The Atlanta Falcons were tied for the league's toughest schedule last season and were destined for failure, yet they responded with an 11-5 record, an NFC South title and an improbable Super Bowl berth.
So what's in store this season? Well, the Falcons certainly have a chance to have success behind MVP Matt Ryan, star receiver Julio Jones and an ascending defense, led by NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr. and Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant.
Here are game-by-game predictions for how the Falcons might fare in 2017:
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 10, at Chicago Bears, 1 p m. ET
The perfect cure for a Super Bowl hangover is facing a rebuilding team that finished 3-13 the year before. Ryan vs. Mike Glennon should be no match, no matter how much people want to compare Glennon to Ryan. Record: 1-0.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 17, vs. Green Bay Packers, 8:30 p.m. ET
The atmosphere should be electric for this game, the Falcons' first regular-season contest in Atlanta's new, $1.53 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It's Ryan vs. Aaron Rodgers in an NFC Championship Game rematch, and Ryan has won the last two matchups between the quarterbacks. Record: 2-0.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 24, at Detroit Lions, 1 p m. ET
Ryan gets to see his offseason rec league basketball teammate, Lions QBMatthew Stafford. The Falcons and Ryan should be able to take advantage of what was the league's third-worst red zone defense in 2016. Record: 3-0.
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 1, vs. Buffalo Bills, 1 p m. ET
The Bills might not be a pushover, but the Falcons should be just fine at home. The Bills ranked 29th against the run last season, so Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman might both have explosive days. Record: 4-0.
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 15, vs. Miami Dolphins, 1 p m. ET
As long as the Falcons don't play the way they did against the Dolphins a few preseasons ago, they should be fine. The Falcons' offensive line has to contain Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh and keep Ryan upright. Record: 5-0.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 22 at New England Patriots, 8:30 p m. ET
The much-anticipated Super Bowl LI rematch will be must-see TV. From the Falcons' perspective, they have to step on the gas on offense and run the ball if they have the lead late. But beating Tom Brady at home is a tall task. Record: 5-1.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 29, at New York Jets, 1 p m. ET
Although it's the second consecutive game on the road, the Falcons should have no issues against a Jets team that's been in disarray. The Jets' quarterback situation has been a joke. Record: 6-1.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 5, at Carolina Panthers, 1 p m. ET
The Falcons frustrated Cam Newton and the Panthers last season, winning both games. Newton and the Panthers will be a little extra motivated to prove they can still compete for the division crown. Record: 6-2.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 12, vs. Dallas Cowboys, 4:25 p m. ET
Plenty of star power, with Ryan and Dak Prescott, Julio Jones and Dez Bryant, and Freeman and Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys have something to prove after failing to make this matchup happen in last year's NFC Championship Game. Record: 6-3.
Week 11: Monday, Nov. 20, at Seattle Seahawks, 8:30 p m. ET
Maybe All-Pro wide receiver Jones will get his rematch against cornerback Richard Sherman, who got away with a hold in last year's Seahawks win in Seattle. Or if trade talk about Sherman is accurate, maybe not. Record: 7-3.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 26, vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p m. ET
Now the NFC South action really heats up as Jameis Winston, DeSean Jackson & Co. visit the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Falcons won't lose to the Buccaneers at home for the third straight season. No way. Record: 8-3.
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 3 vs. Minnesota Vikings, 1 p m. ET
Looks like a Falcons win on paper, but there's always a game a team shouldn't lose but does. This is the one, even though the Vikings don't have Adrian Peterson. Record: 8-4.
Week 14: Thursday, Dec. 7, vs. New Orleans Saints, 8:30 p m. ET
This game between bitter rivals could go either way, especially with Drew Brees still capable of putting up big numbers. The Falcons and Saints were the top two scoring offenses in the league last season, but only the Falcons averaged more than 30 points per game Record: 9-4.
Week 15: Monday, Dec. 18, at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 8:30 p m. ET
Dirk Koetter's Buccaneers are an improving team and Winston is on the rise. At home, they'll be tough to beat, especially if defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is on his game. Record: 9-5.
Week 16: Sunday Dec. 24, at New Orleans Saints, 1 p m. ET
Maybe the division title will be on the line. Maybe not. Whatever the case, Ryan and the Falcons will find a way to finish strong, just as coach Dan Quinn preaches all the time. Record: 10-5.
Week 17: Sunday Dec. 31, vs. Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m. ET
Beasley and the Falcons ring in the New Year by putting Newton on his back and securing their second straight division title. It'll happen as long as everyone stays healthy. Record: 11-5.