The Atlanta Falcons face one of the hardest schedules in 2020, regardless of how you measure it.
Whether basing strength of schedule on last year's win totals or Vegas win projections for 2020, the Falcons will be going up against a high level of talent in the fall. Now that the order of the Falcons' schedule has been revealed, let's take a closer look at the offensive and defensive talent they will face each week.
Week 1 vs Seattle Seahawks (2019 record: 11-5)
- 2019 offensive ranks: No. 8 total (374.4 yds/game), No. 9 scoring (25.3 pts/game)
- 2019 defensive ranks: No. 26 total (381.6 yds/game), No. 23 scoring (24.9 pts/game)
Led by quarterback Russell Wilson, the Seahawks had more of an offensive identity in 2019. Wilson didn't have to shoulder the load by himself, however, as Chris Carson led a ground game that ranked fourth in rushing yards per game. Defensively, Seattle wasn't as stout as it's been in years past, but the Seahawks forced 32 turnovers, which were the third-most in the NFL.
Week 2 at Dallas Cowboys (2019 record: 8-8)
- 2019 offensive ranks: No. 1 total (431.5 yds/game), No. 6 scoring (27.1 pts/game)
- 2019 defensive ranks: No. 9 total (327 yds/game), No. 11 scoring (20.1 pts/game)
The Cowboys had a top-10 offense and defense in 2019, but they didn't perform well enough to save Jason Garrett's job. Now, Mike McCarthy takes over in Dallas and has a ton of talent to work with. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore adds first-round draft pick CeeDee Lamb to an offense that features weapons all over the place. Defensively, Mike Nolan will replace Rod Marinelli to try to get the most out of a relatively young unit.
Week 3 vs Chicago Bears (2019 record: 8-8)
- 2019 offensive ranks: No. 29 total (296.8 yds/game), No. 29 scoring (17.5 pts/game)
- 2019 defensive ranks: No. 8 total (324.1 yds/game), No. 4 scoring (18.6 pts/game)
Bears head coach Matt Nagy is known for his offensive background, but the Bears have been a defense-oriented team during his tenure. Chicago acquired Nick Foles this offseason to compete with Mitch Trubisky at quarterback, and the team has loaded up at the tight end position. Khalil Mack, one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, leads a defense loaded with playmakers.
Week 4 at Green Bay Packers (2019 record: 13-3)
- 2019 offensive ranks: No. 18 total (345.5 yds/game), No. 15 scoring (23.5 pts/game)
- 2019 defensive ranks: No. 18 total (352.6 yds/game), No. 9 scoring (19.6 pts/game)
In Matt LaFleur's first season, the Packers reached the NFC Championship Game despite not having elite production in most offensive or defensive stats. Green Bay was 8-1 in one-score games last season, aided by the third-best turnover differential in the league. Aaron Rodgers leads an offense that is thin at receiver, and the Packers curiously spent their first-round pick on quarterback Jordan Love. Green Bay's defense is led by a quality secondary and a talented defensive line.
Weeks 5 & 8 at/vs Carolina Panthers (2019 record: 5-11)
- 2019 offensive ranks: No. 19 total (341.8 yds/game), No. 18 scoring (21.3 pts/game)
- 2019 defensive ranks: No. 23 total (374.5 yds/game), No. 31 scoring (29.4 pts/game)
The Panthers are undoubtedly a team in transition. Gone are coach Ron Rivera, quarterback Cam Newton and star linebacker Luke Kuechly. Matt Rhule is taking over for his first NFL head coaching job, and he added Joe Brady, who helped orchestrate LSU's 2019 national title-winning season. Carolina also signed Teddy Bridgewater to take over at quarterback and it gave running back Christian McCaffrey a lucrative extension. The Panthers used every one of their draft picks on the defensive side of the ball, trying to plug a number of holes.
Week 6 at Minnesota Vikings (2019 record: 10-6)
- 2019 offensive ranks: No. 16 total (353.5 yds/game), No. 8 scoring (25.4 pts/game)
- 2019 defensive ranks: No. 14 total (341.6 yds/game), No. 6 scoring (18.9 pts/game)
Minnesota earned double-digit wins with one of the league's top scoring offensive and defensive units. Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski left to become head coach in Cleveland, but Gary Kubiak will take over that role and the offensive scheme will remain the same. Defensive coordinator George Edwards also departed this offseason. The Vikings have one of the NFL's most talented rosters with playmakers on offense and defense. They forced the fourth-most turnovers in the league in 2019 and also recorded the fifth-most sacks. Minnesota drafted Justin Jefferson in an attempt to replace Stefon Diggs' production and Jeff Gladney to bolster a cornerback group that had some key departures.
Week 7 vs Detroit Lions (2019 record: 3-12-1)
- 2019 offensive ranks: No. 17 total (346.8 yds/game), No. 19 scoring (21.3 pts/game)
- 2019 defensive ranks: No. 31 total (400.4 yds/game), No. 26 scoring (26.4 pts/game)
The Lions had one of the worst defenses in the NFL last season, but they've made several offseason moves to attempt to correct that, including signing former Falcons corner Desmond Trufant. Detroit also signed linebacker Jaime Collins and drafted cornerback Jeff Okudah, who figures to replace top corner Darius Slay. Offensively, the team has weapons and drafted D'Andre Swift to add to their backfield. The health of quarterback Matthew Stafford is ultimately the most important thing for the Lions, however.
