ATLANTA GA - JANUARY 15: James Starks #44 of the Green Bay Packers runs the ball against Curtis Lofton #50 of the Atlanta Falcons during their 2011 NFC divisional playoff game at Georgia Dome on January 15 2011 in Atlanta Georgia. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Atlanta Falcons 2011 Schedule Loaded With Prime Time Games

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Falcons Schedule 2011: Round Two Against The NFC South

For this final installment of the schedule preview, we'll be looking at the Falcons' second round of NFC South matchups this season. Interestingly enough, Atlanta faces the Saints, Bucs and Panthers all within the last four weeks of the season. Should make the division race interesting, to say the least.

Even though the Falcons went 5-1 against the South last season, this still remains probably the toughest division in football. The Saints are one of the NFC's elite teams. The Buccaneers have loads of young talent, and very easily could've been in the playoffs last season. And despite having a 2-14 record, the Panthers still have several star players on their roster, particularly defense.

The Falcons should be able to take two from the Cam Newton-led Panthers, if only for the fact that their passing game will be non-existent. Steve Smith can only do so much by himself. The defense has some intimidating guys like Jon Beason and Charles Johnson, but there are a few unproven starters as well. The offense may start finding their stride down the stretch, but that still won't be enough to win.

The Saints will again provide a tough challenge. Probably the best football I saw all of last year was between the Falcons and Saints. However, last year we saw the second matchup become a battle of defense. Both teams had their opponent's gameplan nailed down. I think we could be in for a similar game this season. The Falcons will turn back to basics and run the ball with authority, Brent Grimes will pick off a shovel pass, and Jon Gruden will praise Drew Brees shamelessly. All in all, I think the Falcons scrape by in another close one.

The most important of these matchups in my humble opinion, however, is the Buccaneers. In the final week of the season, two teams very likely in playoff contention will do battle in the Georgia Dome. Even though the Falcons took two from the Bucs last season, both wins were by less than a touchdown. Mobile QB's always seem to find success against Van Gorder, and the front seven should be better equipped to handle Turner this year. Raheem Morris' squad always plays hard, and this could be the most physiical game we see all year.

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic. For everything Saints, check out Canal Street Chronicles.
For everything Bucs, check out Bucs Nation. For everything Panthers, check out Cat Scratch Reader.

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Falcons Schedule 2011: Mike Smith, Jaguars Reunited Once Again

The Jacksonville Jaguars, who may be making a playoff push at this point in the season, look to try their luck in the Georgia Dome in this week 15 matchup. Amidst a string of season where the Jaguars have fallen short of the playoffs, Mike Smith's former boss Jack Del Rio now finds himself in somewhat of a hot seat. However, with the Jags possibly a team still in transition, that final push for the playoffs may not be any easier this season.

THE SKINNY
Record: Went 8-8, missed playoffs
Last Meeting: September 16, 2007 (Falcons lost 13-7)
Notable Additions: OG Jason Spitz, LB Paul Posluszny, LB Clint Session, S Dawan Landry, QB Blaine Gabbert
Notable Losses: LB Kirk Morrison, LB Justin Durant, WR Mike Sims-Walker, S Sean Considine

The most notable change this season was the teams first-round pick Blaine Gabbert. Given his performance against the Falcons this preseason, however, I wouldn't be so sure he'll take the starting job away from Garrard this year, especially if the Jags find themselves in the playoff race.

What we do now, however, is that they've dearly missed having Mike Smith run the defense. Jacksonville ranked 28th against the pass and 28th overall on defense last season, posting a mere 26.0 sacks team-wide in the process. Hopefully the offensive line can recover from their sub-par preseason performance against that group this time around. The additions of Posluszny and Landry will improve the group an already stout run defense, but that secondary is still pretty suspect.

The other thing we know about the Jags is that they won't pass much, regardless of who's at QB. As they have in the past, the team will rely on the oft-used Maurice Jones-Drew and the ground game. The key for the Falcons, then, is shutting down the run and forcing Garrard/Gabbert to pass and play catch-up. With pass-catching weapons really limited to Mike Thomas and Marcedes Lewis, I think the defense can really lock in on Garrard and force mistakes.

While the Falcons will come in favored, we've seen this Jaguars team put up a tough fight in the past. With them likely playing for their playoff lives and the Falcons hopefully making a push for the NFC South crown, this will mark the de facto start of "playoff football" in 2011.

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic. For more on the Jaguars, check out Big Cat Country.

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Falcons Schedule 2011: Ex-Falcon Matt Schaub Faces Off Against His Old Team

Texans QB Matt Schaub, if you'll remember, was a third-round selection of the Falcons all the way back in 2004. He rode the bench for three years, but in limited action had actually looked quite impressive, most notably his three-TD performance against the Patriots in 2005.

Then in an attempt to give then-starter Michael Vick full confidence that the organization was committed to him 100%, Schaub was traded to the Texans for a pair of second-rounders prior to the 2007 season. Poor timing, to say the least. Schaub then went on to pass for 300 yards and a TD in a surprising Falcons win that very season. This time, however, he'll be playing a Falcons team with some serious talent.

