So, you know the Falcons’ 2014 schedule features two prime time games and a trip to London. There’s also that season-opening date with the New Orleans Saints inside the Georgia Dome. That sound you heard Wednesday night when the schedule was released was the entire Falcons fanbase circling Sept. 7 on their calendars (Click here to to add this iCal file of the schedule to your calendar). But what else do you know about the 2014 season? Here are 10 things you’ll want to know when discussing the 2014 Falcons’ schedule, including a little more about that Saints game.
1) No Bye Teams: Last year, the Falcons faced four teams coming off a bye week or extended rest, but this year is different. The Falcons won’t face a team off a bye week in 2014 for the first time since 2011. They will face only one team with a mini bye week, the Giants in Week 5, coming off a Week 4 Thursday night game. Atlanta faces two teams coming off short weeks after Monday night games, the Panthers in Week 11 and the Saints in Week 16.
2) Week 1 Rivalry: This year marks the second season in a row the Falcons have opened up against the NFC South rival Saints. Unlike last year, the Falcons will host the Saints this time around and it could be a game that sets the tone early for not just each team, but for the entire conference as well. This year marks the seventh season-opening matchup with the Saints.
3) Dueling Wide Receivers: Atlanta’s Week 6 matchup with the Bears features the top two wide receiver duos in the NFL. The Falcons’ Julio Jones and Roddy White were recently named the second-best WR duo in the NFL, behind the Bears’ Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. While we’ll never see them on the field together, we’ll get the opportunity to see some of the best in the league do what they do. This matchup also will be one of cornerback Desmond Trufant’s opportunities to face off against the best the league has to offer.
4) No Escape From the Cold: Last year, a trip to Green Bay turned out to be a very cold one for the Falcons, and they’ll replay it with another December trip to Wisconsin. While that game could feature elements similar to last year’s, Atlanta dodges the cold-weather bullet with games at New York and Minnesota in September and October. In December, three of Atlanta’s four games will be inside.
5) Back-to-Back Road Trips: Being on the road is a way of life for at least eight games in the NFL and sometimes road trips come on the heels of each other. This year the Falcons have two back-to-back road game sequences, but the second one, covering Weeks 10 and 11 keep the Falcons in the NFC South with games in Charlotte and Tampa, the shortest trips of the season.
6) Late Bye Week: This year’s bye week in Week 9 following the trip to London is the latest bye under head coach Mike Smith. The bye week is right in the middle of the season following the longest trip of the year, but it’s too early to know if it’s at the right time. It’s a better situation than what they faced in 2009 when the bye week fell in Week 4.
7) Rookie QBs: It’s always an adventure facing a rookie quarterback and under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the Falcons have had success against first-year signal callers. The draft has yet to occur, but there’s a good chance the Falcons will face at least one rookie quarterback in 2014. Cleveland, Minnesota and Tampa are all on the schedule and each have a top-10 pick in this year’s draft and each are rumored to be considering a quarterback. Each of these teams also feature new head coaches.
8) AFC Matchups: This year’s schedule includes the AFC North as inter-conference opponents. In 2010, the Falcons faced the same AFC North opponents, going 3-1. Under Smith, the Falcons are 17-7 against the AFC.
9) Are We There Yet? This year’s longest road trip is a no-brainer. The Week 8 trip to London for a home game against the Lions will see the Falcons travel 4,204 miles, nearly four times farther than any road trip the Falcons will take this year. The next longest is the 1,114-mile trip to Minnesota. In total the Falcons will cover 9,295 miles in 2014.
10) How Tough is It? The opponents for this season posted a .500 record last year so it’s far from the hardest schedule in the league this year. That distinction goes to the Raiders, whose opponents have a .578 winning percentage. The Falcons’ schedule ranks 11th in terms of opponent’s winning percentage.