The 2014 Schedule Breakdown and Predictions
by Cage Member Anthony Scott Cooper
It is again a great privilege to share my thoughts with the Cage. I offer my apologies for not being able to support my Falcon’s family this past year as much as I’d like. I extend my heartfelt gratitude for all the prayers and well wishes. I love this forum and appreciate you all.
Breaking it DOWN!
Interesting Facts About the Falcons 2014 Schedule
- The Falcons play 2 nationally televised games this year (perhaps 3… I’m not sure about the Detroit game which we play in London at 9:30am). Last year we played 5… that’s what happens when you go 4-12. Frankly, we are lucky to have 2 games on national TV. They have one Thursday Night Football (TNF) game when they host the Bucs on Sep 18th and one Monday Night Football (MNF) game at Lambeau Field on Dec 8th.
The Falcons only play 2 back to back home games (Cleveland and Arizona in weeks 12 and 13), though they play back to back road games twice (Minnesota and New York Giants in weeks 4 and 5, then Tampa Bay and Carolina in weeks 10 and 11)
- The Birds play Chicago at home on Oct 12th, and won’t see the dome again until Nov 23rd. Think about that for a minute…that’s 6 weeks between home games. The bye week and a “home” game in London account for two of the weeks. But in reality… that’s six weeks out of a routine. That stretch is against Baltimore, Detroit, Bye, Tampa Bay, and Carolina.
- They have one short week with the TNF game against the Bucs following a road game in Cincinnati. I like that the short week we play at home. Then we rest up before heading to Minnesota. The Detroit game in London concerns me. We are on the road in Baltimore (a tough game) heading into the trip. That said… we have the bye to recover after London.
- Travel is great this year (except for London)… nothing west of Minnesota (CST). It could be cold in Green Bay in December, but it is still early in the month… so I don’t see a horrible weather game either.
- The Falcons will play a total of 9 games inside with the Bengals, Giants, Ravens, Lions, Bucs, Panthers, and Packers being outdoors.
Mapping a Way Back to the Playoffs
Next, let’s examine how the games are arrayed in terms of trying to map a way to the playoffs. Though recent history has shown that you can make the playoffs with 9 or even 8 wins, most hold to the belief that 10 wins pretty much guarantees you a spot and 11 or 12 should lock up the division. Of the 16 games, the Falcons play 6 in their own division (2 each against the Saints, Panthers, and Bucs). If you win all 6, you can take the division to the bank. At a minimum, you better win 3 and more likely 4 to have decent playoff hopes.
The Falcons have a total of 12 conference games in the NFC. The 6 we just talked about plus 4 from the NFC North (Vikings, Bears, Lions, and Packers). This seems easier than last year with the 49ers and Seahawks, but remember our entire division gets to play them as well (hard schedule for everyone last year… easier schedule for everyone this year). If you can win 3 of 4 here, to go with 4 of 6 from above, you have 7 of the 10 wins you need.
The NFC South also matches up with the AFC North this year. So we all get to play the Bengals, Ravens, Browns, and Steelers. Win 3 of these 4 (specifically Bengals, Browns, and Steelers) and you now have your 10 wins.
So that brings you to the last two games to make up the 12 from the NFC. These are the only games that will differ on our rival’s schedules. We get the Giants and the Cardinals while the Saints drew the Cowboys and Bears (same teams they got last year). The Bucs got the Rams and the Skins while the Panthers drew the Seahawks and the Eagles. At first glance, the Panthers have the toughest two games.
The point I leave you with is this: winning 4 of 6 in the division is a must. Follow that with 3 of 4 from the AFC North and NFC North each and you have 10 wins. Then split the Giants and Cardinals and you make it to 11 and an easy playoff berth. 11 wins could also win the division but not home field advantage throughout.