THE SKINNY:
Record: Finished 6-10, missed playoffs
Last Meeting: Sept 30, 2007 (Falcons won 26-16)
Notable Additions: CB Jonathan Joseph, S Danieal Manning, FB Lawrence Vickers, P Brad Maynard
Notable Losses: FB Vonta Leach, S Bernard Pollard, LB Zac Diles, P Matt Turk

The Texans have been the trendy sleeper pick for the past few years now, and each year they have failed to deliver. Last season was no exception. After losing Dunta Robinson to an infinitely more awesome team, Houston struggled mightily in pass coverage of any sort.

Still, they remain a team with a ton of talent. Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, Jacoby Jones and Owen Daniels all make up an offense that could definitely keep pace with the Falcons. The big question, as always, is how their defense will hold up. Shiny new cornerback Jonathan Joseph is a huge upgrade in the secondary. However, whether the team can thrive in its new 3-4 scheme remains to be seen.

My guess is that this one will be a shootout of epic proportions. The difference will come down to Atlanta's ability to keep a currently hobbled Arian Foster hemmed in, forcing the Texans to become one-dimensional on offense. The linebackers will have to really watch out for Owen Daniels, as well.

The Texans will be better in 2011, of that I have no doubt. But the Falcons are still a couple notches ahead of Houston at the moment, and should be able to come away with a win in Reliant Stadium.

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic. For more on the Texans, check out Battle Red Blog.

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Falcons Schedule 2011: McNabb, Vikings Travel To The Georgia Dome

This game marks the third straight at home for the Falcons, and like the Titans this matchup with the Vikes definitely looks very winnable on paper. With another vet-rookie QB combo, this one featuring Donovan McNabb and current backup Christian Ponder, Minnesota is another team in transition. However, while the Vikings will likely have their share of hiccups this season, the Falcons will still have to worry about the likes of Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin in this week 12 matchup.

THE SKINNY
Record
: Finished 6-10, missed playoffs in 2010
Last Meeting: December 21, 2008 (Falcons won 24-17, clinching a playoff spot in the process)
Notable Additions: QB Donovan McNabb (trade), WR Michael Jenkins, DT Remi Ayodele, DE Stylez G White, OT Charlie Johnson
Notable Losses: WR Sidney Rice, DE Ray Edwards, DT Pat Williams, QB Tarvaris Jackson, LB Ben Leber

I've come to find that without Brett Favre, I actually don't mind this team at all. In fact, it was the Vikings that made the Ray Edwards signing possible at all, which I of course love. Now, when a 6-10 team was getting more coverage than the 13-3 Falcons because of No. 4, that's when I get ticked off. But that's another can of worms, and I digress.

The Vikings big move this offseason was sending Sidney Rice and Tarvaris Jackson on their merry way to Seattle. However, the team also acquired McNabb at the ultimate buy-low price, a couple of late-round draft picks, and he certainly presents an upgrade over Tarvaris regardless of age. They also signed our own Michael Jenkins in an effort to boost the WR corps.

However, amidst all the offensive QB controversy this is still a team that quietly had the No. 8 defense in 2010. Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Chad Greenway, and EJ Henderson all return to the Vikes this season. Even with the losses of Pat Williams and Ray Edwards, that front seven is still pretty intimidating.

That's why the Falcons will have to open up the passing game. Fortunately for Atlanta, the Minnesota secondary is not exactly what I would call intimidating. Antoine Winfield is still a great cornerback despite his age, but beyond that I think we'll see Matt Ryan testing the other CB's on the roster.

The other key to this game will be (shocking, I know) Adrian Peterson. Lofton & Co. cannot let AP run all over them, especially if we're seeing Christian Ponder starting at that point in the season. Shut Peterson down, and the Vikes will sink with him. This will absolutely be another game the Falcons have to "take care of business" and win if they want to repeat last season's success.

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic. For more on the Vikings, check out Daily Norseman.

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Falcons Schedule 2011: Titans Matchup Marks A (Slightly) Easier Stretch For The Falcons

After facing the Colts and Saints in back to back weeks following the team's week 8 bye, the schedule does ease up for the Falcons, if only a little bit. With the Titans, Vikings, Panthers and Jaguars all on the schedule in those five weeks following Saints-mageddon, that's four games Atlanta should be able win if the 2011 Falcons are who we think they are.

The Titans are clearly a team in transition. A new head coach in Mike Munchak, two new coordinators, and a new QB of the future in Jake Locker. However, it's pretty likely this season the Falcons will see vet Matt Hasselbeck leading a Chris Johnson-powered offense. Well, if CJ2K actually signs a contract this season that is.

THE SKINNY
Record
: Finished 6-10, missed playoffs in 2010
Last Meeting: October 7, 2007 (Falcons lost 20-13, despite three Vince Young INT's)
Notable Additions: LB Barrett Ruud, QB Matt Hasselbeck, S Jordan Babineaux, TE Daniel Graham
Notable Losses: QB Kerry Collins, QB Vince Young, WR Randy Moss, LB Stephen Tulloch, LB David Thornton, DE Jason Babin

Regardless if Every Coach's Dream is playing in this one or not, I think the Falcons should be able to handle the Titans. This is really one of the only "easy" games on the schedule, so it's absolutely imperative for Atlanta to take care of business in this one.

While I have no doubt that Munchak is a good coach and should be a good fit for Tennessee, the Titans simply don't have enough options on the offensive side of the ball to do much. The oft-injured Hasselbeck has been pretty mediocre these past few years. If this Falcons defense can shut down the running game (something they've been pretty good at) I wouldn't expect any trouble in this one. Really, it's as simple as that.

The defense wasn't much better last season, either. The unit ranked No. 29 in pass defense in 2010, and that is exactly what Ryan & Co. will attack. I don't want to come off as arrogant and call this one a blowout, as any team is capable of winning on any given Sunday. That's what makes the NFL exciting. However, on paper this matchup looks as winnable as any. Hopefully the Falcons can take care of business and power onward.

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic. For more on the Titans, check out Music City Miracles.

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Falcons Schedule 2011: Atlanta Hosting First Of Two Against Division-Rival Saints

In the early 2000's, I can't quite recall this rivalry being all that exciting. However, over the past few seasons we've seen the hatred between these two teams rise up (see what I did there) into something much more intense, mostly stemming from the Saints' Superbowl victory of two seasons ago. Roddy White tweeted some stuff, Saints players danced on the Falcon logo, and everyone just got really pissed off. That does, however, make for great football.

THE SKINNY
Record: Finished 11-5 in 2010, lost got embarrassed by the Seahawks in the Wild Card game
Last Meeting: Week 16, 2010 (Falcons lost 14-17)
Notable Additions: DT Aubrayo Franklin, C Olin Kreutz, DT Shaun Rogers, RB Darren Sproles RB Mark Ingram (draft pick), DE Cameron Jordan (draft pick)
Notable Losses: RB Reggie Bush, DT Remi Ayodele, DT Anthony Hargrove, DB Usama Young

By all accounts, the Saints seem to have had a pretty successful offseason on paper. They traded Bush, but signed Sproles to fill that role. They also drafted some running back out of Alabama, though I can't say I'm familiar with him. The most underrated signing this offseason, however, could be the D-tackle Franklin. Pairing him with Sedrick Ellis gives the Saints a very good run-stopping combo up front. The Falcons improved with Julio/Edwards, but the Saints kept pace.

If you recall, both matchups in 2010 were extremely contested, emotionally charged matchups that stayed close until the very end. Some Saints fans argue that they should have won the week three overtime loss, but I argue that if your kicker can't make a 27-yarder, you don't deserve to win. Just saying.

The most recent matchup tacked the Falcons with a very frustrating loss, to say the least. Despite the defense's ability to hem in Brees, the offense couldn't get it done. The Saints pretty much shut down Turner, who was playing injured down the stretch of another 300+ carry season. The offense just couldn't get it done.

In 2011, I think we can expect this game to have much more scoring involved. Both teams have great quarterbacks and a plethora of offensive weapons. What this game will come down to, however, are Atlanta's front seven. With Ingram, Sproles, and Pierre Thomas all on board, the Falcons can't simply play the pass all day. The linebackers have to shut down the run, or else they can expect to be eaten alive by the play-action pass.

While the Eagles and/or Packers game might be more intriguing, this first game versus the Saints will likely be the most important. The NFC South title and playoff implications will all be on the line. It's also about time for some revenge after this cute little stunt last year:

Saints_falcons-logo-2_medium

via blogs.ajc.com "Hey look, they're cocky just like their fans"

Anything less than a Saints rear-end whooping this year will be dissatisfying, and I'm sure the players feel the same way. Go Falcons!

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic. For more on the Saints, check out Canal Street Chronicles.

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Falcons Schedule 2011: Falcons Do Battle With Peyton Manning, Colts Following Bye Week

Assuming they can make it through a very tough first half of the schedule (and I truly think they can), the Falcons will face off with the Indianapolis Colts during week nine of the 2011 season. Fortunately for the Falcons, this game falls right after their bye week, which should give the team a slight advantage as far as rest and gameplanning are concerned. Let's check out how Peyton Manning & Co. will fare against the Dirty Birds:

THE SKINNY
Record: 10-6, AFC South Champions
Last Meeting: Thanksgiving, 2007 (Falcons lost 31-13)
Notable Additions: LB Ernie Sims, DT Tommie Harris, DE Jamaal Anderson, QB Kerry Collins
Notable Losses: OT Charlie Johnson, LB Clint Session

The Colts, consistently one of the quieter teams in free agency, accomplished goal No. 1 by resigning Manning to a five-year contract extension worth over $90M. They brought in a few veteran defenders, including former Falcon Jamaal Anderson, but otherwise the Colts look very similar to last year's division-winning team.

For Indianapolis, the story has almost always been the same: a prolific air attack featuring multiple receivers, couple with a "bend but don't break" defense very much similar to the Falcons units of recent years. The Colts should prove to be a tough customer for Grimes and the Atlanta secondary.

The difference in this game, however, will be decided in the trenches. Matt Ryan will finally get to face off against Manning, the QB he is so often compared to, but with the Colts high profile offense it may be too much to put the weight of the team completely on his shoulders. The Falcons will need to get pressure on Manning courtesy of the front four. Abraham, Edwards, and Babineaux will have to be out in full force that night.

All in all, I expect this to be one of the better games on the schedule. Given the Falcons will have an extra week to prepare and get healthy, I fully expect Mike Smith to have a solid game plan in place for number 18. The Colts are always a good gauge for the strength of a team, and should the Falcons prove victorious they will be on their way to successful play down the stretch.

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic. For more on the Colts, check out Stampede Blue.

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Falcons Schedule 2011: Traveling To Detroit To Face Stafford, Upstart Lions

If you've been following these previews up to this point, or at the very least taken a quick look at the schedule, you'll realize that the Falcons really have a tough first half of the schedule. The Lions, while they may not be an elite team just yet, were still much better than their record indicated last season. With an overtime loss to the Jets, a three-point loss to the Eagles, a two-point loss to the Packers, the Lions could've easily finished 2010 with a winning record.

This year, the Lions will look to build off their late season success, having won the last four games on last year's schedule. Injuries always seem to be a problem for Detroit, especially for QB and UGA-alum Matt Stafford, but if the Lions stay in one piece this could easily become a tough game for the Falcons.

THE SKINNY:
Record: Finished 6-10 last season under Jim Schwartz
Last Meeting: 2008, Week 1 (Falcons won 34-21)
Notable Additions: LB Stephen Tulloch, LB Justin Durant, S Erik Coleman, CB Eric Wright, RB Jerome Harrison, DT Nick Fairley (draft pick)
Notable Losses: QB Drew Stanton

If you recall, the last time these two teams met was the 2008 season opener. Matt Ryan threw a TD on his first pass attempt, Turner broke loose for 200+ yards and all of a sudden the massive pain that was the 2007 season suddenly didn't seem so bad. For the Lions, it was the first of many losses on route to an historic 0-16 season.

Still, this Lions team is much improved from the franchises darkest days. They have a good QB in Stafford, a fantastic receiver in Calvin Johnson, and a more-than-capable supporting cast. The offense was above average last year (No. 15 in scoring) while the defense was more or less mediocre (No. 21 in the NFL).

For the Falcons, this game should be won because of a few favorable matchups. One is Detroit's offensive line, which has notoriously been pretty terrible throughout the decade. If they can't protect Stafford from Abraham, the offense has no chance of keeping pace with the Falcons in this game.

The other big matchup is Detroit's secondary. Former Falcon Chris Houston, famous for making fans scream "turn your head around!" while in Atlanta, is probably the best cornerback on their roster. Roddy White is going to have a field day. If all goes well, the Falcons will go into their bye week with a win and momentum to finish strong in the second half.

For complete game coverage, stay tuned to SB Nation Atlanta.
For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic. For more on the Lions, check out Pride Of Detroit.

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Falcons Schedule 2011: Eagerly Awaiting The Division Rival Panthers

Over the past few years, Falcon-Panther matchups have been some highly contested games, often accentuated by the fact that these two teams simply don't like each other. Fortunately for the Falcons, the Panthers' lack of a fully capable QB at the moment likely puts them at a disadvantage for their week six trip to the Georgia Dome.

This game marks the Falcons coming off a very tough five-game stretch to open the 2011 season, which makes it all the more crucial that Ryan & Co. can beat the Panthers. However, given their surprisingly underrated defense the Falcons cannot afford to overlook a Panthers team with a fair share of elite-caliber players.

THE SKINNY:
Record
: Went 2-14 in 2011 (worst record in the NFL)
Last Meeting: Twice in 2010 (Falcons won both games)
Notable Additions: TE Greg Olsen (trade), TE Jeremy Shockey, K Olindo Mare, QB Cam Newton (draft pick)
Notable Losses: CB Richard Marshall, QB Matt Moore, TE Jeff King

When Jerry Richardson mentioned that the Panthers would be "aggressive" during free agency, many people scoffed at the idea of the notably stingy owner going on a spending spree. However, that's exactly what the Panthers did. Carolina most notably traded for Bears TE Greg Olsen. The team also managed to keep several of their own high profile free agents, including RB DeAngelo Williams, LB James Anderson, and DE Charles Johnson, whom the Panthers brought back on a whopping six-year, $72M contract.

For the 2011 edition of the Panthers, they look surprisingly similar to the one that went 2-14 last season. The defense, led by LB Jon Beason, looks on paper to be an above average defense at the very least. The front four are still in question, but Carolina's linebacking corps is probably top-five in the NFL. While the defense may not shut down what is perhaps the best Falcons offense I've ever seen, Turner is not going to run all over them either.

Then we come to the offense, which (along with injuries) was the achilles heel for the Panthers last year. Matt Moore, Jimmy Clausen, Tony Pike, and Brian St. Pierre all appeared at QB for Carolina last season. This year, it appears Clausen and first overall pick Cam Newton are battling it out for the signal-caller job, and by all accounts neither has been particularly impressive this preseason.

For the Falcons, this game should be a real chance for the secondary to shine. With No.2 WR David Gettis out for the year with an ACL tear, the receiving options are once again limited to Steve Smith (and Greg Olsen). Thus, it will come down to Grimes being able to shut down Smith, and the Abe-Edwards tandem being able keep Newton in the pocket and wrap him up when he's running.

Still, with the first five games being so tough, this game will serve as a nice breather for the Falcons.

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic. For more on the Panthers, check out Cat Scratch Reader.

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Falcons Schedule 2011: Rematch Versus Packers Looms Large

Bad memories. That's what I get when I think of this team. I vividly remember watching in disgust as the Packers blew out the Falcons at home 48-21 on January 15th. I especially remember feeling my gut drop as Tramon Williams picked an ill-advised Ryan pass and took it the other way for a touchdown. With so much hype surrounding the Eagles, people often forget about Green Bay and how much they accomplished last season with some very injured ranks.

