Third Four Weeks
Week 9: @Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A week one rematch. Last year the Bucs swept the Falcons in two agonizingly close games.
This match-up will be a Thursday Night game: Atlanta’s second prime time game of the season (week 3 against the Saints is the first).
Homer Outlook – The Falcons won’t have the home-field advantage this time around, but they will have the more veteran squad.
Atlanta shot itself in the foot in last year’s meeting in Tampa: failing to score a touchdown on three second quarter redzone appearances, famously letting Jameis Winston convert a 3rd and long due to lazy tackling, and turning the ball over on the final drive of the game.
With Matt Ryan now in the second year of Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system, those redzone deficiencies, and turnovers, should be far less frequent. That offensive continuity is what will enable Atlanta to pull this one out in a nail biter.
The offensive line’s improvement and Vic Beasley’s step forward should help the Falcons as well.
Homer Prediction – Victory (6-3)
Objective Outlook – Tampa Bay has amassed a lot of talent from picking in the higher part of the first round, over the years. By week 9, the defense should be gelling together in Mike Smith’s system, and rookie Vernon Hargreaves will have his feet wet against NFL competition.
The fact that Atlanta only lost those games against Tampa last year because of turnovers can’t be ignored. With the massive emphasis on protecting the ball, and with the continuity of the offense, those mistakes will be far more limited this season.
However, Tampa Bay will probably be a better team this year than they were last year. Jameis Winston will take a step forward, and Mike Evans will bounce back from a 3 touchdown campaign (he caught 12 TDs as a rookie).
The main question is whether or not Doug Martin will shine again this season, now that he’s no longer in a contract year. But even if the muscle hamster drops off, the improved passing game should be enough to compensate for that reduction in production.
Both teams are better this year than they were last year. In this divisional rivalry game, home-field will be what separates them yet again.
Objective Prediction – Defeat (3-6)
Week 10: @Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles get their shot at some revenge against the team that beat them in the season opener last year.
After a 7-9 season, Philadelphia underwent a full on identity change: firing head coach/GM Chip Kelly and trading away key players Kelly brought to Philly (Demarco Murray, Kiko Alonso, Byron Maxwell).
Doug Peterson, former offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs, took over as head coach in the city of brotherly love.
Homer Outlook – The Eagles will be a team running under the philosophy of a rookie head coach, and operating in a completely new offensive scheme than the one Chip Kelly ran. Falcons fans know first hand about the hurdles associated with this lack of continuity.
Sam Bradford is average at best at the quarterback position, never living up to the hype of being the first overall selection in 2010. The Eagles passing attack doesn’t strike much fear into the opposition after the disappointing 2015 season endured by both Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor: the two starters at wide receiver.
Ryan Matthews, meanwhile had a good season running the ball: he averaged 5.1 yards per carry, but only on 106 total carries. It is questioned whether or not he can be as productive now that he’ll be getting the bulk of early down work.
Julio Jones eviscerated the Eagles in the meeting between these two team last season: he had 9 catches (on 11 targets) for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns. This Philly team, ranked 28th in pass defense last season, can’t stop Atlanta’s aerial attack.
Homer Prediction – Victory (7-3)
Objective Outlook – The Eagles were an above average offensive team last season, how much that had to do with Chip Kelly offensive brilliance will be discovered this year.
TE Zach Ertz, who averaged 112.5 yards per game over the final quarter of last season, is going to be a big contributor to this offense. Doug Peterson ran a scheme which featured a hefty amount of targets for TE Travis Kelce in KC: he could make Ertz into a star.
The Eagles’ defense, however, was awful last season, ranking 30th in the NFL. Unless a radical scheme change shoots them into at least league average on this side of the ball (very unlikely), they’ll be in trouble. The Falcons shouldn’t have a problem going up and down the field in this one.
Objective Prediction – Victory (4-6)
Week 12: vs. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals had their best season since the Superbowl run of 2008, last year: they went 12-4, won the NFC West division, earned the second seed in the NFC, and got to the NFC Championship game.
WR Larry Fitzgerald turned back the clock, working in the slot, as he went for 1215 receiving yards and 9 TDs.
QB Carson Palmer set career highs in passing yards thrown (4671), average yards per pass (8.7), passing touchdowns (35), passes that went for 20+ yards (65), and quarterback rating (104.6).
The defense improved despite the departure of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, while the offense was explosive as ever.
Homer Outlook – The Arizona Cardinals had a tremendous 2015 season, but it seems like this year Carson Palmer won’t repeat the success he just had. This will be his age 37 year, and he just had the outlier season of his career.