Of special note, we often debate in the Cage about “this game is huge” vs. others who say, “It’s just a game, they all count the same”. Actually, they don’t all count the same. Without going through every procedure (http://www.nfl.com/standings/tiebreakingprocedures), the basic order for tie-breakers is head-to-head, games within the division, games in common, and games within the conference. So in terms of tiebreakers, all the games within the conference are more important than the AFC games. In other words, if I can go 12-4 let me win all NFC games at the cost of the AFC games.
#1) Sunday, Sep 7th vs. New Orleans 1:00 pm: Last year I was extremely hopeful that the Falcons would finally make the Superbowl and bring the Lombardi trophy to Peachtree St. I predicted that the Birds would soar to 12-4. As we all know, I got my predictions inverted as injuries and Smittyball doomed our beloved team to 4-12. No loss is easy to take… but losing to the Saints is the worst lost most of us could endure. What a horrible way to start the season. We lost during Sean Payton’s return and America got to love the New Orleans’ trash once again. Unfortunately, I don’t see a different outcome this season.
Let me be clear… I believe we have a better team. We have more talent everywhere on the field except maybe QB and DL…and being slightly worse than Drew Brees aint too shabby. Where our team is woefully incompetent when compared to the Saints is simple… COACHING. I hate Sean Payton, but Smitty couldn’t hold his clipboard. I have yet to see anything in preseason that leads me to believe that Smitty has changed. We have all the talent needed (finally) to play the 3-4… yet Smitty wants to run a 4-2-5. I see the Falcons being the Falcons of 2012. We will jump on the Saints and run up an early lead. But the Head Coach will revert to Smittyball and try to sit on the lead. You CAN NOT do that against Drew Brees. Further, the Falcons are still trying to figure out who they are on defense (the 6 year journey continues). In the end, Matt Ryan tries to lead a last minute comeback, but Matt Bryant misses the game winning FG. Saints 34 – Falcons 33 (0-1)
#2) Sunday, Sep 14th @ Cincinnati 1:00 pm: The Bengals are no longer the “Bungles”. They have arguably one of the best teams in the NFL. Take a look at their roster and you will see great players across the board. They have talent and depth everywhere… except at QB. Andy Dalton is average at best. And that will be the difference. If the OL can hold up and the Falcons can generate just a little bit of a run game, the Birds will win this game. Even Smitty won’t screw this up… because unlike Drew Brees, Andy Dalton can’t capitalize on soft defensive schemes. Expect a late INT by Trufant to seal the deal. Falcons 24 – Bengals 17 (1-1)
#3) Thursday, Sep 18th vs. Tampa Bay 8:25 pm: Two of the first three games against division opponents will set the tone early for the Falcons’ playoff hopes. I said earlier, you really need to go 4-2 in division play. I don’t think Atlanta can afford to lose to the Bucs after a week one loss to the Saints. Color me unimpressed with the Bucs. This organization seems to have been seeking its identity since Warren Sapp and Chucky left the team. They have some good players… they have a new coach… but they have no consistent behavior. They could be this year’s team to come out of nowhere, but history suggests that is less likely. As much as I get on Smitty, what he did his first year was simply amazing. It is NOT the norm. That said… Lovie Smith is one hell of a coach. The Bucs finally brought in a Head Coach who isn’t a nut job. I do expect the Bucs to be better, but Lovie will still be working out the kinks. If the Falcons lose this game, Mike Smith won’t be able to sit on the blowtorch that will be his seat. Fortunately for him, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones will preserve Smitty on national television. Falcons 27 – Bucs 20 (2-1)
