It seems like a lifetime ago, but the Atlanta Falcons represented the NFC in Super Bowl LI just five short years ago. Since then, “28-3” has taken on a life of its own and Atlanta has been back to the postseason only once.
The Falcons are coming off their third straight losing season and will open their 2021 campaign with a new head coach and a new general manager, and without the greatest receiver in franchise history, Julio Jones.
Let’s dive into the forecast in Atlanta for the upcoming season to determine the team’s fortunes.
Atlanta Falcons 2021 Schedule
Unless you reside in the greater Atlanta area or have the Sunday Ticket package, you won’t have many opportunities to see the Falcons play this season.
They could always force their way into flex scheduling, but when you’re picked to finish last in your division, trade away one of the faces of your franchise and hire a relatively obscure new coach, the networks aren’t exactly clamoring to put you on prime time.
Here’s a look at their schedule in its entirety, which includes just two national telecasts: A London meeting with the New York Jets in October and a November Thursday clash in a rematch of that aforementioned Super Bowl with the New England Patriots.
|Week 1||Sept. 12||vs Philadelphia Eagles|
|Week 2||Sept. 19||at Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|Week 3||Sept. 26||at New York Giants|
|Week 4||Oct. 3||vs Washington Football Team|
|Week 5||Oct. 10||vs New York Jets (London)|
|Week 6||Oct. 17||Bye week|
|Week 7||Oct. 24||at Miami Dolphins|
|Week 8||Oct. 31||vs Carolina Panthers|
|Week 9||Nov. 7||at New Orleans Saints|
|Week 10||Nov. 14||at Dallas Cowboys|
|Week 11||Nov. 18||vs New England Patriots|
|Week 12||Nov. 28||at Jacksonville Jaguars|
|Week 13||Dec. 5||vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|Week 14||Dec. 12||at Carolina Panthers|
|Week 15||Dec. 19||at San Francisco 49ers|
|Week 16||Dec. 26||vs Detroit Lions|
|Week 17||Jan. 2||at Buffalo Bills|
|Week 18||Jan. 9||vs New Orleans Saints|
Atlanta Falcons News & Picks
Atlanta Falcons 2020 Summary
The Falcons ended their 2020 season the same way they started it: with five straight losses. They dropped five in a row to kick off the year, resulting in the firings of head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
Raheem Morris took over on an interim basis and went 4-2 over the team’s next six contests. However, a difficult final stretch of their schedule reared its ugly head as they faced three playoff teams, including the Buccaneers twice, and dropped five consecutive games to end the year.
Atlanta was unable to defeat a single playoff-bound team in 2020 but did offer glimpses by averaging 35.5 points in its four wins.
Atlanta Falcons Key Players
We noted how the Falcons moved on from one of their poster boys, but the face of the team remains firmly in place, at least for one more year. Matt Ryan is entering his 14th NFL season, all with Atlanta who made him the third overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, peaking with his 2016 MVP season.
Jones’ departure (which we’ll highlight again in a moment) sets the stage for fellow Alabama product Calvin Ridley to take over as the top option on the outside. However, there feels like a steep drop-off after Ridley, the former first-rounder from 2018.
Atlanta Falcons New Additions
One of the biggest mysteries entering the 2021 NFL Draft revolved around what Atlanta might do with the fourth overall pick. Quarterbacks went 1-2-3, making it somewhat easy for the Falcons brass to wait on drafting Ryan’s eventual successor.
But instead of trading down for additional capital, they stood pat and made Kyle Pitts the highest drafted tight end in league history. Pitts should line up all over the field and will be a nice young piece during the eventual transition between Matty Ice and his replacement.
The team also added some notable depth at running back, signing Mike Davis and Cordarelle Patterson to short-term deals. Davis, the former Carolina Panther, will slot in immediately as the top back while Patterson will provide some punch in the return game.
The Falcons also took a flier on linebacker Barkevious Mingo but released him in early July after some unsettling reports surfaced off the field.
Atlanta Falcons Key Subtractions
Julio Jones did not like the direction the franchise was going in and shortly after his frustrations became public, he was moved to Tennessee in June for a second- and a third-round draft pick. He leaves the only team he ever played for, having posted the most receptions and receiving yards and the second most touchdowns in franchise history.
Atlanta also declined to bring back running back Todd Gurley after just one season. The former Georgia standout remains a free agent, but rumors have been picking up steam that he may return to the Rams after Cam Akers was lost for the year with an Achilles injury.
As we alluded to earlier, Atlanta is the longshot to win the NFC South, currently installed at +750. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the clear favorite to represent this division in the playoffs while the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers both will have new signal-callers under center.
The Falcons have not won the division since that Super Bowl run and were one of three teams from the NFC South to advance to the postseason the following year.
Atlanta Falcons Offense
The Falcons had the fifth-best passing attack in the NFL last season, but you have to factor in that they couldn’t run the ball well and were behind in many of their games. Ridley and Pitts will make an athletic tandem, but Davis is a bruising back who won’t wow you with anything fancy.
We saved Arthur Smith for this section because he beame the first offensive-minded head coach the team has had since Bobby Petrino left in 2007. Smith had been with the Titans since 2011 but in his two years as the Tennessee offensive coordinator, the team finished in the top 11 in the league in scoring, including fourth a year ago.
Atlanta Falcons Defense
Smith brought Dean Pees with him from Nashville to become the team’s new defensive coordinator, a post he held with the Titans for the last two years.
Pees will be tasked with rebuilding a unit that finished dead last in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game. However, he can lean on the fact that they allowed the sixth-fewest rush yards per contest, anchored in the middle by Grady Jarrett.
Atlanta Falcons FAQs
Will Matt Ryan finish his career in Atlanta?
That was the $44M question this offseason, but even after the June 1 timeline, Ryan remains. The better questions might be whether any offers came in or if the Falcons believe they can contend again with him under center.
Who replaces Julio?
Ridley had a 90-catch season in 2020 and finished tied for fifth for the most receiving yards in the league. It’s his room now but the supporting cast is thin enough for opposing defenses to focus their game plans on No. 18.
What’s the ceiling for Arthur Smith in Year 1?
The schedule isn’t terribly difficult outside of their own division and expectations are low. It’s unrealistic to expect Smith to replicate the immediate success of Matt LaFleur (who preceded him as the Titans OC), but Smith didn’t miss a beat in replacing the current Packers head coach and is planning on running the offense that won Ryan the MVP.