2018 Atlanta Falcons game-by-game predictions

The Atlanta Falcons' quest for a return trip to the Super Bowl ended last season with a 15-10 loss to eventual Super Bowl champ Philadelphia in the divisional round.

The Falcons have a chance to rebound from that loss immediately with a season-opening prime-time showdown with the Eagles on Thursday, Sept. 6. Such a road win there would be the ideal start to the new season.

But in order to have success, the Falcons have to find consistency on offense, keep building on defense and find a way to overcome their special-teams woes.

Here are game-by-game predictions for how the Falcons might fare in 2018:

Week 1: Thursday, Sept. 6, at Philadelphia Eagles, 8:15 p.m. ET

The Eagles will be hyped as the city welcomes them back as champions. Quarterback Carson Wentz should be back in a starting role off an ACL injury. And the Eagles fortified their strong defense with the addition of Michael Bennett, a guy the Falcons had desired to add via a trade. Record: 0-1.

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, vs. Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m. ET

The Falcons seem to have the Panthers' number in Atlanta, having won four straight against their division foe at home. It's always intriguing when Atlanta native Cam Newton comes home, but Deion Jones and the Falcons know how to knock him out of rhythm. Record: 1-1

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, vs. New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m. ET

The bitter rivalry had a dramatic ending last season as Jones, a New Orleans native, came up with the leaping interception of Drew Brees. These games always seem to be close and could come down to Matt Bryant's leg. Record: 2-1

Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET

These teams last met in 2014, with the Bengals winning 24-10 at home. The Bengals are coming off a 7-9 season, so this should be one of the easier early opponents, although last year's home losses to Miami and Buffalo showed the Falcons that nothing comes easy. Record: 3-1

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m. ET

There are some intriguing storylines here with the quarterback matchup between Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger, the running back battle between Devonta Freeman and Le'Veon Bell, and the top receiver showdown between Julio Jones and Antonio Brown. The Steelers will be tough at home. Record: 3-2

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m. ET

The Falcons swept the meetings last season and have won three in a row against the Buccaneers. Meanwhile, the Bucs still seem to be getting things figured out with quarterback Jameis Winston, who is dangerous but erratic. Record: 4-2

Week 7: Monday, Oct. 22, vs. New York Giants, 8:15 p.m. ET

Last year on this date, the Falcons traveled to New England for the much-anticipated Super Bowl rematch with the Patriots, only to get bullied in a 23-7 loss. Playing the Giants at home should be a much easier task, even if Odell Beckham Jr. goes off. Record: 5-2

Week 8: Bye

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, at Washington Redskins, 1 p.m. ET

Redskins cornerback Josh Norman already talked about how much he's looking forward to the matchup with his buddy Julio Jones, the guy Norman called the "ultimate competitor." The Redskins have a new signal-caller in Alex Smith, who will be competitive but not competitive enough to lead his team to victory. Record: 6-2

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, at Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET

The Browns' winless streak dating back to last season should be over by now, but they still have a long way to go. It will be interesting to see if one of the highly touted rookie quarterbacks is running Hue Jackson's offense by this time. Won't matter. Record: 7-2.

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, vs. Dallas Cowboys, 1 p.m. ET

Although the Falcons handled the Cowboys rather easily last season, it is likely to be a different story this time around with Ezekiel Elliott in the lineup. The Cowboys have Elliott and the offensive line to grind it out in a hard-fought, physical contest. Record: 7-3

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 26, at New Orleans Saints, 8:20 p.m. ET

This should be a rather entertaining Thanksgiving Day brawl, with the bitter rivals fighting for supremacy in the division. The running back tandem of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, if healthy, pose one of the toughest challenges of the season. And Drew Brees is Drew Brees. Record: 7-4

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, vs. Baltimore, 1 p.m. ET

There was a time when Matt Ryan vs. Joe Flacco was an intriguing matchup of taller quarterbacks. Not anymore. Flacco has fallen off significantly from his Super Bowl days. Record: 8-4

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at Green Bay, 1 p.m. ET

A Falcons team that's used to playing indoors has to brace for potential frigid conditions at Lambeau Field. Not to mention it's hard to put the freeze on Aaron Rodgers, especially on his home turf. Record: 8-5

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, vs. Arizona, 1 p.m. ET

New Cardinals coach Steve Wilks, formerly the defensive coordinator in Carolina, and defensive coordinator Al Holcomb, formerly the linebackers coach in Carolina, know how to attack the Falcons defensively. But it might take a year for the players to adjust in the new system. Record: 9-5

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 25, at Carolina, 1 p.m. ET

Depending on what version of Newton shows up, the Panthers should be much more formidable at home. It will be interesting to see how Christian McCaffrey is progressing at this time. And the Panthers will have linebacker Thomas Davis back (PED suspension) for this second meeting. Record: 9-6

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at Tampa Bay 1 p.m. ET

The NFL set it up so that the final weekend is full of division matchups. This could go either way depending on the stakes, but Winston showed early in his career he was capable of giving the Falcons fits. And Mike Evans has done the same recently. Record: 9-7