The good news for the Atlanta Falcons regarding their 2021 schedule: They should start 1-0 as the Dirty Birds are 3-point home favorites for Week 1 vs. the rebuilding Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta plays just four teams (but six games) that made the playoffs a year ago. However, the Falcons lose one true home game to London and play three of their final five away, including what figures to be in brutal winter weather conditions in Buffalo Week 17. That should be the only cold-weather outdoor game for Atlanta.
Few teams entered this offseason in worse salary-cap shape than the Falcons, so they were largely quiet in free agency but added a potential unicorn with the No. 4 overall pick of the draft in Florida tight end Kyle Pitts. Essentially, the mega-contracts of quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Julio Jones precluded the team from doing much under new GM Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith, the former Titans offensive coordinator. Atlanta has an Over/Under win total of 7.0 for this season at William Hill Sportsbook, while the SportsLine Projection Model forecasts the team to finish with 8.7 victories.
Ryan had his contract restructured in March as the Falcons took $21 million of Ryan's base salary for 2021 and converted it into a signing bonus spread out over the 2021, 2022 and 2023 seasons. While that helped create cap room for this year, it also makes it harder for Atlanta to get out from Ryan's contract if it wanted to following the 2021 campaign.
Ryan now could count a whopping $40.525 million in dead money next year. The former league MVP, who will be 36 this season, threw for 4,581 yards and 26 touchdowns last year, very respectable numbers.
As for Jones, it would be easier to trade him financially but still a challenge because of his cap numbers. The five-time All-Pro, the NFL's all-time receiving yardage per game leader at 95.5, was limited to nine games last year caught 51 passes for 771 yards and three scores. The Falcons have said they would listen to calls on Jones but aren't actively shopping him.
The Falcons could have drafted Ryan's eventual replacement at No. 4 overall this year in either Ohio State's Justin Fields or Alabama's Mac Jones but opted to take Pitts. He's quite the athletic specimen but it wasn't exactly a huge need on the team. With Pitts now on the roster, the Falcons opted to decline the 2022 fifth-year rookie option on the contract of tight end Hayden Hurst.
As noted above, Atlanta did very little in free agency but released several veterans. Perhaps the most notable addition was former Panthers running back Mike Davis, who should take over for the departed Todd Gurley as the featured back in 2021.
The Falcons' 2021 schedule is ranked as the 30th-toughest in the league as their 17 opponents – visiting Jacksonville is the 17th game -- were a combined 123-148-1 last season.
Atlanta Falcons trends/William Hill Sportsbook odds
- 2020 record: 4-12 (7-9 against the spread, 7-9 Over/Under)
- 2021 strength of schedule rank: 30th (opponents' combined winning percentage of .454)
- 2021 Over/Under win total: 7.0
- SportsLine Projection Model forecasted wins: 8.7
- Odds to win Super Bowl 56: +5000
- To win NFC: +2500
- To win NFC South: +800
- To make playoffs: No -280, yes +230
- NFL MVP odds: Matt Ryan +3000
Atlanta Falcons Schedule
Week 1 vs. Philadelphia Eagles: The Under has hit in the past five overall in this series including playoffs
Week 2 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Atlanta's four-game SU road winning streak in series snapped last year, 44-27
Week 3 at New York Giants: The Under is 9-1 in the past 10 overall in this series
Week 4 vs. Washington Football Team: Clubs haven't met since 2018 but Falcons have won past six
Week 5 vs. New York Jets (in London): Atlanta has won three of past four in series, most recently 25-20 on road in 2017
Week 6 BYE
Week 7 at Miami Dolphins: Falcons are 0-2 SU & ATS in past two meetings but haven't played since 2017
Week 8 vs. Carolina Panthers: Atlanta's five-game SU & ATS win streak in series ended in 23-16 loss last year
Week 9 at New Orleans Saints: New Orleans is 7-3 SU & ATS in past 10 at home in series
Week 10 at Dallas Cowboys: Atlanta choked away a sure win in Dallas early last season, losing 40-39
Week 11 vs. New England Patriots (TNF): Including the Super Bowl, the Falcons are 0-6 SU & ATS in past six in series
Week 12 at Jacksonville Jaguars: Added 17th opponent; Falcons are 6-1 ATS all-time vs. Jaguars
Week 13 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The total has gone Over in past five Falcons games at home vs. Bucs
Week 14 at Carolina Panthers: Falcons are 3-0 SU & ATS in past three in Charlotte, winning each by at least 8 points
Week 15 at San Francisco 49ers: Teams have split the past 10 meetings overall ATS, including playoffs
Week 16 vs. Detroit Lions: Detroit was a short dog in Atlanta last year and won 23-22
Week 17 at Buffalo Bills: Atlanta's four-game winning streak in series snapped in 2017 home loss
Week 18 vs. New Orleans Saints: Falcons are 0-3 SU & ATS in past three at home after 21-16 loss in 2020
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