by A. Scott “Coop” Cooper
I said I wouldn’t write for the Cage again, but as the season draws nigh, I couldn’t resist. This is my 4th 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. That was my issue at the end of last year… I just couldn’t take the Ryan bashing anymore. Regardless, I wanted to give this another crack and I plan to be more critical than in the past. Hopefully, it will be entertaining and if nothing else, give everyone a target.
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 season opener where we beat Philly and the first loss of the season in the FEMA dome when we got spanked by the Saints. Frankly, we are lucky to have 2 games on national TV. They have one Monday Night Football (MNF) game in New Orleans on Sep 26th and one Thursday Night Football (TNF) game in Tampa on Nov 3rd. Interesting that both games are away and inside our division.
- The Falcons had multiple back-to-back home games and back-to-back away games last year. In fact, there were 5 separate such pairs (3 home; 2 away). This year is similar with 5 such pairs (3 away; 2 home). We never play more than 2 straight road or 2 straight home games. One last “crazy” fact… if you break the season down into quarters, we play 2 home and 2 away in every single quarter… just like last year.
- The Birds have three short weeks. The first, following week three’s MNF game in Katrina-ville. Fortunately, we play at home. Unfortunately, it’s against Carolina at 1:00pm. The second short week is the TNF in Tampa (week 9) after playing the Packers at home the week before. Yikes! Short week prior to playing a division rival… ugh. The good news is that it is close, but could be a public beating after coming off a loss to Aaron Rodgers. Finally, we play on Saturday in week 16 due to the Christmas holidays. It’s on the road in Charlotte… would be nice to deliver another sack of coal to Cam like we did in week 16 last year.
- Travel sucks like a black hole this year. Four west coast game against the Raiders, Broncos, Seahawks, and Rams. But check this out… not one potential cold weather game on the schedule… unless Charlotte in late December scares you. The furthest game north is the Seattle game in mid-October. Regardless of being warm, we are certain to suffer from jetlag this year. This is the most brutal travel schedule I can remember the Birds facing.
- The Falcons will again play a total of 9 games inside with the Raiders, Broncos, Seahawks, Bucs, Eagles, Rams, and Panthers 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, 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 West (49ers, Rams, Seahawks, and Cardinals). We play 3 of 4 AFTER week 12. 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. I think we win 2 and maybe squeak out a third.
The NFC South also matches up with the AFC West this year. So we all get to play the Raiders, Broncos, Chargers, and Chiefs. Win 3 of these 4 (specifically Raiders, Chargers, and Chiefs) and you now have 9 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 Packers and the Eagles while the Saints drew the Giants and Lions. The Bucs got the Cowboys and the Bears while the Panthers drew the Vikings and the Skins. At first glance, I think we have the toughest two games. Our Birds should be able to split; I don’t have faith beating the Pack.
The point I leave you with is this: winning 4 of 6 in the division is a must. If the Falcons only grab 2 of 4 from the NFC West but 3 of 4 from the AFC West, then split the Pack and Eagles, you have 10 wins and a likely playoff berth. I really think the Achilles heel is winning 4 of 6 in the division.
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. Of course, we swept the NFC East last year and I had us losing 3 of 4…
- Sunday, Sep 11th vs. Tampa Bay 1:00 pm: The season begins with a divisional rivalry. Though, amongst our foes, the Bucs seem to be the least of our rivals. To me, the Saints will always be the devil incarnate. That is likely due to the long history we both have of being losers and eyeing each other as our only possible win in a season. Carolina seems to be a bigger rival now due to their current success and dominance. The Bucs are a far cry from the Warren Sapp-led team that used to make us hold their pocket in the yard. The first game of the season is always tough to call. Our preseason was only fair at best, but we are at home and for the most part healthy. I like our Birds in this one. We have the running game and Ryan is a better QB than Winston. That said, the key will be to make him beat us with his arm. We have to shut down the running game and find some way to pressure Winston. I look for Jarrett to have an impact in this game. Falcons 17 – Bucs 13 (1-0)
- Sunday, Sep 18th @ Oakland 4:25 pm: As I said earlier, our travel schedule is the worst I can remember. It starts in week 2 with our first trip to the west coast. The Raiders have been on the come the last couple of years, but this is not the Black Hole of years past. Don’t take this team lightly, but if the Falcons execute, they should win this game. The Raiders have some talent, but they are building. Their best chance in this game is that the Falcons aren’t mentally prepared. But if Quinn gets a good week of practice and they travel well, the Birds should win this game. The MVP could be the travel secretary. Falcons 23 – Raiders 21 (2-0)