#4) Sunday, Sep 28th @ Minnesota 4:25pm: The Birds head north for a game that will hinge on one aspect. Stop Adrian Peterson. The Vikings have the 5th youngest roster in the league and are unsettled at QB. I’m not even sure we will see Teddy Bridgewater this early in the season. Expect the birds to put up some big numbers in the passing game this week. I like the Falcons when they have the extra rest coming off the Thursday night game. They will also be gaining in confidence after two straight wins. The Falcon’s defense has been bad the past few years, but they have generally played well against the run. If they can shut down or simply contain Peterson… they have a chance to make the Vikings one-dimensional midway through the 3rd quarter. Keep in mind, this team has a history of making average QBs look great. But the corners are getting better and could be special this year (especially Trufant). I also think that if given the chance, the DL could start to pressure QBs unlike years past. I like the addition of Soliai and think his anchor in the middle of the line will free up Osi, Massaqoui, and others to get to the passer. The Birds give us hope this day that we may be seeing a dominate defense develop. Falcons 30 – Vikings 10 (3-1)
#5) Sunday, Oct 5th @ New York Giants 1:00 pm: Is it just me or is Peyton Manning Jr. the biggest dork in the NFL? Seriously, how did Eli win two Superbowls? It is genetically impossible to be that nerdy and physically gifted enough to play in the NFL. Scientists and researchers need to capture this man and study him. The Giants are always such an enigma to me. Play like crap half the season, and then win the Superbowl… against the Patriots no less. The next year, expect them to be good and they are crap again. Frankly… much of that rests with Eli. For a kid who has won TWO Superbowl MVPs, he can play simply awful at times. So I literally have no idea what may happen in this game. I like the Bird’s chances to put up points and I like the idea of Osi getting some sacks against his old QB. But the Falcons are 3-1, so it’s about time for Smitty to assert himself as an idiot. All that said, I’m going with the trend that the Giants suck the first half of the season. For no other reason, I like the Birds. Falcons 27 – Giants 17 (4-1)
#6) Sunday, Oct 12th vs. Chicago 1:00 pm: The Bears are another enigma team to me. They always win more games than I think they should. Their defense is nothing like it used to be… last in the league against the run last year. Further, Jay Cutler is a petulant toddler mentally. I continue to be amazed how Tony Romo and Jay Cutler don’t’ get the “bars of soap in a sock” treatment every week. They are mentally flat in the front. But… somehow, they each find a way to win some games. The Bears are a team the Falcons should beat. To be blunt, there isn’t a team in the league the Falcons shouldn’t beat. But they can’t seem to handle success. In 2012, we won a lot of close and last second games. Games that could have been blow outs in our favor. Last year, we lost more of those close games. This will be a close game we inexplicably lose. It will be close because Smitty won’t make any changes at halftime and the Bears will pressure Ryan enough to keep our potent offense off kilter. I will kick my dog, scream at the TV, and eat my hat… again… as I watch Smitty WASTE another game. Bears 17 – Falcons 12 (4-2)
#7) Sunday, Oct 19th @ Baltimore 1:00 pm: A scary game and a scary trend… The Falcons almost always lose the week of my birthday. It’s like Smitty knows it’s my week and takes an Albino dump right on my chance at happiness. Coincidentally, the Dawgs usually lose this weekend as well. The Ravens regressed last year finishing 8-8. They won the title, resigned Flaco to a huge deal and let a lot of the talent go. They are still rebuilding and while better this year, they are not the 2012 Ravens. If John Harbaugh was coaching the Falcons, we would have won two Superbowls already. But even Smitty won’t be able to lose this game. Matt Ryan has heard the comparisons… he has heard the calls to become elite. With a healthy WR corps… improved running game, and more fervent leadership coming from #2 himself, Ryan is NOT losing to Flaco. Look for this to be his best passing game of the year. Ryan will approach 350 yards and the Falcons will rally behind their leader for an inspiring win. Falcons 38 – Ravens 10 (5-2)