Week 9 vs Denver Broncos (2019 record: 7-9)
- 2019 offensive ranks: No. 28 total (298.6 yds/game), No. 28 scoring (17.6 pts/game)
- 2019 defensive ranks: No. 12 total (337 yds/game), No. 10 scoring (19.8 pts/game)
In Vic Fangio's first season, the Broncos took a step forward defensively and a step back on offense. Denver appears to be confident in Drew Lock as its quarterback of the future as it took steps to upgrade its offensive line in free agency and drafted a number of receivers, including former Alabama star Jerry Jeudy, to join Courtland Sutton. The Broncos also added former Chargers running back Melvin Gordon in free agency and trade for cornerback A.J. Bouye.
Weeks 11 & 13 at/vs New Orleans Saints (2019 record: 13-3)
- 2019 offensive ranks: No. 9 total (373.9 yds/game), No. 3 scoring (28.6 pts/game)
- 2019 defensive ranks: No. 11 total (333.1 yds/game), No. 13 scoring (21.3 pts/game)
New Orleans has been one of the top teams in the NFL over the past few seasons. The Saints were second in turnover differential in 2019 with a plus-15 difference, which helped them finish the year with the third-best time of possession on offense. New Orleans had 51 sacks last season and allowed only 25, both of which were the third-best marks in the NFL. With Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas leading the way on offense and Cameron Jordan, Malcolm Jenkins and Marshon Lattimore on defense, the Saints are in good shape once again.
Week 12 vs Las Vegas Raiders (2019 record: 7-9)
- 2019 offensive ranks: No. 11 total (363.7 yds/game), No. 24 scoring (19.6 pts/game)
- 2019 defensive ranks: No. 19 total (354.8 yds/game), No. 24 scoring (26.2 pts/game)
Rookie running back Josh Jacobs was one of the league's top first-year players last season, and he became the focal point of the Raiders' offense. Las Vegas signed Marcus Mariota and it remains to be seen what the dynamic at quarterback will be with David Carr still on the roster. The Raiders added some serious speed at receiver by drafting Henry Ruggs in the first round, and they added to their defense by using another first-round pick on cornerback Damon Arnette.
Week 14 at Los Angeles Chargers (2019 record: 5-11)
- 2019 offensive ranks: No. 10 total (367.4 yds/game), No. 21 scoring (21.1 pts/game)
- 2019 defensive ranks: No. 6 total (313.1 yds/game), No. 14 scoring (21.6 pts/game)
Despite losing star defensive playmaker Derwin James for the first 11 games of the season, the Chargers fielded one of the better defenses in the league, and they added Kenneth Murray, one of the top linebackers in this year's draft. Pass rusher Joey Bosa is becoming one of the league's top defensive ends but didn't have much help as Los Angeles had just 30 sacks in 2019. Offensively, the team parted ways with longtime quarterback Phillip Rivers and now have Tyrod Taylor and rookie Justin Herbert there at the position. Also gone is running back Melvin Gordon, although the Chargers drafted Josh Kelley to pair with Austin Ekeler in the backfield.
Weeks 15 & 17 vs/at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2019 record: 7-9)
- 2019 offensive ranks: No. 3 total (397.9 yds/game), No. 3 scoring (28.6 pts/game)
- 2019 defensive ranks: No. 15 total (343.9 yds/game), No. 29 scoring (28.1 pts/game)
Don't let the raw defensive stats fool you, the Buccaneers were absolutely playing like one of the league's best defenses by the end of last season. Tampa Bay ranked fifth in defensive DVOA last season after finishing dead last in the same metric in 2018. Of course, the additions to the offense with Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and rookie tackle Tristan Wirfs can't be overlooked, and Bruce Arians always knows how to get the most out of his offenses. But a defense that is no longer put into bad situations by Jameis Winston might be the most dangerous thing about the Bucs in 2020.
Week 16 at Kansas City Chiefs (2019 record: 12-4)
- 2019 offensive ranks: No. 6 total (379.2 yds/game), No. 5 scoring (28.2 pts/game)
- 2019 defensive ranks: No. 17 total (349.6 yds/game), No. 7 scoring (19.3 pts/game)
Failing to repeat as the league's top offense in 2019 did not stop the Chiefs from earning the Lombardi Trophy. Kansas City was a better overall team last season with its improvements on defense, and Patrick Mahomes continues to make his case for being the best quarterback in the NFL. The Chiefs are absolutely loaded on offense and were the best unit on third downs in the league last season. They've now added former LSU star Clyde Edwards-Helaire to the mix, giving them a true No. 1 running back. No team is as equipped to win in a shootout, but the Chiefs proved last year that they don't always have to.
Given the caliber of team the Falcons will face next season they will need to maximize the talent on their roster, particularly on offense, to keep pace. Atlanta has played its best ball late in the season under Dan Quinn, and it has the second-best winning percentage over the final four games of each season since his arrival. That will need to continue to be the case in 2020, as the back part of the schedule figures to be the hardest.