The Falcons’ schedule in 25 words: Starts easy, gets harder, ends with a slew of division games — and the division wasn’t good last season.
Here’s (slightly) more detail. If the Falcons aren’t at least 3-2 after five games — the five being Chicago there, Green Bay here, Detroit there and Buffalo and Miami here — they’re in trouble. If they lose only two of the next five — New England there, Jets there, Carolina there, Dallas here, Seattle there — they should be fine. If the closing run of five-division-games-in-six-weeks (Minnesota here is the exception) proves overly problematic, they won’t win the division.
But they should. Only Tampa Bay appears to be on the rise. The Saints are yesterday’s news. The Panthers just went from 15-1 to 6-10, which doesn’t happen unless there are systemic issues. Just eyeballing the Falcons’ 16 games, I’d say they should go no worse than 11-5 again, and I’m reasonably certain 11-5 would again win the division.
But — this is a much bigger “but” — the history of Super Bowl losers in their year after is terrible, and no team ever lost a Super Bowl the way this one did. I can’t foresee a scenario, at least one not tied to major injury, in which the Birds do a Carolina and go 6-10. But I can see them being not quite as good and us all sitting around in October saying, “What’s wrong with these guys?”