- Monday, Sep 26th @ New Orleans 8:30 pm: Off to a strong start, our boys head to the worst city in America. Let’s face it, New Orleans is the Port-Au-Prince of the United States. If the team can somehow avoid malaria, dysentery, or the zika virus, they should win this game by 3 touchdowns. Other than Brees, the Saints flat out stink. Unfortunately, these are our Birds. It is Monday night and we are in the dome that FEMA built. All the shamans in the world could not purge us of the voodoo curses and spells that we play with in this house. It won’t matter what happens, the Saints will find a way to win. And likely in humiliating fashion. Perhaps a kick off, punt, interception, and fumble return all for TDs. Some sort of record setting wackiness to make us look like complete idiots. I hate this game and I loathe playing it on Monday night. Saints 42 – Falcons 17 (2-1)
- Sunday, Oct 2nd vs. Carolina 1:00pm: As much as I think we all hate the Saints, who was the last player we faced twice a year that was as obnoxious as Cam? Warren Sapp? Joe Horn? I think I might dislike Cam Newton more than any player in any sport in the history of my life. Let’s reflect… Kobe was a massive jerk, Ray Lewis killed some fools in Buckhead, Tyson bit off Holyfield’s ear, and Sapp called the Georgia Dome Raymond James Stadium north. Yep, Cam is more infuriating than all of them. This classless punk is the biggest baby I have ever seen in the pros. Beating them last year to break their winning streak was all the sweeter because it happened to him. Wiping that smug look and making him watch us “dab” (by the way… dabbin’ is stupid. Don’t let your children do this. Be a good parent for goodness sake) on him was priceless. Seriously, he singularly is worse than any Yankee team or the entire Notre Dame football program. Unfortunately, all my hate and attempts to conjure a Katrina spell will be to no avail. Carolina is way better than us in way too many facets to overcome. Panthers 31 – Falcons 10 (2-2)
- Sunday, Oct 9th @ Denver 4:05 pm: Time to head west… again. Worse yet, time for some thin air. The Birds get to play both Superbowl entrants from last year… and they get to do it back-to-back. AWESOME! Fortunately, it gets easier after this when we face… wait… what?!? Are you serious? Who the hell did we piss off in the scheduling department? Look, the only thing going for us here is that Denver has no QB. I’m surprised they didn’t resign Tim Tebow. Regardless, they really didn’t have a QB in the Superbowl. Let’s be honest, Manning look way, way past his prime. IF we can find a way to protect Matt (oh my God, did I just type that?!?!? Ha ha. Oh jeez… sigh… way too much Bourbon for a Monday afternoon). So, we get crushed. We will be lucky to get a FG. I see no way we mount a running game, and our OLine is still suspect. Let’s just pray Matt doesn’t get hurt. Broncos 16 – Falcons 6 (2-3)
- Sunday, Oct 15th @ Seattle 4:25 pm: I read somewhere that Quinn might keep the team on the west coast in between games. Probably best. No sense letting their families see them after 3 straight embarrassments and facing Quinn’s former defense. There will be talk of Quinn coming home and emotion and other nonsense. But in the end, this will be another beat down. We have a better chance to move the ball against this defense, but will have a much more difficult time stopping the offense of the Skittle man and Russell Wilson. I think we stay in this game. The Birds will be getting desperate not wanting to drop 4 in a row after what happened last year, but we just won’t have enough. This will be the point in the season when many will start to think that Dan Quinn was not the right hire. The Falcons will look like a team that simply can’t be inspired. Many may be right. Quinn might be the issue. For me, I’m still stuck on personnel and schemes. That falls to Dimitroff and Shanahan. On this day, the Birds fall to Hawks. Seahawks 31 – Falcons 27 (2-4)
- Sunday, Oct 23rd vs. San Diego 4:05 pm: Too bad we couldn’t play the Chargers on the west coast. Get the tougher teams at home and play the lightning… er, lighter teams on the road. So, I have almost no respect for the Chargers. This is really a bad organization. They’ve had some good teams and actually have a decent team, but man they are organizationally just bad. They remind me of… well, of us. I was hoping the Chargers would move to San Antonio this year, but that doesn’t look like it will happen. Too bad, I totally crush it in Powder Blue. If I am wrong and the Falcons drop this game, you can cancel your Sunday package because there’ll be no reason left to watch. This game is fairly simple. Contain Phillip Rivers and you’ll win with ease. I still don’t think we have a pass rush, but I like our secondary. Neal should be back and healthy by now, and I believe we will be able to win this game with little trouble. Falcons 31 – Chargers 13 (3-4)
