Atlanta Falcons schedule analysis

Breakdown: The Atlanta Falcons are suddenly getting a high national profile. They’ve got four prime-time games on national television, three at home where the Falcons have been dominant since coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan have been around, and each of them comes with a great storyline.

The home opener in Week 2 comes against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Falcons will see their former quarterback, Michael Vick. The Oct. 9 game with Green Bay is a rematch of Atlanta’s disappointing playoff loss last season. The Dec. 15 matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars will be a game in which Smith has to go against his previous employer, as well as mentor and friend, Jack Del Rio.

But the best game of all might be the day after Christmas when the Falcons play their prime-time road game on "Monday Night Football." They travel to New Orleans to play the Saints and these two clubs have become fierce NFC South rivals. The teams play in Atlanta in November, but the Dec. 26 contest likely will have playoff implications. It also will come with bragging rights. When the Saints won last season in the Georgia Dome, some New Orleans players posed for post-game pictures on the Falcons’ logo. The Saints said they wanted the pictures as a memento of a significant victory. A lot of the Falcons viewed it differently and weren’t very happy with that scene.

Complaint department: It looks like the folks who made the schedule want to test the Falcons early. They have to open the season with five straight games against teams that either made the playoffs or won at least 10 games last season.

Ryan’s test: Take a look at the two-game stretch following Atlanta’s Week 8 bye. The Falcons travel to Indianapolis and then host the Saints. Many people like to debate whether Ryan really is an elite quarterback. If he can lead his team to consecutive victories against Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, that might put him firmly in the elite category.

Falcons Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 11, at Chicago, 1:00 PM

Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 18, Philadelphia, 8:20 PM

Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 25, at Tampa Bay, 4:15 PM

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 2, at Seattle, 4:05 PM

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 9, Green Bay, 8:20 PM

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 16, Carolina, 1:00 PM

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 23, at Detroit, 1:00 PM

Week 8: BYE

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 6, at Indianapolis, 1:00 PM

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 13, New Orleans, 1:00 PM

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 20, Tennessee, 1:00 PM

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 27, Minnesota, 1:00 PM

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 4, at Houston, 1:00 PM

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 11, at Carolina, 1:00 PM

Week 15: Thursday, Dec. 15, Jacksonville, 8:20 PM

Week 16: Monday, Dec. 26, at New Orleans, 8:30 PM

Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 1, Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM