson High and Ole Miss standout Robert Nkemdiche has yet to blossom into a solid professional player. He had only 11 tackles last season. Last meeting: Falcons won 38-19 on Nov. 27, 2016, at the Georgia Dome. Overall series: Cardinals lead the series 15-14.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23 at Panthers, 1 p.m. (Fox)*
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30 at Buccaneers, 1 p.m. (Fox)*
*- Flexible scheduling