The 2015 Schedule Breakdown and Predictions
by Colonel Anthony Cooper
It is again a great privilege to share my thoughts with the Cage. This is my 3rd annual attempt to predict the season. I have been overly optimistic in my previous attempts. What can I say? I’m a homer. Heck, as long as Matt Ryan is at the helm, this team can always win.
Breaking it DOWN!
Let’s look at some interesting facts about the schedule.
- The Falcons play 2 nationally televised games this year. Last year we also played 2 games, the epic beat down of the Bucs where Hester broke Deion’s TD return record and the shootout at Lambeau that dropped us to 5-8 and guaranteed no winning record for the 2nd straight season. That’s what happens when you go 6-10. Frankly, we are lucky to have 2 games on national TV. They have one Monday Night Football (MNF) game at home when they open the season against Chip Kelly’s Oregon Eagles on Sep 14th and one Thursday Night Football (TNF) game in the dome that FEMA built on OCT 15th.
- The Falcons traveled like a heartbeat last year. Home… away… home… away. This year it is better with multiple back-to-back home games and back-to-back away games. In fact, there are 5 separate such pairs (3 home; 2 away). The longest road trip comes in weeks 13 through 15 at the Bucs, Panthers, and Jags. One last “crazy” fact… if you break the season down into quarters, we play 2 home and 2 away in every single quarter.
- The Birds have two short weeks. The first, following week one’s MNF game at home. They travel north to face the Giants for a 1:00pm Sunday game in week 2. At least it is East coast. The second short week is the TNF in New Orleans (week 6) after playing the Skins at home the week before. Yikes! Short week prior to playing your arch rival… ugh. More on this game and some personal voodoo later.
- Travel is pretty good this year. One West coast game against the 49ers and it is at 4:05pm. But check this out… not one potential cold weather game on the schedule… unless Charlotte in mid-December scares you. The furthest game north is the Giants in late September. After that, Tennessee is as far up as we go, and that game is before Halloween. So overall, not a bad travel schedule.
- The Falcons will play a total of 9 games inside with the Giants, Cowboys (unless it rains), Titans, 49ers, Bucs, Panthers, and Jags being outdoors.
Path 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 (or as we saw last year a sub .500 record), 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 East (Eagles, Giants, Cowboys, and Redskins). We play this entire division prior to week 6!!! 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. Unfortunately, I think we only garner 1 win from the East.
The NFC South also matches up with the AFC South this year. So we all get to play the Texans, Titans, Colts, and Jaguars. Win 3 of these 4 (specifically Texans, Titans, and Jaguars) and you now have 8 wins. After two straight losing seasons… this would be a hell of an accomplishment,
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 49ers and the Vikings while the Saints drew the Cardinals and Lions. The Bucs got the Rams and the Bears while the Panthers drew the Seahawks and the Packers. At first glance, the Panthers have the toughest two games. Our Birds should be able to split and maybe squeeze out 2 wins.
The point I leave you with is this: winning 4 of 6 in the division is a must. If the Falcons only grab 1of 4 from the NFC East but 3 of 4 from the AFC South, then split the 49ers and Vikings, you have 9 wins and a likely playoff berth.
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. Unfortunately, I see our only hope of making the playoffs by feasting on the AFC. So in my predictions below, we will likely lose tiebreakers.