The defending Superbowl champs will be the team to beat in 2011, and the Falcons will get their shot to face with the Pack week five, at home on Sunday Night Football.

THE SKINNY:
Record
: Finished 10-6, Superbowl XLV Champions
Last Meeting: NFC Divisional Round, 2010 (Falcons won... on the inside)
Notable Additions: OT Derek Sherrod (draft pick), WR Randall Cobb (draft pick), RB Alex Green (draft pick)
Notable Losses: LB Nick Barnett, DT Cullen Jenkins, OG Daryn Colledge

With the Packers being one of those unfortunate teams over the new salary cap as the offseason began, they weren't very active at all during free agency. They did manage to keep a few important vets- AJ Hawk, James Jones, and John Kuhn to name a few- but their only new additions were through the draft.

Still, this team is very similar to the one that won a championship last year. Actually, they're more like a healthier version of the 2010 team. Barring any catastrophic injuries, this Packers team will be tough if not tougher than the one that stomped the Falcons in the playoffs. 

For Atlanta, they only need to look to their 20-17 regular season win over Green Bay find the keys to success. Pressuring Aaron Rodgers, keeping him in the pocket, and maintaining ball control will all be huge in this one. Too many times I've seen Rodgers slip away from a would-be lineman, only to scramble downfield for a 20-yard gain.

The Falcons need consistent pressure to stop guys like Rodgers and Brees, and hopefully this will be one of those games where Ray Edwards can step up and make a few big plays. As for the offense, two talented Packers corners in Woodson and Williams may leave Harry Douglas as the go-to guy for Ryan. Judging by his preseason performance thus far, a big performance may not be out of the question.

Regardless of who makes plays, the Packers will be the fourth playoff-caliber team on the first five weeks of the schedule. If the Falcons can make it past Green Bay, the remaining games won't be quite as brutal as the first five. For Mike Smith and company, it will be a real test of what this 2011 team is capable of doing.

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic. For more on the Packers, check out Acme Packing Compnay.

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Falcons Schedule 2011: Falcons Gear Up For Cross-Country Trek To Seattle

With the first three games on the Falcons schedule (Bears, Eagles, Bucs) all looking like tough games, the week four matchup with the Seahawks should be one of the more winnable games on a very difficult schedule. While this Seattle team may not be the most formidable on paper, they did make it to the playoffs and beat the Saints. With Pete Carroll once again looking to prove his team is legit, I wouldn't call this game a walk in the park just yet.

THE SKINNY:
Record
: 7-9, NFC West Champions, Lost to Bears in the divisional round of the playoffs
Last Meeting: Week 15, 2010 (Falcons won 34-18)
Notable Additions: WR Sidney Rice, TE Zach Miller, QB Tarvaris Jackson, OT Robert Gallery
Notable Losses: QB Matt Hasselbeck, S Jordan Babineaux, K Olindo Mare

So instead of Hasselbeck, this time around the Falcons will be facing an offense led by the enigmatic Tarvaris Jackson, who I best remember as the guy who fumbled Atlanta into the playoffs in 2008. Good memories.

Sure, they added a couple of very potent weapons in Sidney Rice and Zach Miller, along with attempting to shore up their porous O-line from last year. But honestly, if you don't have a QB that can get you the ball, what difference does it make? Although running quarterbacks have given the Falcons trouble in the past, Jackson has yet to do anything that proves him to be a legitimate passer in the NFL.

As for the defense, it remains largely unchanged from the one that ranked No. 27 in the league last season. Chris Clemons returns as one of the more formidable pass rushers in the league, and they have a good, young safety in Earl Thomas. Beyond that, however, the Seahawks defense is spotty at best.

For the Falcons, this will be a very similar situation to last season's matchup. Atlanta should be favored, and if the Falcons are of the caliber I (and hopefully most others) think they are, Ryan & Co. should be able to pick apart the Seattle defense without even needing much help from the defense.

There's been so much talk this preseason about the Falcons preparing to "open up" the offense and let Matt Ryan loose. Well, if you're in the mood for fireworks this upcoming matchup with the 'Hawks should be as good as any to see the air attack executed in full swing.

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic. For more on the Seahawks, check out Field Gulls.

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Falcons Schedule 2011: Road Clash With Buccaneers Will Again Test Ryan

Hopefully following a week two win against the much-hyped Eagles, one which would likely catapult the Falcons to the top of the list of teams to beat in 2011, the Birds then march into Tampa Bay to take on the division-rival Buccaneers. Even though the Falcons won both matchups with the Bucs in 2010, neither was what you could call an easy game. They were hard fought games that usually involved alot of grind-it-out football and one play in the fourth quarter that would decide the game. I expect the same type of hard-nosed game this year, as well.

THE SKINNY:
Record
: 10-6, missed playoffs
Last Meeting: Week 13, 2010 (Falcons won 28-24)
Notable Additions: P Michael Koenen, DE Adrian Clayborn(draft pick), DE Da'Quan Bowers(draft pick), LB Mason Foster (draft pick)
Notable Losses: LB Barrett Ruud, RB Cadillac Williams, DE Stylez G White, WR Maurice Stovall

For the Bucs, free agency this season was more about building through the draft and keeping the players they deemed important. They brought back O-line starters Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood on multi-year contracts along with signing former Falcon Michael Koenen to a prudent six-year, $19M deal.

