What is the most intriguing matchup?
Matt Tabeek: I was hoping that the Falcons would open the season with the Eagles at home. I almost got my wish; the Falcons will host Philly in their home opener on "Sunday Night Football" – except in Week 2. Oh well. It’s still a great early-season matchup against a team that’s had the Falcons’ number the last three times these two teams have faced each other. The last two games, as we all know, came in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs in 2017 and last year’s season opener in Philadelphia. Both games came down to the final seconds and I love that the Falcons have a chance to exorcise some demons early on. It’s also a great way to open the season at home – in prime time before a national television audience.
Kelsey Conway: The season-opener against the Minnesota Vikings is the most intriguing matchup in my eyes. Here’s why: The Falcons’ offensive line was an Achilles heel for the team for much of the 2018 season. A majority of Atlanta’s free agency moves have been centered around bolstering the offensive line, and the Week 1 matchup against Minnesota’s defensive line that features several top-tier defensive linemen will be the first time we get to see how much those offseason acquisitions have helped the Falcons. Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph are about as good as they come at their positions, and what better test to find out how good this team is than against those guys?
Will McFadden: It's the Thanksgiving night rematch against the New Orleans Saints. The Falcons get the Saints at home this time, and I want to see if Atlanta can redeem itself with the nation watching. Atlanta was actually playing well enough in last year's game to snap the two-game skid it was on, but the Falcons turned the ball over four times, including three fumbles right near the goal line, cementing the 31-17 defeat. This year's matchup will come near the end of a really important five-game division stretch, and I'll be watching to see how much the Falcons have in the tank for this game coming off a short week.
Where is the toughest stretch in the schedule?
Tabeek: For me, it’s the first five games of the season. The Falcons will face five pretty good quarterbacks – Kirk Cousins, Carson Wentz, Andrew Luck, Marcus Mariota and Deshaun Watson – and some pretty good defensive units in that span. Three of those teams were playoff teams a year ago and all five had winning records in 2018, too. We’ll find out a lot about this Falcons team and, as we all know, it’s critical to get off to a strong start in this league. It’s going to be hard enough playing all six NFC South games in the second half of the season; another reason why a quick start will be critical.
Conway: The two home games against the Seahawks and Rams before the bye week. I’m not worried about the division stretch to follow as much, because I think the Falcons are the best team in the NFC South and I think they’ll take care of business. The reason I say the two games against the NFC West teams is because in the previous years we’ve seen that when it gets down to the end of the season, those head-to-head matchups matter for seeding and I’d expect both Seattle and Los Angeles to be in the mix for a postseason berth.
McFadden: I wrote about how the first five games will be the most difficult run of opponents, and I'll keep that stance here. The Vikings and the Titans were in the playoffs two seasons ago, while the Eagles, Colts and Texans were in the postseason last year. Three of those games will be on the road as well, and it's the third straight season the Falcons will begin play away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta couldn't recover from a tough start last season, which also featured an opening five games against really good teams. It will be important for the Falcons to play well early on in 2019.
Is there a trap game on this schedule?
Tabeek: This is a tough one for me because the good teams don’t overlook any opponent. But if pressed, I’d go with two spots in the schedule where the Falcons need to be careful. The first is against the Cardinals on Oct. 13. The Falcons play at Houston the week before – which should be a tough, physical game. And the week after the Cardinals game is a home date against the Rams, the defending NFC champs. The other game is the Falcons’ final home game of the year – a Dec. 22 tilt against the Jaguars. The week before Atlanta travels out West to face San Francisco. No one knows for sure how good the 49ers will be in 2019 with a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo. And then a week after the Jags game the Falcons wrap up the season in Tampa. With six of the final eight games against NFC South foes, every single one of the games down the stretch will be big.
Conway: Yes, the Week 4 game against the Tennessee Titans. The Falcons have struggled against AFC teams in the previous three years. The Titans matchup occurs right in the middle of three straight AFC South games. The Falcons can’t afford to go winless against an AFC division again and the Titans game is one the Falcons can’t overlook.
McFadden: I never thought I'd pick a division game for my answer, but here we are. Coming off their Week 9 bye, the Falcons have back-to-back road games against the Saints and the Panthers, their first two division games of the season. They will be locked in for those. In Week 13, the Falcons have their Thanksgiving night rematch against the Saints. And because I believe trap games have as much to do with the game after the trap game as they do with the games before, I'm picking Atlanta's Week 12 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The last time the Falcons lost to the Buccaneers was the season opener of the 2016 season. I'm just saying, the ingredients are there.
What will the Falcons record be in 2019?
Tabeek: 10-6. I hate making predictions before the NFL Draft and without watching a single preseason game, but here goes it. I think the Falcons – if everyone stays healthy (knock on wood) – will win at least three more games in 2019. So, I’m sticking with a conservative 10-6 for now.
Conway: 13-3. If the Falcons can win their home games, there’s not too many road games that scare me. With no cold weather games, I like the Falcons' odds even more. It all comes down to winning at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
McFadden: 11-5. I think the Falcons have a more difficult schedule this season than they did last year, but I believe - if healthy! - this group is closer to the one we saw in 2017 and 2016 than what we say in 2018. It's difficult to predict how well those coming off of injuries will play, but I think Atlanta will get a few more bounces its way than it did last season.