ATLANTA -- The NFL released the 2014 schedule on Wednesday. We’ve known for some time who the Atlanta Falcons would be playing during the 2014 season. Now we know when.
Week 1: Sept. 7 - New Orleans at Atlanta (1 p.m. - Fox)
Week 2: Sept. 14 - Atlanta at Cincinnati (1 p.m. - CBS)
Week 3: Sept. 18 - Tampa Bay at Atlanta (8:25 p.m. - CBS)
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Week 4: Sept. 28 - Atlanta at Minnesota (4:25 p.m. - Fox)
Week 5: Oct. 5 - Atlanta at New York Giants (1 p.m. - Fox)
Week 6: Oct. 12 - Chicago at Atlanta (1 p.m. - Fox)
Week 7: Oct. 19 - Atlanta at Baltimore (1 p.m. - Fox)
Week 8: Oct. 26 - Detroit vs. Atlanta (London)(9:30 a.m. - Fox)
Week 9: Bye
Week 10: Nov. 9 - Atlanta at Tampa Bay (1 p.m. - Fox)
Week 11: Nov. 16 - Atlanta at Carolina (1 p.m. - Fox)
Week 12: Nov. 23 - Cleveland at Atlanta (1 p.m. - CBS)
Week 13: Nov. 30 - Arizona at Atlanta (4:05 p.m. - Fox)
Week 14: Dec. 8 - Atlanta at Green Bay (8:30 p.m. - ESPN)
Week 15: Dec. 14 - Pittsburgh at Atlanta (1 p.m. - CBS)
Week 16: Dec. 21 - Atlanta at New Orleans (1 p.m. - Fox)
Week 17: Dec. 28 - Carolina at Atlanta (1 p.m. - Fox)
Kicking Things Off: Just like last season the Falcons will begin the season with their bitter rival, the New Orleans Saints. This time, however, it’s in the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome.
There will be plenty of time for head coach Mike Smith and his staff to put together a game plan to come out of the gates quickly. But beating the Saints won’t be easy. Their offense should still be as powerful as it was last season, and New Orleans has made improvements, via free agency, to improve its secondary.
Rivalry Game of Sorts: The 2014 schedule has the obvious rivalry games within the NFC South. Playing against the Saints and the Carolina Panthers is always a get-your-blood-flowing event, no matter what the team’s records are.
But there’s a Week 7 game against the Baltimore Ravens that evokes emotions of rivalry of a different sort.
In the 2008 NFL draft, quarterback Matt Ryan was taken with the third overall selection. The Ravens, 15 picks later, picked Joe Flacco, permanently linking the two passers.
Both have realized enormous success. Ryan has more career passing yards, more touchdown passes and fewer interceptions. Flacco has two more regular season wins, eight more playoff wins, and oh yeah, he won a Super Bowl ring.
It’s next to impossible to completely win this argument. Would you rather have the guy who’s statistically the better passer, or the guy who wins more often and has tasted big-game success?
Toughest Stretch: There aren’t a whole lot of extended treacherous stretches of games for the Falcons in 2014. Starting the season off with the Saints and then the Cincinnati Bengals isn’t going to be easy. Both quarterbacks, Drew Brees and Andy Dalton, can sling the ball around and cause trouble for defensive backfields.
The toughest stretch, though, will be from Week 13 through Week 16. In those four games the Falcons will host the Arizona Cardinals (the best team in the NFL last season that did not make the playoffs), travel to play the Green Bay Packers (in December), host the Pittsburgh Steelers and travel to play the Saints in the Superdome.
You could also tack on the Week 17 game against the Carolina Panthers. They won the NFC South last season, but have been hit hard with players leaving via free agency and retirement, and may not be as strong this season.
Prime Time: The Falcons were slated with two prime-time games this season. They’ll play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night at 8:25 p.m. ET on Sept. 18 (Week 3 of the season).
Then, when the Falcons travel to play the Packers in Week 14, that game will be on Monday Night Footballon ESPN.