The real point to make about the Bucs, however, was that they were really intent on improving a front seven that was less than stellar last season. In fact, with Michael Turner picking up almost 200 yards over the two contests, I'd say their front seven was the deciding factor in both wins. They simply couldn't match up with our aggressive O-line.

Well, with their top three draft picks devoted to defense, expect the Bucs to be an improved team in 2011. Whether that translates to a better record or not, I cannot say, but Raheem Morris certainly has the tools in place to make the playoffs this season. It's all a matter of whether they can beat our Falcons or the Saints.

With Turner possibly seeing reduced carries this season in order to benefit his long-term health, I'd say the key to this game is Matt Ryan. He's pretty much always struggled against Tampa Bay's secondary. For some reason, Aqib Talib practically owns Matty Ice every time the two match up. However, with Ryan maturing as a passer I think this week three matchup will tell us if he's finally overcome his kryptonite in Talib. Julio Jones and Harry Douglas will likely play a big role in this one as well.

Atlanta's first three games of the season are all pretty tough matchups, but if the Falcons can emerge from them unscathed I think we'll have a pretty good idea what this squad is capable of in 2011.

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic. For more on the Bucs, check out Bucs Nation.

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Falcons Schedule 2011: Home Opener Versus The Eagles Looks To Be Game Of The Year

You all knew it was coming. Last year the Falcons thought they would get a chance to redeem themselves against Michael Vick, only see the Eagles pull the switcheroo on us and send out Kevin Kolb. One injured Dunta Robinson later, and we all remember how that agonizing game turned out.

However, this season's Sunday night matchup with the Eagles looks to be even more interesting because apparently "the Dream Team" is the single best football team ever to be assembled. If the Falcons can even manage to get a first down against Philly's vaunted linebacking corps of Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney, and Moise Fokou I'll be impressed.

THE SKINNY:
Record: 10-6, NFC East Champions, lost to Packers in the Wild Card round
Last Meeting: Week 6, 2010 (Falcons lost 17-31)
Notable Additions: CB Nnamdi Asomugha, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, DE Jason Babin, DL Cullen Jenkins, QB Vince Young, RB Ronnie Brown, WR Steve Smith
Notable Losses: LB Stewart Bradley, QB Kevin Kolb, S Quentin Mikell, K David Akers, G Nick Cole

Regardless of how I or anyone else may feel about the Eagles, the Falcons will certainly be put to the test early on this season. Nnamdi Asomugha is the best cornerback in the league, that much is true. They're not the '07 Patriots, but the Eagles still look to be a very good football team.

However, one thing to remember about the Eagles is that they somewhat cooled off towards the end of 2010. Teams started pressuring Vick, getting to him with the blitz and forcing him to make bad plays. The offensive line, while solid, isn't exactly stacked either. If the Falcons pass rushers can get to Vick and Brian VanGorder has finally figured out how to scheme against a mobile QB, the Philly offense can be contained.

Also remember that with so many new players and such a short offseason, I feel like there's bound to be some sloppy play early on for the Eagles. Either that, or we'll be commending their players for learning a new system in little over a month.

Finally, the Falcons get to face the Eagles at home this time. Under Mike Smith, the Falcons have gone an astonishing 20-2 over the past three years at home. Come Sunday night, the Dome will be rocking and Matthews the Younger won't find it quite as easy to call out the defenses. We might start to see some chinks in the Eagles' collective armor.

While the Bears will be a tough matchup, I feel like this game against the Eagles could be the year's defining moment, as it will dictate both national attention and how the rest of the season plays out. Ray Edwards, this will be the game where Atlanta needs you the most.

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic.

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Falcons Schedule 2011: Chicago Bears Await In The Windy City

Here we are, folks! Less than a month away from regular season football, and less than month until the Falcons kick off the 2011 season in Chicago. While they didn't exactly impress anyone with their performance in the NFC Championship game against Green Bay, the Bears certainly won't be a walk in the park either. The Falcons will need to show up big in week one to affirm to the rest of the league that this team will, in fact, live up to its preseason hype.

THE SKINNY:
Record
: Went 11-5 in 2010, lost NFC Championship game
Performance: 30th ranked offense, 9th ranked defense (2nd against the run)
Additions: WR Roy Williams, RB Marion Barber, DT Amobi Okoye, LB Vernon Gholston, OT Gabe Carimi
Losses: C Olin Kreutz, TE Greg Olsen, S Danieal Manning

While the Bears struggled to find offensive consistency, they had somewhat of a renaissance of the old defense that took them to the Superbowl in 2006. Urlacher, Briggs, and Peppers headlines a stout Bears D that kept them in almost every game. While Jay Cutler didn't exactly thrive in Mike Martz's offense behind a less-than-sturdy offensive line, he also wasn't as bad as in 2009. Hey, at least they got the better QB when they traded Orton (...right?).

Fast forward to 2011, and we find the Falcons opening up their season on the road against a tough, defensive-minded opponent. In many ways, I expect this game to be similar to last year's Steelers game: a touch, hard-fought, agonizingly low-scoring game. Field goals will play a big part in this one.

