2016 Atlanta Falcons game-by-game predictions

The Atlanta Falcons failed to make the playoffs in each of the past three seasons, which makes 2016 an important year for second-year coach Dan Quinn and possibly a final one for general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Based on last year's records, the Falcons are tied with the 49ers for the league's toughest schedule.

Quinn has to fix many holes on defense before the Falcons can again be contenders, and those holes are unlikely to all be fixed in one offseason. If Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and the revamped offense put up a lot of points, maybe the Falcons will be in business. But they'll still have to stop opponents.

Here's a game-by-game breakdown:

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 11 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m. ET

Former Falcons coach Mike Smith makes his return to the Georgia Dome as the Bucs defensive coordinator. What the Falcons have to be most concerned with is keeping Jameis Winston from making plays like he did against them last year. There should be enough energy and urgency to get the Falcons off to a good start. Record: 1-0

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 18 at Oakland Raiders, 4:25 p.m. ET

Taking a trip west won’t be easy, especially against an emerging Raiders team with a solid young quarterback in Derek Carr and a potentially deadly pass-rush combo of Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. Record: 1-1

Week 3: Monday, Sept. 26 at New Orleans Saints, 8:30 p.m. ET

There will be a lot of emotion in the building for the Saints, with the game marking the 10th anniversary of the Superdome re-opening after Hurricane Katrina. Couple that with the heavy hearts the Saints carry into the season following the murder of former captain Will Smith, and it might make for a difficult playing environment for the Falcons on Monday Night Football. Record: 1-2

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 2 vs. Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m. ET

Remember the Falcons knocked the Panthers from the ranks of the undefeated during last year’s matchup in Atlanta. Well, that certainly won’t sit well with Cam Newton and the Panthers as they seek revenge. Who will get the last dab? Record: 1-3

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 9 at Denver Broncos, 4:05 p.m. ET

Facing the Super Bowl champs on the road would be a much tougher task if the Broncos had their quarterback situation settled. But with Peyton Manning retired and Brock Osweiler in Houston, the Falcons have a legit chance -- if they can put up some points. The problem is that won’t be easy against Von Miller and crew. But, again, the Falcons have a chance if they can score. Record: 2-3

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 16 at Seattle Seahawks, 4:25 p.m. ET

The storyline will be about Quinn returning to the place where he thrived as a defensive coordinator. However, Quinn better conjure up a way to slow a Russell Wilson-led offense coming off a bye week. That’s a tall task. Record: 2-4

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 23 vs. San Diego Chargers, 4:05 p.m. ET

The Chargers are still trying to find their way coming off a 4-12 season. It’s the ideal opponent for a Falcons team coming off a brutal three-game stretch. Record: 3-4

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 30 Green Bay Packers, 1 p.m. ET

Aaron Rodgers indoors is scary enough. This has the potential to be a shootout, and you don’t want Rodgers with the ball in the final seconds with a chance to win -- right, Lions? Record: 3-5

Week 9: Thursday, Nov. 3 at Tampa Bay, 8:25 p.m. ET

This might sound crazy, but the Buccaneers swept the Falcons last season, so why can’t the Falcons return the favor in 2016? Contain Winston and his ability to extend plays, and the Falcons should be fine. We’ll see if the color rush uniforms come into play for both teams. Record: 4-5

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 13 at Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. ET

It’s never easy on the road, but the Falcons play a different style of Eagles team without the Chip Kelly up-tempo action. New Eagles coach Doug Pederson still has to put his stamp on his new team. Record: 5-5

Week 11: Bye week

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 27 vs. Arizona Cardinals, 1 p.m. ET

The Cardinals might be one of the toughest teams the Falcons face all season, especially if Carson Palmer is on. It will be interesting to see Julio Jones and Patrick Peterson battle again. Record: 5-6

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 4 vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 1 p.m. ET

The Chiefs are a solid team with a great coach in Andy Reid, but they’ll miss Justin Houston (ACL) if the injured pass-rusher indeed misses the entire season. Still, they have enough to win without him. Record: 5-7

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 11 at Los Angeles Rams, 4:25 p.m. ET

It looks like the Falcons will face a rookie quarterback in Jared Goff or Carson Wentz. The bigger issue for the Falcons will be slowing dynamic Rams running back Todd Gurley. It's not going to be easy. Record: 5-8

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 18 vs. San Francisco 49ers, 4:05. p.m. ET

Let’s hope the Falcons and Quinn learned from last year’s poor game-management decisions in a loss to the lowly 49ers. Record: 6-8

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 24 at Carolina, 1 p.m. ET

If the Panthers play like they did last year, this game might be meaningless. Regardless, it will be fun to see what boastful Panthers cornerback Josh Norman has to say to Julio Jones and the Falcons this time around. Record: 6-9

Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 1 vs. New Orleans, 1 p.m. ET

What a way to kick off the New Year with the final game at the Georgia Dome against the bitter rival Saints. The emotion will swing in the Falcons’ favor in this battle, but it won’t equate to a playoff appearance. Record: 7-9