FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes an in-depth breakdown of the Falcons' 2019 schedule and the latest shot fired in the Falcons-Saints rivalry.
The Falcons' 2019 schedule was released Wednesday night, and it offers a couple of important stretches. Atlanta has a tough run right at the start, playing a number of recent playoff teams, and the Falcons will play five straight division opponents after their Week 9 bye.
ESPN's Vaughn McClure gave his game-by-game predictions for the Falcons, who he believes will go 10-6, and other thoughts about the 2019 schedule.
"The Falcons don't exactly have it easy with six of the first nine games against 2018 playoff teams and four of the first six games on the road, starting with a season-opening trip to face the Minnesota Vikings," McClure writes. "They won't even play a division game until visiting the rival New Orleans Saints on Nov. 10, a week after the bye. That matchup marks the start of a critical five-game NFC South stretch, ending with a Thanksgiving night affair at home against Drew Brees and the Saints. At least the Falcons get to play indoors for eight home games and four road games at Minnesota, Indianapolis, Houston and Arizona. Playing four of the last six at home paves the way for a strong finish."
To read the rest of McClure's analysis of the schedule, click here.
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
ESPN: Falcons take shot at Saints with schedule video
It may be the offseason, but the Falcons-Saints rivalry never stops. The Falcons' digital team took the opportunity to have a little fun at the Saints' expense in their schedule release video.
At around the 40-second mark, a Ram runs in front of Mercedes-Benz Stadium as a band of Saints fans are marching in. The Ram collides with a leading trumpet player, knocking him over, and runs off. A referee then runs onto the scene and rules that no pass interference had occurred. Seems familiar.
ESPN's Jeremy Willis wrote about the Falcons piling on the Saints, which you can read here.
SI.com: Atlanta Falcons' 2019 draft needs
As the draft approaches, more national media outlets are providing their in-depth breakdowns of each team's individual needs. Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling teamed up to provide their deep dive into the Falcons' draft needs for SI.com.
Benoit and Gramling believe defensive end is Atlanta's biggest need, saying they could use one more outside speed rusher, allowing Takk McKinley to move inside in nickel situations. The Falcons' hidden need, in their eyes, is the interior of the offensive line, and Benoit and Gramling believes the team should also be looking for a linebacker.
"In the middle of the first, Alabama's Jonah Williams and Oklahoma's Cody Ford could both get consideration as collegiate tackle who could kick inside, but Atlanta could also wait until Day 2 and grab someone like Boston College's Chris Lindstrom for their outside-zone scheme," Benoit and Gramling write of potential options for the Falcons. "If it's an edge rusher, Florida State's Brian Burns fits the bill. Michigan LB Devin Bush (whose father and namesake was drafted by the Falcons with the 26th pick of the 1995 draft), would fit perfectly in Dan Quinn's defense as De'Vondre Campbell's heir apparent."
To read the rest of SI.com's breakdown of the Falcons' draft needs, click here.
ESPN: Draft guide for all 32 NFL teams
The Falcons have quietly added some depth pieces on defense over the past week, leaving them in position to go in several different directions during the first round of the draft.
ESPN's Andrew Potter provided a deep dive for the NFC South's approach to the draft, assigning a biggest need, quiet need and non-need to each team.
For Atlanta, Potter views edge rusher as the team's biggest need, which is a fairly prominent opinion nationally. The Falcons' quiet need, in Potter's opinion, is cornerback. That makes sense given the departure of Robert Alford and Brian Poole this offseason. Potter also states that wide receiver is not a need for Atlanta, and he's completely right about that.
"Vic Beasley Jr. has now descended from leading the league in sacks in 2016 to warming the bench for the latter part of 2018, as midseason acquisition Bruce Irvin almost immediately took over Beasley's starting spot," Potter writes of the Falcons' pass rushers. "Irvin is now in Carolina, so the spot once again belongs to Beasley, but this season he is playing on an expensive fifth-year contract option and there is little to indicate that he can or will return to his 2016 form. Takk McKinley has one starting edge spot sewn up, but when the options for the other spot are Beasley and journeyman Steven Means -- even Brooks Reed has moved on, in his case to the Cardinals -- it is clear that the Falcons require an upgrade. They are widely expected to prioritize this position at the top of a deep rookie class at the position."
To see the rest of ESPN's NFL Draft guide, click here.