It has been over a month since the Atlanta Falcons 2018 schedule was released. The schedule is packed full of tough games that will mean the Falcons need to be at their very best. However, as with any schedule there are a handful of games that will define the season. Let’s take a look at what games are the key ones for 2018.
Week 1 @ Philadelphia Eagles
Going into the home of the Super Bowl champions is never easy, as I discussed last week. The Eagles will be pumped up and ready to go to start this game. The Falcons will probably need to survive an early onslaught and stay in the game. If they can get over that initial wave of energy then they have every chance to win. That was exactly what happened in 2017 when the Chiefs faced the Patriots. The Patriots nearly went up 14-0 early but a Rob Gronkowski touchdown was overturned. The Patriots lost momentum and the Chiefs took over.
This game may not seem that critical in defining the season but in fact it is. According to fivethirtyeight.com the difference in playoff odds between winning and losing the first game is huge. 38% of teams make the playoffs at the start of the season. 51% of teams that win their first game make the playoffs. In contrast, 25% of teams that lose their first game make the playoffs. That is a huge 26% swing in playoff fortunes based on the first game alone. No single game in the rest of the season has a bigger swing in playoff odds.
Week 5 @ Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers are an incredibly tough team to play when they are at their best. However, they do have a tendency to have the odd off day and the Falcons will be hoping to take advantage. Getting this game in early October is a huge boost for Atlanta. Facing Pittsburgh in the cold in December would be infinitely more difficult for a dome team. I do think the Falcons probably lose this game but if they win it will be a huge confidence boost.
Week 12 @ New Orleans Saints
Again I spoke about this game last week in my predictions piece. Going into New Orleans is never easy, and that will be no different on Thanksgiving. This game could be vital in deciding the division and whether the Falcons are on track for a bye.
Week 14 @ Green Bay Packers
This is possibly the biggest headache on the schedule for the Falcons coaching staff. Going into Green Bay in December is incredibly tough. This could easily be a playoff matchup preview and this game could decide where the rematch is played. Even though it may not be the strongest Packers roster of recent years they still have Aaron Rodgers. If Rodgers is healthy, then the Falcons will need to fight to the last minute. Rodgers never gives up and this will be a real test for the young Falcons defense.
Week 17 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Hopefully by this point the Falcons will already have a playoff place confirmed. If not then this game could be all about clinching a spot. However, even if they have qualified it seems unlikely that the full playoff picture will be determined. It is easy to go in and drop the ball in the final week of the season against a division foe. The Falcons will not want to play a cold weather playoff game and the only way to ensure this is to get the #1 seed. The chances this game has nothing riding on it is extremely thin.