It’s pretty hard to be optimistic when talking about a game against Arizona, arguably the most complete team in football; but there are two causes for optimism: the schedule, and Julio Jones.
Atlanta will have an extra week to prepare for the Cardinals, as the bye week will fall on week 10. That should be an advantage for Dan Quinn and the coaching staff to take.
Julio Jones will be the best chance Atlanta has at winning this game. Last time these two teams met, Jones famously destroyed Arizona All-Pro CB Patrick Peterson. The run defense for the Cards is too stout for Freeman to run through: this will have to be an aerial ambush.
In the end, Arizona just has too much firepower on offense and is too good on defense for Atlanta to pull out the victory. Even if Julio Jones goes off, Arizona can still overcome that hurdle, unlike last time, when Ryan Lindley was the quarterback.
Homer Prediction – Defeat (7-4)
Objective Outlook – You don’t have to look further than the stats to appreciate how good the Arizona Cardinals were last season. They were fifth in total defense, and the best offensive team in the NFL (number 1 in total offense): the Cardinals and Seahawks were the only teams in football to finish the season ranked top 5 in both offense and defense.
Arizona’s defense got even scarier this offseason, as they added former Patriots’ standout DE Chandler Jones (12.5 sacks last season) in a trade with New England; and the physically monstrous DE Robert Nkemdiche in the first round of the draft.
RB David Johnson, a gem found by the Arizona front office in the middle rounds of the 2015 draft, had an incredible rookie season, and looks poised to build on his success.
The WR core that Carson Palmer has to work with is absolutely destructive: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and John Brown are arguably the best trio in the league.
Arizona boasts too much talent for Atlanta to handle.
Objective Prediction – Defeat (4-7)
Week 13: vs. Kansas City Chiefs
The 2015 season will always be a memorable one for the Chiefs. After starting the year out with a 1-5 record, Andy Reid’s troops rattled off 10 straight wins to secure a playoff spot.
Kansas City won their wildcard game against the Texans, before losing in the divisional round to the Patriots.
Star RB Jamal Charles suffered a season ending injury, but backups Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware filled in admirably in his absence.
TE Travis Kelce and WR Jeremy Maclin are the best weapons at QB Alex Smith’s disposal, but KC is a team that wins behind the muscle of its defense. DE Justin Houston anchors said defense, as a top 5 pass rusher in the NFL.
Homer Outlook – The Chiefs are a very complete team with a good run game, a (seemingly) solid passing game, and a stout defense.
Atlanta, however, can make this Chiefs’ offense one dimensional in this game. If Desmond Trufant can shadow and take away Jeremy Maclin, and if DeVondre Campbell does a good job covering TE Travis Kelce, then Atlanta will shut down an already underwhelming passing attack; the Chiefs were just 30th in the league in passing offense last season.
Being able to successfully single cover Alex Smith’s weapons (Trufant is certainly capable, Campbell might need some help with Kelce) will allow the Falcons to stack the box against Charles and the run game. The battle on that side of the ball will come down to how well the birds can cover one on one.
On offense, meanwhile, Atlanta might struggle against last year’s seventh best overall defense. CB Marcus Peters led the league in interceptions his rookie year but even he won’t be a match for Julio Jones one on one (no CB on the planet is). Justin Houston, however, underwent a major knee surgery in the offseason and might not be playing in this one (and if he does he might not be 100%). That would be a huge break for the Falcons.
Atlanta wins this one in a squeaker.
Homer Prediction – Victory (8-4)
Objective Outlook – The Chiefs’ season last year was the polar opposite of Atlanta’s campaign. The Falcons started out 5-0, while KC was 1-5. Atlanta suffered six straight losses at one point, and the Chiefs ended their season with 10 wins in a row. You don’t just win 10 in a row in this league unless you have some serious talent and coaching.
Kansas City is a superbly coached team which has a true identity of grinding games out with their defense, running the ball down their opponent’s throat, and having Alex Smith and the passing attack do just enough in a game manager role. These types of team are supremely dangerous.
The Chiefs force a lot of turnovers: they had the second most interceptions in the NFL last year (22) and were second in the league in turnover margin (+14). Atlanta, meanwhile, had 30 giveaways last season, which was a mark good for seventh worst in the league. Even with Dan Quinn’s added emphasis on protecting the ball, these stats spell disaster for the birds.
Objective Prediction – Defeat (4-8)
Next: Weeks 14-17