Sept. 11, Tampa Bay: The Falcons went 1-5 in the NFC South last season, which included getting swept in two games by the Buccaneers for the first time since 2007. Had they gone 3-3, they would’ve finished 10-6 and possibly made the playoffs. And now look: The Falcons will be going against former coaches Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith. It would help the Falcons if they’ve learned how to tackle Jameis Winston. Falcons win (1-0).
Sept. 18, at Oakland: The Raiders are a chic pick to the make the playoffs. That is the only time you’ll read “chic” and “Raiders” in the same sentence. General manager Reggie McKenzie has done a nice building job, particularly on defense. But I still see a team that’s going to struggle to run the ball. This is the first of the Falcons’ four trips West. Falcons win (2-0).
Sept. 26 (Monday), at New Orleans: The Saints are going to be a mediocre team but this is a series known for unpredictable outcomes. New Orleans’ front seven is weak and I doubt they’re going to be a great running team, but it’s Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and Drew Brees is at quarterback so that will be enough to make it a final-possession game. Again. Falcons pull it out. Falcons win (3-0).
Oct. 2, Carolina: The Panthers will win the NFC South again because they have the best defense and Cam Newton. Carolina will have two other advantages this week: 1) The memory of losing in the Georgia Dome, their only loss until the Super Bowl; 2) The Falcons will be coming off an emotional win (I say) in a short week. Bad combination. Falcons lose (3-1).
Oct. 9, at Denver: The Falcons have consecutive road games against the Broncos and Seattle, arguably the NFL’s two toughest stadiums for a road opponent. (They’ll stay out West between games.) Denver may be the more winnable game of the two because Peyton Manning is retired and Denver’s quarterback situation (Trevor Siemian gets the first start) may be in flux all season. The Falcons will score just enough against Denver’s defense. Calling an upset. Falcons win (4-1).
Oct. 16, at Seattle: I’ve already given the Falcons one more win on this trip than most will. But not seeing a win in Seattle. Coach Dan Quinn returns to face one of his mentors (Pete Carroll) in the city where he won a Super Bowl, but the Seahawks started to put things together last season, going 8-2 after a 2-4 start and losing a close playoff game at Carolina (31-24). The biggest question is how well the Seahawks can replace Marshawn Lynch. Falcons lose (4-2).
Oct. 23, San Diego: The Falcons are 8-1 in this series, the only loss coming in Fulton County Stadium in 1988. This won’t buck the trend. The Chargers still have quarterback Phillip Rivers and they’re solid at receiver but they’re weak on the offensive line and at running back and they have one of the worst front sevens in the NFL. Joey Bosa may help eventually but he held out and didn’t sign until less than two weeks before the season. Falcons win (5-2).
Oct. 30, Green Bay: The Packers had problems on both lines last season and this isn’t nearly as good a team as the one that won the Super Bowl in 2010. (Playoff record since: 3-5). But I still see the same Aaron Rodgers and visions of a Tramon Williams 70-yard pick six in a 2010 playoff game in the Georgia Dome still dance in my head. I also think the Packers will get a better season from Eddie Lacy than a season ago. Falcons lose (5-3).
Nov. 3, at Tampa Bay (Thursday): Bad turnaround: Short week, on the road and against a team that will be looking to avenge a Week 1 loss (assuming my predictions didn’t jump the rails in the season opener). Defensive end Robert Ayers, signed as a free agent, should help the Bucs’ pass rush and I suspect Mike Smith will have learned something from the first meeting. Falcons lose (5-4).
Nov. 13, at Philadelphia: So the Chip Kelly Experience blew up, and the Eagles’ offense may rank as one of the NFL’s worst. Philadelphia traded QB Sam Bradford and will start rookie Carson Wentz. Say a prayer for new coach Doug Pederson. Never mind coaching. The post-Kelly roster is going to take a while to rebuild. Falcons win (6-4).
Nov. 27, Arizona: I’m still not sure what happened in the NFC title game (Carolina 49, Arizona 15). The Cardinals got to within one game of the Super Bowl and then Carson Palmer morphed into Jake Plummer. But Arizona will contend for the NFC title and added three solid players: guard Evan Mathis, end Chandler Jones, defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche (knucklehead tendencies notwithstanding). The Cards’ defense is just too strong. Falcons lose (6-5).
Dec. 4, Kansas City: The Chiefs don’t blow you away in any one area but they just win, in part because they don’t beat themselves. They finished second to Carolina in turnover differential at plus-14 and committed less than a turnover per game (15 total). It’s an area the Falcons want to improve in and I suspect they will. I also think this is a team Matt Ryan should be able to throw against. Via Pro Football Focus: The Chiefs used six defensive backs more than any other team last season. Falcons win (7-5).
Dec. 11, at Los Angeles: The last time the Falcons played in the Los Angeles Coliseum was Nov. 19, 1979. The Rams won 20-14 to start a four-game win streak and went on to play in the Super Bowl. But I think the Falcons win this week, unless Vince Ferragamo suddenly strolls in off Figueroa Street. All eyes in Georgia (and on the Falcons’ defense) will be on a running back named Todd Gurley. I hear he’s pretty good. Falcons win (8-5).
Dec. 18, San Francisco: The worst moment of coach Dan Quinn’s first season came against the 49ers. The Falcons lost to the 2-6 49ers (17-16) in a game punctuated by Quinn’s decision to go for a chip-shot field goal, not a touchdown, in the final minutes on fourth down from the 49ers’ 1-yard line. The Niners ran out the clock. Is it possible for a coach to want revenge as much as a player because that might be the case here. Chip Kelly now coaches San Francisco. This should be interesting. Falcons win (9-5).
Dec. 24 (Sat.) at Carolina: I’m tempted to give the Falcons a series split against Carolina, not unreasonable considering they split last year. But the Panthers have won 13 in a row at home, including playoff games. (Their last defeat: 19-17 to the Falcons in 2014.) Falcons lose (9-6).
Jan. 1, New Orleans: By this week, the Falcons will look like a playoff team and the Saints will be dead. (Clip and save. I know you will.) Motivation won’t be a problem for Brees and coach Sean Payton, since this game could impact the postseason. But New Orleans will suffer from defensive problems all season. Falcons win (10-6).
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