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Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Atlanta Falcons schedule analysis

By Vaughn McClure

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 Breakdown: What jumps out immediately when glancing at the Atlanta Falcons' schedule: a season-opening tilt against their bitter NFC South rival New Orleans Saints on Sept. 7. The two met in last year's season opener in New Orleans, won by the Saints, 23-17. The Falcons actually played their most spirited game of 2013 when the Saints visited the Georgia Dome on Nov. 21 and walked away with a 17-13 victory. For a team that needs to start strong in 2014, the Falcons couldn't have asked for a better matchup in terms of the fans rallying behind them. The Falcons are 3-3 in season openers under Mike Smith.

As for the rest of the schedule, the Falcons have a few tough hurdles. First, they travel to London on Oct. 26 for a "home" game against the Detroit Lions. This is followed by a bye week, then with consecutive road contests against division foes Tampa Bay (Nov. 9) and Carolina (Nov. 16). And at the end of the season, the Falcons have a stretch of five tough games against Arizona, Green Bay (road), Pittsburgh, New Orleans (road), and Carolina.

Complaint department: I can hear Roddy White complaining right now. White was shivering in the cold at Lambeau Field last season when the Falcons made the trip to Green Bay in December. Guess what? The Falcons once again have to travel to Green Bay with a Dec. 8 matchup for ESPN's "Monday Night Football." The Falcons didn't handle the elements too well last year and let the ball slip one too many times in a 22-21 loss. Better pack long underwear and gloves. At least the Falcons get to travel to Minnesota early.

Not ready for prime time? We mentioned the Green Bay game on Monday night. The Falcons also face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night in Week 3. Other than those games, the Falcons are not slated for any other prime-time games after having five on the schedule last season, with one flexed back to the afternoon (Green Bay). The new flex-scheduling rules allows for games to be changed as of Week 5. If the Falcons regain their footing and are back in the playoff hunt, it wouldn't be a surprise to see either of the last two games -- at New Orleans and home against Carolina -- moved to the evening. Facing the Bears at home on Oct. 12 with the possibility of Devin Hester exploding against his old team also sounds appealing as a prime-time matchup.

Strength of schedule: 11th, .512 | Vegas over/under : 8.5

Falcons Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Thursday, Sept. 18, Tampa Bay, 8:25 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, at Minnesota, 4:25 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, at NY Giants, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, Detroit, 9:30 a.m. (in London)
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, Arizona, 4:05 p.m.
Week 14: Monday, Dec. 8, at Green Bay, 8:30 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Carolina, 1 p.m.