- Monday, Sep 14th vs. Philadelphia 7:10 pm: For the record, I hate Monday Night Football. Well, to be accurate, I hate when we play on MNF. Atlanta teams (well, Georgia teams) have a history of choking. The bigger the stage, the bigger the fall. Not that we haven’t had some big moments (vs. the Vikings in 98), but they are usually followed by a more epic failure (vs. the Broncos in 98… the Superbowl). Regardless, I find this game difficult to call. Optimism reigns supreme at Flowery Branch with a new coach and a lot of new talent. The first two games of the preseason buoyed that hope with the lone concern one of depth. But if those games where a buoy, the third game (the most important one) was an anchor with a short chain. We looked horrific, tepid, bad, ugly… we looked like… well, last year. Meanwhile, many think Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Ducks are set to run up scores again this year. Two criticisms have been that he wears the team out running so many plays and his seemingly questionable roster moves. It’s early in the season, so I think his team will be rested. A lot could go right for both teams and a lot could go wrong. This could be a blowout, but I sense that it will be a shootout. I don’t think either team can stop the other’s offense, and while I think Ryan is far superior to Bradford, I have ZERO confidence in our Offensive Line. Philly Ducks get to Ryan (cause there will be NO RUNNING GAME. None! Zip! Bank on it!) one time to many. Eagles 34 – Falcons 27 (0-1)
- Sunday, Sep 20th @ New York Giants 1:00 pm: Some teams are mysteries to me. Good one game, poor the next. Can’t win outside, can’t win on the road. But that is usually year to year. I can’t ever figure out the Giants as a franchise. Multiple Superbowls in my life; that
speaks to words like dynasty. But when they are bad, they are awful. I guess that doesn’t make them that different than say the Cowboys, but how does a QB win 2 Superbowls and then look as pedestrian as Manning can look when the team is bad? Sinisin seems to think they may be terrible this year. That coupled with our first road trip is all I need to hear. Birds lose. Because the G-men are better? No. I just don’t think we will have this new ZBS and our run D figured out quite yet. Plus, first road games of rookie head coaches usually don’t go so well. Giants 17 – Falcons 12 (0-2)
- Sunday, Sep 27th @ Dallas 1:00 pm: Sigh… I’m gonna be sick. So most of you know I have lived in San Antonio (Go Spurs Go!) for the last 8 years. All I get to listen to on Sports Talk in terms of football is COW… BOYZ! **Vomit** As radio hosts run through their season predictions, they laugh at this game as a cupcake win. Second only to the Saints, I hate the Cowboys more than any other team in football. At any level. I will watch this game quietly as an inferior QB, inferior RBs, and inferior WRs (yes… JJ is better than Dez and it’s not really close) destroy our defense. I will give you two simple letters why… O and L. The Cowboys have invested the last 3 years in what is arguably the best OL in the NFL. What did it translate into last year? One 1800 rusher and a trip to the playoffs! Their D is likely about the same as ours, but watch their OL maul our D all day long. I hope Thomas Dimitroff takes notes. Cowboys 27 – Falcons 17 (0-3)
- Sunday, Oct 4th vs. Texans 1:00pm: By this point in the season, I suspect the Cage will be in full blown riot mode. Those of you who are still reading, I apologize. I know he isn’t Smitty, but I just don’t see that much different from years past. So a dose of realism seems in store (plus… maybe I’ll unjinx us). The city will be calling for Dan Quinn’s job, Thomas Dimitroff’s job, for Arthur to sell the team and the new stadium to be renamed the Pinto Dome or the Edsel Dome. We’ll be the laughing stock of ESPN and the NFL Network and Matt Ryan will be trading his Grady Memorial frequent visitor punch card for an iced mocha latte. You will hear about how 2 loss teams, much less 3 loss teams NEVER make the playoffs. Have faith my lunatic fringe (we must be crazy to follow this team), this is the week things change. The Texans have JJ Watt and some “other guy” coming of an injury. But they still don’t have the most important ingredient to winning football. A good QB. I also think that DQ will have our D starting to gel by now. The front 4 will be finding their way and we may see breakout games by Claiborne and Beasley Jr. I look for the secondary to get two picks in this game and return at least one for 6. Falcons 31 – Texans 10 (1-3)
- Sunday, Oct 11th vs. Redskins 1:00 pm: What in the holy hell has happened to RGIII? Look, you can rap for Outkast or you can play QB for the Redskins. But you can’t do both (I did love RGIII in Four Brothers. He and Markie Mark were very good). Our opponent this weekend is in shambles. What a horrible trade and draft a few years ago. We should be fortunate that the JJ trade hasn’t done the same… to… er… us. Well, at least no one is offended by “Falcons”. So based on name controversy, Atlanta gets the edge. In seriousness, this should be a cupcake game for us. I expect the Falcons to show some swagger here. My only true fear is looking ahead to TNF in the Bayou. Falcons 34 – Skins 10 (2-3)
- Thursday, Oct 15th @ New Orleans 8:25 pm: Have I ever mentioned that I hate New Orleans? Not just the team. The stadium, the city, especially the fans. We should absolutely
