In 2012 the Atlanta Falcons won 13 games, but by the tally of many, that number was inflated by a so-called weak schedule against the lowly AFC West, and with their own division–the NFC South–having for a down year. In 2013 it could be said that Atlanta’s schedule is looking like one of the toughest in the league.
With the rotation of division opponents that was set during the 2002 NFL realignment, the Falcons are scheduled to smash helmets with the NFC West, who have gone from the one-time laughing stock of the league to arguably the toughest division in the NFL, and an AFC East division that is most certainly on the rise.
The Falcons can take a little pride in the fact that in 2012, through the regular season and the playoffs, they beat two–the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals–out of three teams in the NFC West, only barely losing to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game, and missing out on playing the much improved St. Louis Rams.
The AFC East is a different story. The Falcons must not only trade bombs with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, but must also face the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills – two teams that look to be drastically improved in 2013. On the plus side, Atlanta does get a home game against the New York Jets.
Within the NFC South where Atlanta plays, it could be assumed that all three opponents–the New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers–will be even better than the previous year, and will have closed the gap on the Falcons. All three teams played Atlanta tough in 2012, with the Saints and Panthers earning splits in the home/away series.
If that weren’t tough enough, the Falcons have drawn a rematch against the Robert Griffin III (if able to play) and the Washington Redskins at the Georgia Dome, and the team that is quickly becoming an non-division arch-rival of the Falcons, the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Never a fun road trip.
If you look at the list of quarterbacks Atlanta will most likely be facing, it’s like a who’s-who of NFL play callers, including Brady, RG3, Drew Brees (twice), Cam Newton (twice), Josh Freeman (twice), Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill, Sam Bradford and Aaron Rodgers. The Falcons secondary had best be prepared for some passes to be thrown their way.
That list of QBs could get even scarier depending on who ends up starting for the Bills, Jets and Cardinals.
If all these teams even partially play up to their potential, the Falcons are in for some tough sledding on the 2013 schedule, so it may be a viable test of the Falcons’ mettle and a way to quiet those who questioned the true nature of Atlanta’s 2012 success.