However, I feel like this year's Falcons offense will be one that teams just can't shut down for four quarters. With Roddy, Julio, Douglas, and a hopefully healthy Kerry Meier, teams will have their hands full deciding who to cover. Oh ya, that Gonzalez guy is still pretty good too. The defense can hem in Turner, true, but our revamped receiving corps outclasses a so-so Chicago secondary.

To conclude, while the Bears defense can keep this game close, I predict that a combination of some explosive wideout play and Brent Grimes' knack for picking off the mistake-prone Bears' QB will lead to a decisive Falcons' win to start off 2011 on the right foot. Don't worry, you'll get to see Mr. Cutler in all his pouting glory on a hi-def TV screen soon enough Falcons fans.

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Atlanta Falcons 2011 Season Schedule: You'd Better Be Ready For Primetime, Players

Five games in a critical 2011 schedule that could push Atlanta to elite status with national audiences

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Atlanta Falcons 2011 Schedule: Analyzing Short Weeks And Bye Weeks

The 2011 Atlanta Falcons schedule looks to be a promising one, and not just because of that cold-weather thing. Atlanta doesn't draw a single team coming off its bye, two years after playing multiple teams with extra time to prepare, a grievance that has driven our Philadelphia Eagles community through the roof. That's a pretty great setup.

The Falcons' bye comes in Week 8 before their road trip to play the Indianapolis Colts. That should be one of the four or five toughest games of the season -- plus the bye is right in the middle of the year -- so it's about as good a deal as Atlanta could get.

As far as short weeks go, the Falcons only have two. They play the Panthers in Carolina on Dec. 11, then host the Jaguars on Dec. 15. Charlotte's pretty darn close to Atlanta, so, again, this is about as good a short week as one could ask for. Especially since Atlanta's next game isn't until Dec. 26, giving them almost another bye. The other short week is after that Week 16 Monday Night Football game. Nothing to complain about.

The bad part about that Week 17 game against the Bucs? Tampa Bay will have two extra days to prepare, as they're playing on Saturday in Week 16. Other than that, though, Atlanta's opponents don't have any short or long weeks before playing the Falcons.

For more Atlanta Falcons, join The Falcoholic. For more NFL schedule talk, visit SB Nation’s NFL hub.

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Atlanta Falcons 2011 Schedule Highlights: Packers Rematch, Michael Vick's Return, Prime Time Games

Now that the complete 2011 Atlanta Falcons schedule has been released, it's time to take a look at how this thing shakes down. We already knew about each of these opponents and locations, but seeing it all displayed week-by-week makes it easier to break down.

The biggest highlight, for me, is the potential lack of cold weather whatsoever. The Birds play in Chicago in early Sept. and in Seattle in early Oct. Other than that, in Charlotte in early Dec. is the only possible cold weather game. How excellent is that? Few NFL teams are as cold-weather-averse as the Falcons, and the team might be able to avoid it entirely.

The most anticipated matchups are going to be Atlanta's chance at Dome redemption (stupid word) against the Packers, a team the squad split their 2010 season with. That's one way of looking at it. A great way of looking at it!

Michael Vick will also probably play his first game as a starter against the Falcons. Remember he was a novelty during Philly's last game in Atlanta, and was injured when the Falcons played in Philadelphia last season.

There's also the matter of those four (4) prime time games, a very healthy supply for a team that got blasted out of the playoffs and conducts the NFL's most thuddy and ploddy offense. Those Packers and Eagles games will be Sunday nighters, while the Birds will host the Jaguars (?) on a Thursday night and head to play the New Orleans Saints on the Monday night after Christmas. Much more on that last one in the morning.

For more Atlanta Falcons, join The Falcoholic. For more NFL schedule talk, visit SB Nation’s NFL hub.

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Atlanta Falcons 2011 Schedule Released In Full: Four Prime Time Games, Y'all

The Atlanta Falcons' 2011 schedule has been released, along with those of the rest of the NFL. As reported, the Falcons will open the season against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 11, getting the Philadelphia Eagles at home in Week 2. I don't see any apparent storylines there, do you?

The Birds get four total prime time games -- against the Eagles at home, the Packers at home, the Jaguars at home, and the Saints in Louisiana. The schedule concludes with three division games in the last four weeks.

Without further ado, the complete 2011 schedule:

Week 1: at Bears, Sept. 11, 1 pm

Week 2: vs. Eagles, Sept. 18, 8:20 pm

Week 3: at Buccaneers, Sept. 25, 4:15

Week 4: at Seahawks, Oct. 2, 4:05 pm

Week 5: vs. Packers, Oct. 9, 8:20 pm

Week 6: vs. Panthers, Oct. 16, 1 pm

Week 7: at Lions, Oct. 23, 1 pm

Week 8: Bye

Week 9: at Colts, Nov. 6, 1 pm

Week 10: vs. Saints, Nov. 13, 1 pm

Week 11: vs. Titans, Nov. 20, 1 pm

Week 12: vs. Vikings, Nov. 27, 1 pm

Week 13: at Texans, Dec. 4, 1 pm

Week 14: at Panthers, Dec. 11, 1

Week 15: vs. Jaguars, Dec. 15 (Thursday), 8:20 pm

Week 16: at Saints, Dec. 26 (Monday), 8:30 pm

Week 17: vs. Buccaneers, Jan. 1, 1 pm

For more Falcons news and analysis, visit The Falcoholic.

