First Four Weeks
Week 1: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come into this season following a 2015 campaign which saw QB Jameis Winston pass for over 4000 yards and finish second in offensive rookie of the year voting (behind Todd Gurley). Their offense also features one of the game’s great young receivers in Mike Evans. RB Doug Martin, who was second in the NFL in rushing yards last season, sets up a formidable ground game.
Tampa Bay finished in the NFC South cellar for a fifth straight season (6-10) last year, but are eager and hungry to finally get out of that basement.
Their coaching staff features some familiar faces: head coach Dirk Koetter was Atlanta’s offensive coordinator for three seasons (2012-2014), while defensive coordinator Mike Smith remains the winningest head coach in Falcons history.
Homer Outlook – Matt Ryan has never lost a home opener in his career as a pro. Tampa Bay’s overtime victory in Atlanta last season was their first win at the Georgia Dome since 2007. Atlanta features two very good CBs to cover Winston’s receivers, and the team just drafted De’Vondre Campbell for the purpose of covering the tight end (who will probably be Cameron Brate with Austin Seferian-Jenkins getting in some off the field trouble).
Tampa Bay has nobody to cover Julio Jones (went for 20-255-1 in two games against the Bucs last season): Vernon Hargraves is making his NFL debut while Brent Grimes isn’t what he once was. Atlanta’s improved offensive line should give Matt Ryan time in the pocket to burn Tampa in the passing game.
Turnovers burned the Falcons in two meetings against the Bucs last season, but an emphasis on limiting those giveaways won’t hand Tampa the win this time around.
Homer Prediction: Victory (1-0)
Objective Outlook – Division games in the NFC South are almost always complete bloodbaths that could go either way. Case in point: nobody saw the Falcons losing to Tampa Bay last season, and they got swept.
Winston should be comfortable in the pocket thanks to Atlanta’s lack of a real pass rush (league low 19 sacks last season). Tampa Bay will be able to chip away at the Falcons if Doug Martin gets going, but there is some pessimism at his prospects of repeating what he did in a contract year last season.
Needing to settle into a new coaching scheme (first game for the new head coach and defensive coordinator) will really Tampa in this one, as they must face an explosive offense which features two absolute difference makers at skill positions (Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones). Atlanta’s home-field advantage will also prove to be a difference maker.
Objective Prediction: Victory (1-0)
Week 2: @ Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders have been the sexy pick to win the AFC West this offseason. QB Derek Carr has proven to be a gem, and he has a very good receiving core to target. It’s led by the stellar Amari Cooper (4th pick in the 2015 NFL draft).
On defense, Oakland features one of the most fearsome pass rushers in the game in all-pro Khalil Mack (the only player to be an all-pro at two different positions last year). The addition of Bruce Irvin through free agency will only bolster the pass rush. They will be without the steady veteran presence of the great Charles Woodson, however, as the future hall of fame CB/S retired after the conclusion of last season.
The Raiders finished with a 7-9 record last year, climbing the ladder in the AFC, and now looking to climb that final rung into a playoff spot. Oakland is looking to end its team record 13 year playoff drought (second longest active streak; Buffalo – 16 years), and the fans in Raider nation are optimistic that this will be the year they finally make their postseason return.
Homer Outlook – The Raiders look poised for another step up this season, but they’ll have some trouble against the Falcons. Desmond Trufant is one of the best CBs in the game, and he should be able to blanket Amari Cooper, who’s looking to avoid that dreaded sophomore slump (and who had an underwhelming finish to last season).
Oakland was 16th in the NFL last season in passing yards per game (242.4). But in those late season games when Amari Cooper struggled (weeks 11, 13, 14, 16, and 17), Oakland averaged just 197.0 yards per game, which would’ve been good for second worst in the NFL through the course of a full campaign. Derek Carr’s TD:INT ratio in those five games was 6:5, in all other games it was 26:8. If Trufant can make Amari Cooper struggle in this one, Oakland’s passing attack will falter.
The Raiders’ run game, meanwhile isn’t something to really be afraid of as long as Latavius Murray continues to be the bell-cow (which he will, according to head coach Jack Del-Rio). Murray did crack the 1000 rushing yard plateau last season, but he was just 32nd in the league in rushing yards per attempt (4.0); he also really falters in the fourth quarter (2.2 ypc).
Atlanta’s stellar offensive tackles, meanwhile, should be able to keep the monster that is Khalil Mack off Matt Ryan for enough time to set up an effective passing game, and to exploit Oakland’s below average secondary (26th in the NFL last year in passing defense). Oakland was an above average side in run defense, but Devonta Freeman needs to just do enough to set up the play action for Matt Ryan, and he’s more than capable of that.
Homer Prediction: Victory (2-0)
Objective Outlook – The best thing the Raiders have going for them in this game is the fact that it’s being played on the west coast, and that Atlanta will have to make the cross country trip following their week 1 bout. If Atlanta’s players can’t adjust to the time change then Oakland will have a serious advantage.
On paper this looks like a game the Falcons will lose: west coast trip, and against a young upstart team poised for big things this year and in the future.
However, the passing statistics made in the “homer outlook” of this page can’t be ignored. The Raiders are just a different team when Amari Cooper is off his game, and Atlanta has one of the true shutdown corners in the league to contend with him. This will come down to the Trufant vs. Cooper matchup.
Without homer goggles even being on, it’s easy to see that Oakland’s run game with Latavius Murray isn’t very good (32nd in the NFL in yards per carry). The only reason he finished so high in the rushing yards rank last season is because every other running back got hurt.