win this game. The Saints faltered last year and are on a slow downward trend. We always play them tough, even on the road. But the reports of Drew Brees’ demise are premature. He has some games left in him and Sean Payton still has some coaching magic. I am more interested in Dan Quinn than any player on either side of the ball in this game. Coaching will win it. Preparation (Thursday night) and game management. I don’t think DQ will be Smitty 2.0, but I don’t think he will be ready to win in the FEMA Dome. On a slight side note… the Falcons almost ALWAYS lose on my Birthday week. As do the Braves (you know, back when they went to the post season) and UGA (so look for the Dawgs to blow it at home vs. Mizzou). Saints 20 – Falcons 17 (2-4)
- Sunday, Oct 25th @ Tennessee 1:00 pm: The Birds handled Marcus very well in the preseason. In fact, we are the first team in the NFL to intercept him. After that, he sliced up our D like most rookie and otherwise unproven QBs do. I suspect he will struggle this year and we will rebound from our narrow loss in New Orleans. The Birds will be desperate and know they need to handle business against a bad team that “should” be worse than them. Falcons 24 – Titans 13 (3-4)
- Sunday, Nov 1st vs. Tampa Bay 1:00 pm: I want to hate the Bucs like I hate the Saints, but I just can’t. Ever since they started being the Sucaneers again, they are just too pathetic to hate. You don’t hate mentally ill for being sick. It’s not their fault. So the birds get to play the other Number 1 QB from this year’s draft. I personally wouldn’t have drafted Mariotta
or Winston with the number 1 overall pick. But between the 2, give me Marcus. Winston (if not already in jail) may try to steal the Gatorade from the Falcons’ sideline. So keep that stuff locked down. Seriously, how epically stupid do you have to be to steal crab legs… somehow escape (crack Tallahassee PD), get drafted #1 overall, and then to celebrate… eat crab legs? Even Forrest Gump knows better than that. Good Lord friend, that is arrogantly stupid! You have to be like Cam Newton stupid. Ugh… I regress. The Bucs have made some decent moves, but putting mental midgets at the helm of your football team regardless of talent (see Michael Vick), generally leads to disaster. He may mature, but it won’t be by week 8. Birds roll and I mean big! Falcons 35 – Bus 6 (4-4)
- Sunday, Nov 8th @ San Francisco 4:00 pm: The last week before the BYE and the longest road trip of the season. The Birds will be flying high after getting to .500 and going 4-1 over the last 5 games. The 49ers are in terrible shape. They are a Redskins-like disaster this year. They have so much going on; one of their LBs retired after one year (and a pretty dang good year) in the NFL citing head injury concerns. Note, he didn’t have a head injury… he just didn’t want any. The Birds will be tired and likely a bit banged up. 9 weeks of football is a lot and this is the 5th road game. Plus starting 0-3 will have put them through the emotional ringer early on. While they may be running on fumes a bit, they will also be pumping with adrenaline. The 49ers have a rookie coach as well, and unlike the Saints game, Dan Quinn will start to show his savvy. He will make a bold move in this game like a fake punt or weirdly time onside kick that we would never have seen with Smitty. And the “#Quinning” will be trending by nightfall. Falcons 23 – 49ers 19 (5-4)
- Sunday, Nov 22nd vs. Indianapolis 1:00 pm: Andrew Luck is said to be the best QB drafted since Peyton Manning or Dan Marino. I just don’t know yet if I agree. He is very good though and many think the Colts take the next step this year. We have the benefit of coming off the BYE and we will be back in our Dome, but home field advantage is not really Atlanta’s brand of sauce. The city loves front runners. Hell I saw so many Browns’ fans last year; you would have thought it was their home game. The Dome will be rocking, but it will be to support Luck. Sadly, I have to admit… our team doesn’t own this city. On the field, it will translate to the players who will doubt themselves against a superior team. Matt and Julio can only do so much, and other than one sack by Beasley Jr., Luck will own our Birds. Colts 23 – Falcons 20 (5-5)
- Sunday, Nov 29th vs. Minnesota 1:00 pm: CAGE ALERT! I will be at this game in person. Thanks to the Godfather himself, I will have another opportunity to see the Birds in person. Lord let it be better than the rainy, miserable loss to the Browns last year. On a side note,
screw you AB for letting Mike Smith waste 3 more years of Matt Ryan’s career. Worst clock manager of ALL time! OK… this is a great measuring stick game. The Falcons are 5-5 with 6 games to play and 4 of those against our own division. This is a game the Birds will “need” and it is against a solid if not really good team. Teddy B carved us up pretty well last year when I thought the Falcons would cruise since AP was out. Well, Teddy is a year older and AP is back. The Vikes are solid all around. But our Birds will know now they can play with the bigger teams. Unlike the Smitty Birds in Ryan’s first season where we mostly only beat sub-.500 teams, Dan Quinn will eventually convince these guys they can do it (in spite of the fans… oh yeah… there will be a lot of purple in the stands). He will be out to prove to his team and to the city that we will be tough and gritty. He will get after Bridgewater and contain AP. More importantly, we will find our running legs in this game. Freeman will be accompanied by Coleman who will have his first big day and the Birds will dominate the clock. Falcons 24 – Vikings 14 (6-5)
