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Falcons Season Preview: Home Sweet Home?

Matt Ryan and the Falcons set out to improve on last year's 4-12 mark behind a favorable regular-season schedule

On the one hand, the Atlanta Falcons were short-changed when the NFL scheduled them for only seven games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this season.

Seven home games? In a 17-game schedule? How can that be? How is that fair?

With the league moving to 17 games, it means nine traditional road games ... plus a neutral-site contest for Atlanta in 2021 as the Falcons travel to London for a Week 5 meeting against the New York Jets.

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Yet still, once you recover from that, there are a lot of things to like about the Falcons' 2021 slate.

Most will point towards their opponents' .454 combined 2020 winning percentage as the top thing to like. It makes sense. That's a tangible statistic that showcases how "easy" or "hard'' a schedule is. Based on strength of schedule, the Falcons' have the third-easiest schedule in the league this season.

But strength of schedule is misleading. In the Falcons' case, it only tells half the story.

Though things can change in a heartbeat, the Falcons appear poised to head into the season with at least 11 (maybe as many as 15) winnable games on the 2021 schedule.

Now don't misunderstand; all we're saying is that most of these games figure to be close, and therefore "winnable.'' And now all new coach Arthur Smith needs to do is win a bunch of 'em.

Offense

After another rough season in 2020 that ended with a 4-12 record and a last-place finish in the NFC South, QB Matt Ryan and company are hoping to rebound. And even as Julio Jones was traded to the Tennessee Titans, the offensive firepower is in place.

Todd Gurley did not return in free agency, which led to the signing of Mike Davis and projection of him being the starter. During the 2020 season with the Carolina Panthers, Davis put together a very good season with Christian McCaffrey on the sidelines due to injury issues. He carried 165 times for 642 yards and six touchdowns. Davis also caught 59 passes for 373 yards and two more scores.

In the Falcons' offense, Davis has the potential to put up even bigger numbers.

Combine that with rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, star receiver Calvin Ridley and an under-the-radar reliable second option in Russell Gage, and offense won't be this team's problem.

Defense

Out of the NFL's 32 teams, 13 of them are entering the season under a new defensive coordinator.

One of those teams is the Falcons with former Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees coming out of retirement to join new head coach Smith's staff.

Smith, a first-time head coach, worked with Pees for two years in Tennessee.

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During his tenure in Tennessee, Pees coached a top-10 defense in 2018, but the unit slipped into the bottom third of the league in 2019.

With cornerstones already in place in Grady Jarrett and Deion Jones, Pees has some pieces to the puzzle already in place. It's his job to maneuver the remaining pieces into a stronger defense for Atlanta, who had a bottom-five defense in the league in 2020. Some of the maneuvering has shown itself in the preseason, as this was a sack-happy bunch.

Can sack-happy carry over into the regular season?

Predicted Record

Falcons Record: 4-13

Expected Depth Chart

Offense

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QB: Matt Ryan, Josh Rosen, Feleipe Franks

RB: Mike Davis, Qadree Ollison

FB: Keith Smith

WR: Calvin Ridley, Olamide Zaccheaus

WR: Christian Blake, Cordarrelle Patterson

WR: Russell Gage, Frank Darby

TE: Hayden Hurst, Kyle Pitts, Lee Smith

LT: Jake Matthews, Jason Spriggs

LG: Jalen Mayfield

C: Matt Hennessy, Drew Dalman

RG: Chris Lindstrom, Josh Andrews

RT: Kaleb McGary, Willie Beavers

Defense

DL: Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Jonathan Bullard

DL: Grady Jarrett, Marlon Davidson

DL: Tyeler Davison, John Cominsky

LB: Dante Fowler, Adetokunbo Ogundeji

LB: Deion Jones, Brandon Copeland

LB: Foyesade Oluokun, Mykal Walker

CB: Kendall Sheffield, Darren Hall

CB: Isaiah Oliver, Fabian Moreau

CB: A.J. Terrell, Avery Williams

S: Jaylinn Hawkins, Richie Grant

S: Erik Harris, Duron Harmon

K: Younghoe Koo

P: Cameron Nizialek

LS: Josh Harris