Atlanta Falcons 2021 schedule: Toughest stretch, opponent preview, key matchups, predictions and more


What an unmitigated disaster this offseason has been for the Atlanta Falcons, and it spills over from yet another disappointing regular-season finish that led to the mid-year dismissal of head coach Dan Quinn and a major shakeup in the front office. As they look to get back to their winning ways before the inevitable decline of Matt Ryan arrives, they’ll presumably have to do so without future Hall of Fame wide receiver Julio Jones. Terry Fontenot, the newly-installed GM, began taking calls and offers on Jones prior to the NFL draft and has since been actively looking to deal him, after Jones reportedly requested a trade earlier this offseason.

And with Jones himself stating publicly he’s “outta there,” there’s no reason to believe the Falcons will have their most dynamic weapon on the field in 2021. That means they’ll have to lean more heavily on Calvin Ridley and top pick Kyle Pitts, two capable receivers — admittedly — who’ll have their work cut out for them when it comes to replacing Jones’ production. And then there’s the defense, one the team hopes is improved enough to give Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers some difficulty, along with welcoming Sam Darnold to the NFC South and attempting to drag down a familiar face in Jameis Winston, who’s attempting to replace the now-retired Drew Brees.

The Falcons will start their season against the Philadelphia Eagles, entering as 3.5-point favorites, per William Hill Sportsbook. That’s a close margin that accounts for the absence of Jones, in a game that could tilt wildly in either direction. That latter point applies to the Falcons’ season on the whole now, one that will likely see a divorce from one of the best receivers to ever play the game. 

Need a quick betting primer on your favorite NFL team for the 2021 season? Here are links to schedule breakdowns for all 32 clubs.

Key schedule observations

  • Early-season bye (Week 6)
  • London game in Week 5
  • No true two-game (Atlanta) homestand

Toughest stretch

Philadelphia Eagles

Week 1 – Sunday, Sept. 12
Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta)
Time: 1 p.m. ET

Even without Jones, this is a game the Falcons can win. The Eagles are still trying to figure out their secondary and that’s where Ridley and Pitts can shine, along with Russell Gage and Hayden Hurst. As long as Matt Ryan keeps the pressure on and avoids it himself, it’s a win in the home opener.

Prediction: 35-20, Falcons

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

First meeting: Week 2 – Raymond James Stadium (Tampa) – Sunday, Sept. 19, 4:05 p.m. ET
Second meeting: Week 13 – Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta) – Sunday, Dec. 5, 1 p.m. ET

The fun won’t be long-lived for the Falcons because while they took their home opener in Week 1, they have to face Tom Brady and the defending champs in Week 2. They need the firepower of Jones here against a visceral Bucs defense, but don’t have it, and so it’s not only a loss in Week 2; but also in Week 13 when the Bucs return to face them in Atlanta.

Week 2 Prediction: 30-17, Bucs
Week 13 Prediction: 40-20, Bucs

Week 3 – Sunday, Sept. 26
Location: MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford)
Time: 1 p.m. ET

The first round against the NFC East went well with a win over the Eagles, but the Giants present a much more difficult challenge, having improved their defense and added Kenny Golladay to the offense. They can and will test the wherewithal of the Falcons, who won’t be able to match serve at MetLife.

Prediction: 27-23, Giants

Washington Football Team

Week 4 – Sunday, Oct. 3 
Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta)
Time: 1 p.m. ET

Sitting at 1-1 in the NFC East, this is where the Falcons can get above .500 versus that division and overall. Washington believes an inconsistent Ryan Fitzpatrick will get the job done, but in reality it’ll be the defense that needs to carry the load. If the Falcons can protect Matt Ryan from the onslaught led by Chase Young, Fitzpatrick might run out of magic in Atlanta when he can least afford to.

Prediction: 24-20, Falcons

Week 5 – Sunday, Oct. 10 
Location: Tottenham Hostpur Stadium (London)
Time: 9:30 a.m. ET

Zach Wilson has potential, yes. That’s not what’s going to win this game, though. It’s the fact he’s inexperienced and Ryan is far from it, and that gives the Falcons a decided advantage against a Jets team that’ll likely be more competitive with new head coach Robert Saleh, but also one that needs to figure out who it is going forward. It probably won’t be a barnburner in London, but Ryan knows what it’s like to play there — Wilson doesn’t.