#8) Sunday, Oct 26th vs. Detroit 9:30 am (London): Let’s break for a personal note. Many may know that I live in San Antonio, Texas. Of the 21 years in the Army, I have spent the last 7 in this wonderful city. If you know anything about the Alamo city, you may have heard of a little stadium we have called the Alamodome. It was built several decades ago to attract an NFL team and in today’s standards… it’s a dump. I am a season ticket holder to watch the UTSA Roadrunners (Google that ish!) play there. Why do I bring this up? Cause I am convinced Roger Goodell is trying to put a team in London. Sigh… In LONDON! Do you see the start time of this game? Does Goodell hate Sunday School? Seriously, how does Buffalo still have a team? San Diego? Oakland? We are starving for an NFL team to accompany the world champion Spurs. But Nooooooo! Let’s fly the Falcons to London to play the Lions in a home game!!!! OK. I need my meds. Look, the Lions suck. They have better players with Stafford, Megatron, Suh… but they are mental midgets. The franchise is cursed by the ghost of Matt Millen’s mustache. My only concern is the London venue. That said, Smitty will win this game. That’s right… I praised Coach Smith. If nothing else, he is the master of routine. He will have the Birds ready and the Lions will be sleep walking still. Look for the Falcons to look crisp. I, on the other hand, will burn a Roger Goodell doll at the Alamo. Falcons 31 – Lions 17 (6-2)
#9) Sunday, Nov 9th @ Tampa Bay 1:00 pm: Bottom line… Falcons lose this game. They’ll blame the trip to London. Folks will say Lovie Smith have the Bucs on the rise. But while Smith will be responsible for the win in London, he will hold the blame for this loss. It will be sloppy and ugly. Look to this game for the most turnovers and penalties the Birds commit all year. Bucs 20 – Falcons 9 (6-3)
#10) Sunday, Nov 16th @ Carolina 1:00 pm: The Cage will use all the excuses I made above to wash away the Bucs loss. Unfortunately, we will all be scratching our heads and crying in our beers after this game. I get the Saints, I really do. But it will never cease to amaze me how the Bucs or the Panthers ever walk onto the field with us. Didn’t we beat this team like the first 9 times we ever played them??? I loathe Cam Newton. I would let Drew Brees date my daughter before I would throw Scam Newton a life saver in a pool of water during Shark Week. I sincerely dislike that dude. He is proof that the universe has evil in it. I have seen evil and it had a stupid smile full of gum and pretending to be Superman. The way you deal with egomaniacal people like this is to stop talking and straight whip their butt. Unfortunately, the Birds can be soft. In Charlotte this year… they will be. Panthers 23 – Falcons 20 (6-4)
#11) Sunday, Nov 23rd vs. Cleveland 1:00 pm: The Birds come home to face evil’s mentally challenged half-brother… Johnny F’ing Football. Take it to the bank, he will be starting by now. And he will be as electric and disgusting as you think he will be. Think early years Michael Vick except more annoying. Ugh, I loathe this guy too. Get ready though… cause he is going to light up the Georgia Dome. Fortunately for the Birds… the Browns don’t have enough else. Matt Ryan rebounds and the Birds win… but it will be closer than it should have been. Falcons 23 – Browns 20 (7-4)
#12) Sunday, Nov 30th vs. Arizona 4:05 pm: The Cardinals surprised most last year and had a very nice season finishing 10-6. The problem is they play in the division with Seattle and San Francisco. Carson Palmer has never been more than above average from a consistency basis, but make no mistake… he can light it up if the Birds don’t show up. This game sets up well for the Falcons since Arizona has to travel across country. It is a 4:05 start, but west coast teams historically struggle flying east. They will just come off another road trip to Seattle. My guess is they will be flat. The Birds need to protect against a “trap” game with Green Bay looming on Monday Night next week. This could prove to be a critical game. If New Orleans takes the Division and we are left fighting for a wild card berth… this will be one of the games we need to win. Falcons 27 – Cardinals 20 (8-4)
