The Atlanta Falcons managed just 10 wins the previous two seasons, which led to head coach Mike Smith being fired. His replacement, Dan Quinn, has the challenge of turning around one of the league's worst defenses. If Matt Ryan is protected and Julio Jones keeps playing like one of the best receivers in the game, the Falcons should manage to improve to at least 8-8 during the 2015 season. Here are game-by-game predictions.
Week 1: Monday, Sep. 14, Philadelphia, 7:10 p.m.
The Falcons begin the season with a Monday Night Football matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles at the Georgia Dome. It won't be an easy way to kick off the Dan Quinn Era. The fast pace of Chip Kelly's offense is tough to keep up with. But the Falcons should rely on Matt Ryan and Julio Jones to be explosive in this game, much like the Falcons were in last year's season-opening win over New Orleans at home. Falcons 28, Eagles 24. Record: 1-0
Week 2: Sunday, Sept 20, New York Giants, 1 p.m.
This trip to New York won't be easy even if the Giants aren't as good as they used to be. Elite pass-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul gave Falcons tackle Jake Matthews fits a year ago as the Giants got eight hits on Ryan in a 30-20 win. If Ryan is kept clean, the Falcons can sneak away with this one. If not, the Giants find a way to win. Giants 21, Falcons 17. Record: 1-1
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 27, at Dallas, 1 p.m.
Consecutive road trips against NFC East foes won't be easy for the Falcons, particularly this early in the season with adjustments still being made by the players to the new coaching staff. If the Falcons don't get pressure on Tony Romo, Dez Bryant could life miserable on the secondary. Cowboys 28, Falcons 17. Record: 1-2
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 4, Houston, 1 p.m.
Once again, keeping Ryan clean will be a tall task for the Falcons offensive line going against arguably the league's best pass-rusher in Houston's J.J. Watt. The addition of Vince Wilfork on the interior and the return of Jadeveon Clowney from injury only makes the Texans that much more dangerous up front. The Texans lack of an established quarterback could help the Falcons' cause, but the Houston defense might be too much to overcome. Texans 17, Falcons 13. Record: 1-3
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 11, Washington, 1 p.m.
The interesting side story here will be Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan engineering the offense against the team he once coached for in the same position. Shanahan worked with quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins in Washington, and it will be interesting to see just which quarterback is at the helm for the Redskins in 2015. The Falcons should be able to hold their own at home as Washington lost arguably its best pass-rusher in Brian Orakpo, who signed with Tennessee. Falcons 31, Redskins 17. Record: 2-3
Week 6: Thursday, Oct. 15, at New Orleans, 8:25 p.m.
A prime-time matchup with the rivals Saints should create quite a bit of buzz, but the Saints have revenge in mind. Last year at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Falcons embarrassed their division nemesis by the score of 30-14. The Saints don't have Jimmy Graham anymore, but they have a pretty good quarterback in Drew Brees and the home crowd on their side for this matchup. Saints 24, Falcons 21. Record: 2-4
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 25, at Tennessee, 1 p.m.
The talk of the Falcons having the weakest schedule had a lot to do with facing a team such as the Titans, who finished 2-14 a year ago. Tennesee could have a rookie at quarterback such as Marcus Mariota so that could make matters a little easier. The Titans pass-rush duo of Derrick Morgan and Orakpo could be tough to deal with, plus they signed former Falcon Jonathan Massaquoi, who has ability. But this is one road game the Falcons should win. Tennessee's only home win last year was against Jacksonville. Falcons 21, Titans 13. Record: 3-4
Week 8: Sunday, Nov. 1, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
One again, the Falcons could be up against a rookie quarterback with the Buccaneers possibly on track to draft Jameis Winston out of Florida State. Atlanta should be on top of what the Bucs are doing offensively considering Tampa Bay's new offensive coordinator is Dirk Koetter, who was with the Falcons last year. (Watch for the wide receiver screens to Mike Evans.) New Falcons pass-rusher Adrian Clayborn should be a little more motivated going up against the team that drafted him. Falcons 24, Buccaneers 17. Record: 4-4
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 8, at San Francisco, 4:05 p.m.
Well, at least no one has to worry about the handshake between Quinn and Jim Harbaugh after the game now that Harbaugh moved on to coach at the University of Michigan. The 49ers also lost Patrick Willis and Chris Borland to early retirements, depleting the defense, and lost running back Frank Gore to Indianapolis, hurting the offense. So, the Falcons will get off a little easier than expected here but won't be able to contain 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. 49ers 20, Falcons 17. Record: 4-5
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 22, Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
This could be the toughest game on the schedule for the Falcons with how explosive quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts can be offensively. They also have a rather sharp offensive coordinator in Pep Hamilton who will give the Falcons fits on defense. Ryan and the offense will have to keep pace in what is likely to be a high-scoring affair. At least the Falcons have an extra week to prepare following the bye. Colts 34, Falcons 28. Record: 4-6
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 29, Minnesota, 1 p.m.
The Vikings are no slouch. They showed that last year when they took it to the Falcons 41-28 behind rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. With Bridgewater a year wiser and the slight chance Adrian Peterson could be back in the backfield, the Vikings have a chance to make some noise out of the NFC North. Safety Harrison Smith might play a big role in helping to contact Falcon star receiver Julio Jones. Vikings 20, Falcons 17. Record: 4-7
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 6, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
The Bucs might be improved from the Week 8 meeting but chances are they'll still have a rookie at quarterback. The Falcons just can't have a relapse to 2013, when they went to Raymond James Stadium and got dominated, 41-28. Falcons 24, Bucs 10. Record: 5-7
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 13, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Last year in Charlotte, there were plenty of scuffles between the teams so this promises to be another physical battle. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton can be knocked off his rhythm with good defensive pressure, so the Falcons better hope their pass rush is much improved by this point in the season. Jonathan Stewart is set to be Carolina featured back and could make life tough on the Falcons if he gets going. This could go either way. Panthers 24, Falcons 21. Record: 5-8
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 20, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Although this game is on the road, nothing should keep the Falcons from dominating a Jaguars team that has averaged under four wins a season the last four years. It will be battle of former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator with Quinn going up against Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley. Falcons 35, Jaguars 17. Record: 6-8
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 27, Carolina, 1 p.m.
Finishing off the season with two NFC South games at the Georgia Dome will work in the Falcons' favor. Ryan gets more room to operate with Greg Hardy (Cowboys) no longer a member of the Panthers. And Jones takes on the personal challenge of the Panthers defensive backs that claimed to shut him down last year. Falcons 31, Panthers 17. Record: 7-8
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 3, New Orleans, 1 p.m.
A great way to end the season, against the division rival Saints. The Falcons keep the offense flowing inside the Georgia Dome and finish the season on a strong note, a far contrast from last season when they blew a chance at the division crown in the season finale by getting blown out by the Panthers, 34-3. Maybe the Falcons sneak into the playoffs at .500. Falcons 28, Saints 24. Record: 8-8