Prediction: 24-10, Falcons

Week 7 – Sunday, Oct. 24
Location: Hard Rock Stadium (Miami)
Time: 1 p.m. ET

The bye week is now in the rearview after a trip across the pond, giving the Falcons two weeks to prepare for Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins. The absence of Julio Jones looms large here though, considering the Dolphins secondary is an impressive one. They drop this one in South Florida, and it’s because they needed one more TD than they could get (the one Jones likely would’ve gotten).

Prediction: 24-17, Dolphins

First meeting: Week 8 – Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta) – Sunday, Oct. 31, 1 p.m. ET
Second meeting: Week 14 – Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte) – Sunday, Dec. 12, 1 p.m. ET

This will be an intriguing matchup by all accounts, with both teams having their sets of question marks in a division that sees them both trying to reach the level established by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They can beat each other on any given Sunday, and they’ll split their series in 2021, with home cooking feeding the outcomes.

Week 8 Prediction: 21-14, Falcons
Week 14 Prediction: 30-20, Panthers

First meeting: Week 9 – Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans) – Sunday, Nov. 7, 1 p.m. ET
Second meeting: Week 18 – Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta) – Sunday, Jan. 9, 1 p.m. ET

Speaking of an NFC South team with questions, and who’s trying to get back at the Buccaneers, the Saints don’t officially know just yet who their starting QB will be following the retirement of Drew Brees. Regardless of if it’s Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill come Week 9, it’ll be the Superdome fans who help power them to a win against the Falcons, with Atlanta fans doing the same in the regular-season finale.

Week 9 Prediction: 30-24, Saints
Week 18 Prediction: 35-27, Falcons

Week 10 – Sunday, Nov. 14
Location: AT&T Stadium (Arlington)
Time: 1 p.m. ET

When the Falcons had Julio Jones in Dallas last season, they lost on a watermelon kick. They don’t have him this time around and with Dan Quinn looking for some revenge, and seeing as he knows Ryan’s every nuance, the Falcons are really up against it when they try to battle an improved Dallas defense and an offense that again features Dak Prescott as QB1 — with his starting tackles in tow.

Prediction: 41-23, Cowboys

Week 11 – Thursday, Nov. 18
Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta)
Time: 8:20 p.m. ET

The previous game started the toughest stretch of the Falcons schedule, and especially if they send Julio Jones to one of his top preferred landing spots: the Patriots. If they make that mistake, they’ll have to contend with him in a revenge game that features Bill Belichick against a newly-installed Falcons head coach. And even if they don’t, the Patriots know how to win against Matt Ryan, unless you’ve forgotten “28-3,” and Newton is no stranger to Atlanta — his hometown.

Prediction: 31-14, Patriots

Week 12 – Sunday, Nov. 28
Location: TIAA Bank Field (Jacksonville)
Time: 1 p.m. ET

Let’s assume Trevor Lawrence needs a moment to become the problem he’ll likely become in the NFL. The issue for the Falcons is this game is in Week 12 and not Week 1, so he’ll at least have some of his bearings. That said, Meyer still has a lot to figure out on both sides of the ball, and Tim Tebow won’t save him from this loss.

Prediction: 23-20, Falcons

Week 13 – Sunday, Dec. 19
Location: Levi’s Stadium (San Francisco)
Time: 4:05 p.m. ET

Traveling cross country is brutal in and of itself, but to do so for a matchup with the 49ers is simply not fun. Be it Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance as starter in Week 13, Kyle Shanahan is the coach and George Kittle is the tight end and the defense is returning from injury as one of the best in the NFL. It’s too much to overcome for a tired Falcons team that’s also missing Jones.

Prediction: 30-14, 49ers

Week 15 – Sunday, Dec. 26
Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta)
Time: 1 p.m. ET 

From cross-country travel to a cross-country hop back to Atlanta, the Falcons are sent from Florida to California and back to Georgia in an exhaustive amount of travel. It’s not that the Lions are a better team than the Falcons, but rather that the Falcons are fighting jet lag and lose steam late the fourth quarter of this game to allow the Lions a win.

Prediction: 21-17, Lions

Week 17 – Sunday, Jan. 2
Location: Highmark Stadium (Buffalo)
Time: 1 p.m. ET 

They won’t get to unpack in Atlanta, now traveling far north to the frozen confines of Buffalo in January. For a southern dome team, this feels like a death sentence, and Allen will likely have his way with a Falcons team that’s already been eliminated from playoff contention.

Prediction: 45-20, Bills

Final 2021 record: 6-11





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