The NFL has just officially released the 2012 regular season schedule, and the Atlanta Falcons are going to have a tough road back to the playoffs. The good news is that Atlanta has four prime-time nationally televised games, including two Monday Night Football games. The bad news is that since 1970, the Falcons are 9-24 on Monday Night Football, and haven’t fared much better in all other nationally televised prime-time games.
The first six weeks of the schedule alone will be enough to make coach Mike Smith up his dosage of Rogaine. The Falcons open on the road at Kansas City Chiefs, and then return home on a short week to play on Monday Night against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. The only saving grace in that game is that this will only be Manning’s second regular season game with his new team, so there may still be some kinks to work out on offense for the Broncos. After facing Manning, as well as Denver’s daunting defense, the Falcons will travel to San Diego to play the Chargers. Historically the Falcons have not been a good team when traveling to the west coast. Then it’s back home to face the division rival Carolina Panthers (always a tough game), and then back on the road to face the Washington Redskins, with what everyone will assume to be Robert Griffin III at quarterback. The Falcons then come back down the coast to face the Oakland Raiders at in the Georgia Dome. Week seven is the bye week. My guess is that they’ll be more than ready for a week off by that time.
After the week off, the Falcons will get the joy of traveling back north to play the Philadelphia Eagles in Philly, where Atlanta is 0-5 since 1988. Then again, they will return home to play the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football, and then hit the road once more, traveling for the annual grudge match part one in New Orleans against the Saints. Regardless of the coaching and suspension situation, the Saints will give Atlanta a tough game. Once the party in N’awlins is done, the Falcons will return home for a game against the Arizona Cardinals. Anyone seeing a pattern here? Perhaps a travel secretary’s nightmare?
After the Cardinals, the Falcons hit the road again for their third divisional game of the season against the new look Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Atlanta should at least have some good tape to study on the Bucs and what their new head coach Greg Schiano has cooking by this point in the season. Then, once again it’s back home for the grudge match part two against the Saints in a very short week for the Thursday Night Football game. The extra few days of rest after that game will come in handy, as Atlanta will play it’s third consecutive divisional game when they travel to Carolina.
The final three games begin with a home game against the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, and if you don’t think the Falcons will be thinking about last season’s embarrassing playoff loss in New York, then you haven’t followed this team for very long. After what is certain to be a slugfest against the Giants, the Falcons will travel once again to play a very tough Detroit Lions team. At that point in the season, it’s entirely possible that the playoffs could be on the line for both the Lions and the Falcons. And playing against Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson late in the season means the Falcons’ secondary needs to be healthy and at the top of their game. Finally, Atlanta will finish at home in a final divisional game (the NFL mandated that all week 17 games have to be divisional) against Tampa Bay.
Still haven’t noticed anything? Atlanta rotates home-away one week after another all season. No two home games in a row, no two road games in a row. Brutal. Just, brutal. Never a chance to rest for more than a week at home other than the bye week. That, combined with the gauntlet of tough opponents, will really test the mettle of the Falcons this year. My early predictions of a repeat 10-6 season may have been premature. I’ll revisit the schedule and make another call on the record after the draft.