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Roundtable: Writers break down Falcons 2020 schedule

What game are you most excited for?

Matt Tabeek: There are a lot of enticing and intriguing games on the Falcons schedule but, to be honest, the one I'm looking forward to the most is Week 1. The Falcons will open at home for the first since playing at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and it'll be critical that they get off to a strong start. Starting 1-0 with a win over the Seattle Seahawks would be huge for this team.

Kelsey Conway: Week 4 when the Falcons travel to Green Bay to take on the Packers on Monday Night Football. The Falcons were only given two primetime games after back-to-back 7-9 seasons and this is an opportunity for the Falcons to make a statement. The back half of Atlanta's schedule has several intriguing games but I'm more interested to see how the Falcons play in the first half of the season because as we've seen the last two seasons, a slow start makes it really tough to come back from. 

Will McFadden: Every division game is always exciting, and that should be especially true this year. But the game I'm most looking forward to is the Week 16 matchup against Kansas City. The Chiefs are among the most fun teams to watch in the NFL, and this is the first opportunity to see Matt Ryan and Patrick Mahomes go head to head in a game that could produce a ton of fireworks.

What do you think is the Falcons' toughest stretch?

MT: Well, the first four games of the season will be critical for the Falcons – and won't be easy, with games against the Seahawks, Cowboys, Bears and Packers. When they've started strong, generally good things have happened under Dan Quinn. Speaking of Quinn, the Falcons have a combined record of 14-2 over the last four games the last four seasons. It'll be imperative that the Falcons finish strong again this year and it won't be easy. Three of the final four games are on the road, beginning with a trip to Los Angeles. That stretch also includes two games against the Tom Brady and the Bucs and one against the defending Super Bowl champs. That gets my vote for toughest stretch.

KC: I agree with Beek, the final four games for the Falcons are really tough with three being on the road, especially at Kansas City in December. But, I'm going to take it a step further and include the last seven games on the Falcons' schedule: at New Orleans, home vs. the Las Vegas Raiders, home vs. the Saints, at Los Angeles Chargers, home vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at Kansas City and at Tampa Bay.

WM: It's the final five-game stretch for me, beginning Week 13 against the New Orleans Saints. I don't believe there will be an easy game at that time; it's like the final boss fight in a movie. The Los Angeles Chargers didn't have a great record last season, but I believe they are talented enough to bounce back in a big way this season. With two games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a meeting with the Chiefs also coming during those final five weeks, the Falcons will have to be playing their best football at that time.

What is a potential trap game for the Falcons?

MT: In the NFL they're all trap games if you take anyone lightly. That old saying, "On any given Sunday, any team can beat another team" exists for a reason. There's too much parity in this league. If players don't respect their opponent, they'll get their butts whipped.

KC: Week 3 vs. the Chicago Bears. The Falcons need to get back to taking care of business at home, no matter what. After two tough games to open the season against the Seahawks and Cowboys, I think this game is one to circle. We'll find out a lot about this team based on the way they play against the Bears at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

WM: I think the matchup against the Chargers will be tougher than people expect, but the biggest potential trap I see on the schedule comes in Week 9 against the Denver Broncos. The Broncos game is sandwiched between a Thursday-night matchup with the Carolina Panthers and the team's bye week, so I could see a situation where the Falcons aren't as locked in and have a slow start against a decent Denver team.

Matchup you're most intrigued by?

MT: I want to see how the Falcons match up against the defending Super Bowl champs, to be honest. They're the best until proven otherwise. It just stinks that the Falcons don't play the Chiefs until Dec. 27. A lot could already be decided by then.

KC: Atlanta's defense vs. Tom Brady and Tampa's offense. The Falcons already know what the Bucs' wide receivers are capable of doing (look at what Chris Godwin did to the Falcons last year if you don't know what I'm talking about). How do they game plan for Brady, Gronk and Co.? I'll be looking forward to seeing that.

WM: The Week 6 game against the Minnesota Vikings should tell us everything we need to know about the Falcons next season. Despite losing a few key pieces, the Vikings still have one of the best rosters in the NFL and have a good enough defense to give Atlanta's offense some problems. Minnesota soundly beat the Falcons in the season-opener last year, and I'm looking forward to seeing how they fare this time around.

Looking at the first four to six games, do you think the Falcons will be able to start fast?

MT: I mentioned this above, but those games will be extremely challenging. In 2016 and 2017, the Falcons started 4-1 and 3-1 – and ended up making the playoffs. The last two seasons, the Falcons have gone 1-4 and 1-7 – and have finished 7-9 both years. Regardless of how tough I think those initial games, recent history shows that the Falcons must start quick if they hope to make a postseason push.

KC: I'll answer this in two words: They better.

WM: Starting the season against Seattle, a team the Falcons know about as well as any outside of their division, should be beneficial. It's not an easy first four games by any means, but perhaps that will grab Atlanta's attention and help get the team locked in. The biggest issue, and this is true for all NFL teams, is how any impact to training camp will affect on-field performance. It might not matter who they play, they just need to round into form quickly.

 Is having the bye in Week 10 an advantage or not?

MT: I think teams have to make the best of the bye week, regardless of when it comes. The Falcons haven't had a bye this late in the season since 2016, when it came in Week 11. Things worked out OK for them that year. 

KC: I think the bye is beneficial this late in the season only if the Falcons are making a playoff push.

WM: If the Falcons are going to make a real run at the playoffs – and that's the expectation – then a Week 10 bye is absolutely an advantage. The games after the bye are going to be the hardest on their schedule, so having that extra week to prepare and rest can only be a good thing. An early bye week might be helpful to give the team some extra on-field practice to make up for anything that was impacted by coronavirus limitations this offseason, but a late-year break to recharge the batteries is probably more important.

Overall, is this a difficult schedule? Why or why not?

MT: There are no easy NFL schedules in my opinion. I'm not one of those people who puts a ton of stock into the strength of schedule, especially if it's based on the opponents' winning percentage from the previous year. Why? Because there is often so much turnover on a roster and on coaching staffs – and what happened last year is meaningless. Now, if you want to take the offseason changes into account (free agency, draft picks and coaching moves) and project a win total, that's at least mildly interesting to me. The Falcons have their work cut out for themselves in 2020. Should be fun to watch.

KC: Yes, every year the schedule is difficult but this one is especially difficult because of the talent the NFC South acquired in the offseason and the weapons the AFC West has.

WM: This is absolutely a difficult schedule. Not only is it filled with some of the NFL's best teams, it's ordered in a way that groups those teams together. Division games are the most important and half of those games come in the five-game stretch that looks to be the hardest. If the Falcons aren't peaking at just the right time, or if a few things break the wrong way, that could cost them the season.

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