- Sunday, Oct 30th vs. Green Bay 1:00 pm: The Pack come to town and we get to see a quality organization from top to bottom. Tons of issues on the OLine last season and a little less pressure on opponents. This team, drafts DT, OT 1st round, 2nd round. Then follow up later with a DE and another OT. Someone forgot to tell them that you are supposed to draft MLBs (Spoon) and Safeties (Neal) when you can’t pressure the QB. Silly Packers… they’ll never win the Lombardi trophy. Rodgers might be the next closest asswhip to Cam. But, like Cam, it will be up to us to keep him from discount double checking us. Losing sucks. But getting smack talked while losing really pisses me off. It will be an angry Halloween my friends. Rodgers is too much for us. He is probably the best QB in the NFL. Our secondary just can’t cover for 6 seconds, and I will likely chew through glass watching our pathetic pass rush have zero effect. Packers 27 – Falcons 21 (3-5)
- Thursday, Nov 3rd @ Tampa Bay 8:25 pm: As if the long season couldn’t get worse, we have a short week before traveling south to face the team that swept us last year with a rookie QB. I didn’t mention it earlier, but history has rarely been kind to sophomore QBs. So, I look for Winston to take a step back this year. I also think the Birds will be out to make a statement after being swept last year. Finally, I think Quinn will be feeling the heat after starting 3-5. If he hasn’t lit a fire in the locker room and under his coaches by this point, he should be fired by season’s end. I am predicting (ok… just blindly hoping) that the Falcons start to turn the season around at this point. Quinn will challenge the manhood of the OLine and we will see a strong running game and clean pocket for Ryan (assuming he and Schaub aren’t dead by this point). Falcons 23 – Bucs 17 (4-5)
- Sunday, Nov 13th @ Philadelphia 1:00 pm: Finally the schedule throws the Birds a break. A little extra rest, then a journey north to face a rookie QB. We beat the Eagles in the season opener last year and they aren’t as good this year. They traded Bradford this weekend after his tirade during training camp. Drafting a QB 2nd overall may have had something to do with it. We have historically been the team any rookie QB wants to play. We have a tendency to make everyone look like Montana. But these Eagles have a rookie Head Coach to go along with their rookie QB. They also gave up depth losing their 2nd and 4th picks in the draft. The team had a lot of issues on both lines and all 3 levels of the defense. Some of that will help with a supposed better offense. At least an offense that can stay on the field more than 15 seconds a series. Even though I think the Eagles will improve in play, their record will be worse than last year’s 7-9. One of their losses will be today. Falcons 27 – Eagles 10 (5-5)
- BYE Week
- Sunday, Nov 27th vs. Arizona 1:00 pm: Following the Bye, the Birds have 6 games left to make the playoffs. The first 10 games were difficult. Challenging travel, really good opponents. But, somehow the team we love has found themselves at .500 and a shot to make the dance. A nice win in Philly and a week to enjoy the success is met with a home game! Hooray!!! Against… the Cardinals… oh hell! Sigh, so we get back to losing as the Birds from out west… wait! West? That’s right. The Cardinals are traveling east and playing a 1:00 pm game. So, you’re saying there’s a chance?! Ok, seriously now. You want to know a secret? The Cardinals really aren’t that good. Last year was an aberration and we will see their record fall back to earth. You want to know another secret? Matt Ryan is a better QB than Carson Palmer. Julio is better than Fitzgerald. Freeman is better than Ellington. This game will be determined on whether our OLine is better than their DLine for just one game. I think the addition of Freeney helps in the intel department. I also like him for 2 sacks to set the tone on the defensive side of the ball. Falcons 27 – Cardinals 17 (6-5)
- Sunday, Dec 4th vs. Kansas City 1:00 pm: The Chiefs are a solid team. They keep missing just one or two pieces. Fortunately, they drafted 9 players this year to fill that one hole. Look, the Chiefs are a pretty good team. They went 11-5 last year and gave it to Houston in the playoffs. They played the Patriots tough and came within a touchdown of moving on. So why doesn’t this team scare me? Cause they kind of remind me of us under Mike Smith. Don’t get me wrong, Reid isn’t a bad coach, but there is just nothing scary about this team. They are solid and play fairly mistake-free ball. Teams like this seem to falter over time. I think it is too much to ask pro players to focus on not being boneheads for more than a season. Heck, in New England they just cut or trade them. Even Belichick knows you can’t keep them all focused. Also, every year, some teams that make the playoffs fall back. I’m picking the Chiefs to be one of these teams. Jamaal Charles starting the season dinged up isn’t a good sign either. I like our team in this one. If I am right, the Chiefs will need this game to prevent a losing season, but the doubt that has crept in will have them playing tight. Falcons 34 – Chiefs 13 (7-5)