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Falcons, Bears To Open 2011 Schedules In Chicago, According To Report

Plenty of 2011 NFL schedule nuggets are starting to leak (leaky nuggets!) all over the place — including the Packers and Saints playing the season opener, the Eagles possibly playing the Bills in Toronto, and all sorts of Giants and Jets reports — but here’s one on your Atlanta Falcons. ESPN Chicago’s Carmen DeFalco reports the Birds will play the Chicago Bears in week one.

Just a report, of course, but the Bears are indeed on the slate of road teams Atlanta will play this year. And they were both 2010 playoff teams, so that would be a reasonably high-profile opener.

The Falcons fan’s primary scheduling concern: weather. Getting a cold weather game out of the way in early Sept. sounds pretty perfect to me, especially since that would leave Seattle as possibly the only other cold game the Falcons play all year.

For more Atlanta Falcons, join The Falcoholic. For more NFL schedule talk, visit SB Nation’s NFL hub.

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Atlanta Falcons 2011 Schedule Announced Tuesday At 7 PM ET: Here's Who They'll Play

The hypothetical 2011 NFL schedule will be released Tuesday night at 7 pm ET via NFL Network and NFL.com. We already know which teams the Atlanta Falcons will play in their 16 games and where those games will be played, so the only unknowns are order, bye week placement, and kickoff times.

Of course, keep your ears peeled between now and announce time, as Jim Irsay’s almost certain to let a game or two slip on his unhinged Twitter feed. Elsewhere around the NFC South: many are calling for the Saints to play the Packers in the season opener, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will get the Chicago Bears in Wembley Stadium, and the Carolina Panthers try hard.

Teams the Falcons will play in the Georgia Dome:

Carolina Panthers
Green Bay Packers
Jacksonville Jaguars
Minnesota Vikings
New Orleans Saints
Philadelphia Eagles
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tennessee Titans

And teams they’ll play on the road:

Carolina
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
New Orleans
Seattle Seahawks
Tampa Bay

For more Atlanta Falcons, join The Falcoholic. For more NFL schedule talk, visit SB Nation’s NFL hub.

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Atlanta Falcons, NFL Contacted By Georgia State Football About Double-Booked Georgia Dome

For those just joining us, the Atlanta Falcons and Georgia State football are both scheduled to play football games in the Georgia Dome on the evening of Thursday, Sept. 1. Here's the Panthers' schedule, and here's the Falcons'.

Georgia State football appears to have taken the matter to the Falcons and the NFL. We were told at Thursday night's Panthers spring game the program has contacted the league and the team about what can be done here, since it would not be prudent to attempt to hold two football games in one stadium at the same time, as Clark Atlanta's band deserves all the space it needs.

State has had their schedule completed for a longer period of time, as the NFL's preseason schedule only came out a few days ago. Plus Georgia State has been trying to make Thursday night football a tradition, while the Falcons can play any old game on any old night.

However! The benefit for the Falcons of playing a Thursday game is that it would mean one more day of rest for players and one more day of postgame evaluation for the front office. Though that Friday is also available according to the NFL's schedule, playing on Thursday would be better for the Falcons.

We have more on Falcons scheduling and general NFL scheduling. Falcons fans should join The Falcoholic, and Georgia State fans should visit SB Nation's Panthers hub.

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2011 NFL Preseason Schedules: Falcons Get Steelers, Ravens, Dolphins, Jaguars

The NFL announced its complete 2011 preseason schedule Tuesday, beginning with the August 7 Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio between the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears, both of which are heavily populated with future Pro Football Hall of Famers. 

The Atlanta Falcons start their hypothetical preseason schedule with an August 13 night game against the Miami Dolphins at the Georgia Dome, followed by a Friday trip to play the Jacksonville Jaguars, as is required by international law. The week three game at Heinz Field against the Pittsburgh Steelers is set for August 27, and the whole shebang wraps up against the Baltimore Ravens (told you!) in an Atlanta Thursday nighter.

For its inclusion of both the Jaguars and Ravens, I dub this the most Atlanta Falcons preseason schedule of all time, though I'm dismayed to discover the Tennessee Titans are nowhere to be found.

For more on the Falcons, join The Falcoholic immediately. For more NFL football, visit SB Nation's NFL hub.

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2011 NFL Preseason Schedules Announced Today: Falcons To Discover Hypothetical Opponents

The NFL will announce the 2011 preseason schedules for all 32 teams Tuesday, a charming gesture that implies the league wants you to believe pro football will occur this autumn, ongoing player lockout be damned. Adorable!

The Atlanta Falcons will probably play the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Baltimore Ravens, since that always seems to happen. Those teams are close geographically and out of conference, the two main They probably won't play the New England Patriots, as the two BFF teams spend enough time hanging out with each other as it is. 

Should we look back on the preseason schedules handed to the team in the Mike Smith era? For reference, the 2010 schedule featured the Kansas City Chiefs, Pats, Miami Dolphins, and Jaguars, while 2009's included the Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Ravens. '08 brought about games against the Jags, Indianapolis Colts, Titans, and Ravens.

For more on the Falcons, join The Falcoholic immediately.

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