- Sunday, Dec 6th @ Tampa Bay 1:00 pm: Riding high after beating a good Vikings team, we will realize that we have a real chance now. The Bucs scare some Cagers, but I have no respect for Jack Sparrow’s motley crew. They didn’t finish dead last for nothing, and adding Winston won’t have been enough. My guess is they will be about 3-8 at this point and ready for Christmas. Our boys will be ready to show they can win consistently and do it with the running game. Unfortunately, the turf at Raymond James and Gerald McCoy won’t support that theory. Fortunately, JJ defies turf and defense. I haven’t talked about him much, but he will have a pro-bowl year. He will keep us in most of the games we lose and shine in most that we win. The only WR I would take over him today is Megatron… and not every Sunday. If the Falcons ever get an OL that can keep MR2 upright for 3.5 seconds, JJ might catch 1500 yards and 15 TDs. He’ll have 2 of them on this day. Falcons 24 – Bucs 13 (7-5)
- Sunday, Dec 13th @ Carolina 1:00 pm: Late season games against the Panthers have not been good for us. If you recall, they destroyed us last year in a game that would have sent
us to the playoffs. And epic collapse as a farewell for the best coach in team history. The Panthers are one of those teams I can never figure out. Many pick them to win the south… mostly because they won last year and the great football minds aren’t original. They could win it, but remember their two games that differ from us are against the Seahawks and Green Bay. It is probable that if they are good, they won’t have a much better record than us at this point. So I definitely see this as a big game in determining the divisional champ. Based on the rest of the league… it is probably the only way to the playoffs from the South. I want to pick the Birds and show my optimism, but I have done that once already with the Vikings. I don’t believe in this team yet enough to pick wins every time… even when I believe they are the better team. Panthers 28 – Falcons 24 (7-6)
- Sunday, Dec 20th @ Jacksonville 1:00 pm: The final game in the longest time away from home, and coming off a divisional loss will test the temerity of this team. Fortunately, we get the Jags for medicine. This is a team with some decent role players who can do some good things. But in all, they are just not a quality football team. The Falcons love to make average QBs look great, as they have with Bortles in the past. But I suspect our D will be seasoning at this point. I am very excited to see Trufant blossom into a perennial pro-bowler. Perhaps overly optimistic, but if Dan doesn’t have this team looking like a playoff team by now, won’t we be saying he is worse than Smitty? Falcons 17 – Jaguars 9 (8-6)
- Sunday, Dec 27th vs. Carolina 1:00 pm: The Birds have a chance to redeem their loss in Charlotte and put a stranglehold on the division heading into the finale with the Bourbon Street Demons. The Panthers will be coming off a trip to New York where I think they will lose and be a game behind us. They will need this one badly. The good news is, for all of CAM’s physical talent, he is a Class A douchebag. Beasley Jr. will get to him twice and Babs a third time and CAM will get rattled. This match has fight written all over it. Count on Superman to lose his cool and grab a personal foul penalty that kills a crucial drive. Meanwhile, it will be the Freeman/Coleman show again. Not only will the Birds believe after this, the city will start to believe. Further, we will send CAM along with Winston to Shoplifter’s Anonymous to share a pound of crabs… WAIT!!! Crab LEGS… I meant crab legs. Falcons 31 – Panthers 19 (9-6)
- Sunday, Jan 3rd vs. New Orleans 1:00 pm: Kind of like UGA/GT. Or Florida/FSU. Or Michigan/Ohio St. Right? Let’s be real. We all want our boys in the Superbowl, but if they went 2-14, but beat the Saints twice… we’d smile. You know we would. I straight up, plain hate this team. I would pull for the Yankees and the Lakers to date my cousin before I would pull for any of their players to not get scurvy on the flight in from their cesspool city. The Aints could be better this year. As I said before, Drew Brees “Ain’t” done yet. But at a certain point, you have to start owning your home again. I already have the Birds losing 2 at
home this season. If Dan Quinn is what we hope he is in a tough-minded hard-nose WINNER, then he will have the Dirty Birds set to fly in this game. The Saints are ripe for an execution. No one has stepped up to deliver it. I hope (mostly pray) that it happens on this day. It would seal the division and send the Birds back to the playoffs. Instead of choking on the peach, I pray to Jeebuz that Dan Quinn turns our fortunes around. This will be one of those games where we harass Drew Brees all day long and knock the stuffing out of him. On offense, we will have found our new identity with the Law Firm of Freeman, Coleman, AND Ward (he just passed the bar). Matt Ryan will find passing lanes easier as the running game will truly be clicking. To be real… I base all this on hope. There is no basis for me to predict anything like this to happen (our yards per carry average is about 1.5 yds), but if the season doesn’t end up at least close to 10-6… we will all scratch our heads and wonder how long. How long before we get back to the playoffs. And how much time have we wasted… and how fleeting are those opportunities when you get there. I still lose sleep over the NFC Championship game against the 49ers. So, here you go. #Quinning starts a new legacy. Falcons 27 – Saints 9 (10-6)
What’s your Predictions???