- Sunday, Dec 11th @ Los Angeles 4:25 pm: The Rams fled St. Louis for LA. Returning from whence they came. Right? See, it used to be the St. Louis Cardinals, but they went to Arizona. Then LA lost its team (the Rams) to St. Louis. Those Rams used to beat us with a guy named Vince Feragamo. Yeah, we sucked in the 80’s… well, and 70s… 60s, 90s… oh, you guys know. We have sucked way more than not. Anyway, where was I? The Colts moved to Indianapolis and the NFL felt so bad, they gave the Ravens to Baltimore. The Oilers moved to Nashville and became the Titans coming only 1 yard shy of winning the Superbowl. They were beat by the St. Louis Rams. It’s the circle of life Simba. This Rams team is fair at best. There best player is a hell of a running back though. The issue our Birds will have is their 3rd west coast trip and not being able to handle the success of a 4 game winning streak. Our team will look flat and lifeless and we will have no idea what the hell happened. And Gurley will rush for 150 and 2 TDs. Rams 27 – Falcons 9 (7-6)
- Sunday, Dec 18th vs. San Francisco 4:05 pm: West coast teams that travel east never do well. But the 49ers get a slight break with the 4:05 pm start time. It won’t matter. The Niners suck. My biggest hope in this game is that Kapernick is starting and Jarrett makes him wish he had stood for the anthem. I try to avoid politics and keep the Cage a football zone. But if you want to make a statement about police brutality, can you find another method than choosing to not show respect for the flag? I get that it is everyone’s right to protest and that I served as did many others to protect that right. So, if you choose to sit or kneel during the anthem, that is your right. You can even burn the flag or walk on it (a common occurence these days). But is that who you are really mad at? Is it America you hate? Then move. He seems to be upset with the justice system. Go protest at a courthouse. Look, don’t go off on a tangent here. If you support this douchebag, congrats. The point of this article is to predict the games. But since no one else volunteered, I’ll use my platform to call this moron what he is… a hypocritical, uniformed, privileged, idiot. Regardless of the politics, Birds win big. Falcons 31 – Niners 9 (8-6)
- Saturday, Dec 24th @ Carolina 1:00 pm: Back to football. What do we get for Christmas? Probably an ass-kicking. I hope I am wrong and Carolina falls apart this year. But their defense and OLine as solid. So failing some injuries, I just don’t see any way to beat them. Yes, we played inspired last year and stopped their streak. They won’t be undefeated on this day and the game will mean more to their playoff hopes. Besides, I have little faith in either of our lines to remain consistent. We are 8-6 and this game will be huge to making the playoffs. With the Saints coming to town next week, we will be in a must win situation. Unfortunately, we will wilt. Drafting LBs and Safeties continues to haunt us as our OLine gives up 3 sacks and our DLine misses tackle after tackle. Panthers 21 – Falcons 13 (8-7)
- Sunday, Jan 1st vs. New Orleans 1:00 pm: So, we meet again. If we are actually 8-7 at this point, I will be shocked. If I was objective, I would probably have us at 6-9 at best. This team has talent and I have hope. I am the eternal fool who believes that somehow our OLine will magically get better even though there is no upgrade in talent (except Mack, that was a great signing). So here we sit, with a very long shot to make the playoffs if we beat the Saints. Let’s face it, we really don’t care. We know if we make the playoffs we will lose in the first round on the road. But, this is the Saints. We could be 0-10000 and we want this game. We hate this team. We hate their fans. We hate their city. Perhaps, I am speaking for everyone. My apologies. I hate everything about New Orleans. With every fiber of my cereal. So, I could care less what the ramifications, if we are playing the Saints, I want total domination and annihilation. It is common for us to split the season. Most of the time we beat them there and they beat us here. But this year I think the home team wins. We will have a wonderful New Year holiday watching our Birds harass and beat Brees silly. Commentators will opine if this is his last game in the NFL. Freeman will run for a record setting 200 yards and Matt Ryan will light up their secondary for 4 TDs. It will be an epic beat down. It won’t matter because we miss the playoffs due to tie-breakers. But we will feel great about our team and ready for the 2017 draft where we no doubt draft a FB as the single missing piece to bring Lombardi to Peachtree. Falcons 45 – Saints 7 (9-7)
What’s your Predictions???