#13) Monday, Dec 8th @ Green Bay 8:30 pm: So we travel to the frozen tundra again. Last year the Packers beat our Birds 22-21. At first thought, you figure the return of Julio and a healthy Roddy with an improved offensive line means we have the edge over the cheeseheads. But let me remind everyone that The Pack was led by Matt Flynn. Next to Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers has to be the biggest D-bag playing quarterback in the league. Please Lord, don’t let him score a TD and do that stupid “I’m the wrestling champ and here’s my belt” dance. Unfortunately… it is Green Bay in December. While it is early December, it will also be at night. For all we know Lambeau will look like the game is being played in Hoth. Hopefully the line can protect Ryan and he doesn’t have to slice open a Tauntaun just to stay warm (OK Star Wars nerds, that’s enough). I want to be hopeful here, but I just haven’t seen enough to believe the defense will be good enough to stop Rodgers from discount double checking us all night long. I hope I’m wrong, but after 6 years of waiting… I have to call this a loss in a shootout. Packers 38 – Falcons 31 (8-5)
#14) Sunday, Dec 14th vs. Pittsburgh 1:00 pm: At this point, we will all be nervous about the playoffs. 11-5 is a lock to get in, 10-6 is highly likely, and 9-7 is doubtful. With three games to play, the Birds must win at least two. The Division may still be in play, but we’ll have to worry about that the last two games. Fact is, if my predictions are right at this point, the Pittsburgh game will loom large. Picking up a win here means splitting with New Orleans and Carolina is ok. The Steelers are always a solid team. Only 8-8 last year, but you know you will play a solid and aggressive defense with a decent offense. Oddly, their defense was better against the pass than the run. Unfortunately, we don’t run well. The key for their defense will be the maturation of Jarvis Jones. The Cage knows Jarvis well and understands what he could do to Matty Ice. Their key to offense is Big Ben. Ben has the tools to hit big plays and he is a monster to try to bring down. The key to this game will be keeping Ryan clean and harassing Ben. Tall orders on both sides. But I believe the Falcons will almost be in playoff mode and know they need this game badly. I also have a suspicion that the oft injured Ben will be nicked up and may even miss the game. Falcons 17 – Steelers 13 (9-5)
#15) Sunday, Dec 21st @ New Orleans 1:00 pm: A trip to the city of voodoo just days before we celebrate the birth of Christ. Just feels dirty. Let’s not mince words, we hate this football team. Hell, I’m not fond of the city. Call me crazy, but something about the whole New Orleans vibe turns my stomach. But enough about that. This game has been circled on both teams’ calendars since the schedule came out. After the loss we suffered in the Georgia Dome in week 1, the Birds will be looking to tear the roof off the dome that FEMA built. I suspect New Orleans will have the lead in the division and even winning this game will not pull us even with them. But again, it will be needed to secure a wild card spot. Do you really care? Do you?!?!? Hell no! If these teams were 0 for the season, we would want to drag the Saints out back and beat them like a government mule. For decades, this rivalry has grown. But now that both teams have seen consistent success over the last several years, the hatred and disdain is growing to epic proportions. There will be those of you who wouldn’t care if we only won two games as long as they were against the Saints. Smitty’s job could be on the line if we don’t make the playoffs. That won’t matter. Matt Ryan wants his respect. He will take it in the dome and will this team to victory. Shede Hageman and Paul Worrilow will find a way to give Brees fits all night, and Trufant will grab a pick six. This will be the mauling we all prayed Santa would deliver for Christmas. Falcons 34 – Saints 13 (10-5)
#16) Sunday, Dec 28th vs. Carolina 1:00 pm: Did I say that Aaron Rodgers was the second biggest D-bag at QB? I meant Cam Newton and his stupid superman TD dance. I expect the Panthers to regress this season and be out of the hunt by the last week of the season. The Falcons will have a playoff berth locked up and this will simply determine the 5 or 6 seed. Another rivalry that continues to grow, this game will mean more to Carolina than to Mike Smith and the coaching staff. That’s unfortunate for us as fans, but it is what it is (that’s for you CMC). With a playoff run that see the Birds on the road throughout, our biggest concern will be injury. Remember losing John Abraham a couple of years ago??? Mike Smith will, because he keeps stats on risk aversion. Our boys will look soft and we will spend a week wondering how we will ever win a game in the playoffs. Panthers 27 – Falcons 13 (10-6)