There's really no other way to say it. The Falcons were short-changed when the NFL scheduled them for only seven games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this season. With the league moving to 17 games, that meant nine traditional road games and a neutral site contest for Atlanta in 2021.
Yet still, 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.
Before I dive any deeper, let's explore the term, "winnable." By technical definition, every NFL game is "winnable." Only two 2020 division winners -- Green Bay and New Orleans -- posted an average margin of victory greater than eight points (or one possession). Similarly, just three NFL teams lost by an average margin of more than eight points in 2020 (Detroit, Jacksonville and the New York Jets).
A majority of NFL games come down to one possession. A few select plays determine those games, and they can often go either way.
For the purposes of analyzing an NFL schedule, I define "winnable" as a game where it wouldn't surprise me if that team (or either team) won.
Now, the Falcons aren't going to win every "winnable" game on their schedule. But there are at least 11 games that right now, I wouldn't be surprised if they won. Here are the 11:
Week 1: EAGLES
Week 3: @Giants
Week 4: WASHINGTON
Week 5: NYJ (London)
Week 8: PANTHERS
Week 10: @Cowboys
Week 11: PATRIOTS
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Week 12: @Jaguars
Week 14: @Panthers
Week 15: @49ers
Week 16: LIONS
All of these teams had losing records in 2020. The two contests that stand out as the toughest games are at the Cowboys and home against the Patriots. If Dak Prescott returns to form, the Cowboys should be a much better team. The Patriots may also be a more formidable opponent with a healthy Cam Newton or Mac Jones behind center.
It will also be difficult to win both of these games with them scheduled back-to-back weeks.
The road trip to Santa Clara late in the season will be difficult, and not having a true home game for 28 days in October could be mentally taxing. But the fact remains that these 11 games are very winnable.
One could argue both games against the New Orleans Saints will be winnable without Drew Brees. Of the other remaining four games, the Falcons play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers twice, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills.
While the Dolphins won 10 games, they weren't a playoff team and haven't been consistently good in a very long time. Even on the road, it's too early to say that game is a guaranteed Falcons loss.
It's not to the Falcons favor to visit the Buccaneers in Week 2. Granted, Tampa Bay started slowly in 2020, but with a full offseason after a Super Bowl win, it's too much to ask the Falcons to upset the reigning champions in coach Arthur Smith's second game.
The rematch at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Dec. 5 will be a difficult game as well, but not out of the realm of possibility. As for the trip to Buffalo on Jan. 2, due to the Bills' high expectations and upstate New York winters, that is not a winnable game for the Falcons at this point.
Still, road games at Buffalo and Tampa Bay as the only contests where I'd be surprised if the Falcons won means there are going to be lots of games available for the Falcons to win.
Again, that doesn't mean the Falcons are going to win 15 or 13 or even 11 games. They won't win every one-possession game. Dan Quinn is gone, but the team still needs to learn how to hold onto leads.
But 11 contests against teams with losing records in 2020, two contests against a team in transition at quarterback (New Orleans) and another matchup with a team that has been to the postseason just once since 2008 (Miami) should give Falcons fans a lot of hope the team will post its first winning record in four years.