Atlanta should be able to do just enough on defense and on offense in this one. Julio Jones looks poised for a huge game against a secondary which surrendered 284 yards to Antonio Brown last year.
Objective Prediction: Victory (2-0)
Week 3: @ New Orleans Saints
The best rivalry in the NFL will come to a head early in the season. Drew Brees is still very good. He would have thrown for 5000 yards yet again last season if he didn’t miss a game due to a shoulder injury. Even at age 37, he remains an elite quarterback and a major thorn in Atlanta’s side. The Saints had the number 1 passing offense in the NFL last year.
New Orleans will need every bit of Brees’ offensive magic this season, as they still have a poor defense (ranked 31st last year; 32nd the year before).
This will be a Monday Night Football game; and it will be the 10th anniversary of the Louisiana Superdome’s re-opening, following Hurricane Katrina.
Homer Outlook – The Saints are no longer that juggernaut squad of 2009, which struck fear into the hearts of their opponents. Their defense is downright awful, and they haven’t had a 1000 yard rusher since Deuce McAllister broke the plateau in 2006. Mark Ingram is a better than average running back but he’s constantly had to battle injuries in his career.
Stacking these sides up player to player, Atlanta has a better team. The defense is better (16th in the NFL last year, as opposed to the Saints’ 31st place finish), the run game is better, and the receiving core is better. The advantage New Orleans has always had was Drew Brees at quarterback, and they’ll continue to have that advantage this year.
Last year Brees killed the Falcons down the middle, targeting his tight end. But Atlanta finally addressed that weakness (which has plagued them for years) with the drafting of LB De’Vondre Campbell. Brees can no longer exploit that hole in the defense, while Desmond Trufant will be able to go step for step with his favorite target: Brandin Cooks.
Vic Beasley came so close to sacking Brees multiple times in the first match-up last season, and that was in his rookie season with a torn shoulder labrum. An improved and healthy Beasley should be able to knock Brees on the ground a few times.
Devonta Freeman should be able to set the tempo against what was the second worst run defense in the NFL last season, and that will make things much easier for Matt Ryan as a result.
Homer Prediction: Victory (3-0)
Objective Outlook – Drew Brees and Sean Payton have owned the Atlanta Falcons, there’s really no way of tiptoeing around that statement. Since these two joined the Saints in 2006, New Orleans has a 15-5 record against the Falcons in the past decade. They’re also 8-2 at home, against the birds, in that span.
The record (and even the talent to a certain extent) can be thrown out of the window when these two teams meet. There’s always bad blood in this rivalry, and both sets of players surely spend some extra time in the weight room the week leading up to this clash.
The schedule makers did the Falcons no favors this season, as the emotion in the Superdome will be running extremely high during the 10th anniversary of the re-opening, and that will signal doom for Atlanta. The hostile crowd will be the loudest its been since 2006, and the Saints players will feed off that energy as if it were a feast.
Games between the Falcons and Saints will always be close, they will always be brutal match-ups. This season both games between the bitter rivals will come down to who has the home-field advantage.
Objective Prediction: Defeat (2-1)
Week 4: vs. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers set the world on fire last season, and few people saw it coming. Cam Newton looked unstoppable for most of the season, accounting for 45 total touchdowns, on his way to winning the league MVP award.
Carolina team led the NFC in sacks, and had the 6th best total defense in the league.
That strength on both sides of the ball led them to a 15-1 regular season record, and the second Superbowl appearance in team history.
Up until 2013, the NFC South had never had back to back winners since its inception in 2002. Last season, the Panthers won the division for a third consecutive year. They are overwhelming favorites to win it again this year.
Homer Outlook – The Carolina Panthers went into the Georgia Dome last season with a 14-0 record, and they left with their only regular season defeat of 2015.
The Panthers are going to regress this year. Last season was a perfect storm of everything going right for Carolina (well, until the Superbowl that is). Few in the NFL community will predict a repeat of that spectacular 15-1 campaign.
Dan Quinn came up with a defensive scheme which just shut Carolina down, following a first drive touchdown, last season. The Panthers were held to their lowest scoring total of the year in that game (13 points), and Cam Newton was held in check (188 all purpose yards, 1 total touchdown). Vic Beasley terrorized Newton (4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble), and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to do so again in this match-up.
Atlanta’s improved offensive line will make a real difference. Matt Ryan will be protected for enough time to find Julio Jones, who will have a field day. Jones had 178 yards and a touchdown in the week 16 game last year, and that was while Carolina still had the services of all-pro CB Josh Norman. There’s nobody in that Panther secondary who can hope to cover Jones.
The crucial NFC South match-up home-field advantage will play a part yet again.
Homer Prediction – Victory (4-0; no the “Homer Prediction” will not be a “Victory” every single time)
Objective Outlook – Carolina is a lot more talented than this Atlanta Falcons team. Luke Kuechly anchors a better defense, while Cam Newton is an absolute superstar leading a better offense.
The Falcons had trouble with RB Jonathan Stewart in the week 14 match-up in Carolina (10-75-1), and didn’t have to game-plan for the Oregon alum in the week 16 game. Stewart will be available (barring injury) in this one, and he will be a problem.
These NFC South games are almost always close (this one will be close as well), but you just can’t ignore the sheer talent advantage Carolina possesses over the Falcons. Atlanta will (hopefully) get to where Carolina is, in time, but they aren’t there yet.
Objective Prediction – Defeat (2-2)
Next: Weeks 5-8