Week 14 @ Los Angeles Rams (Dec. 11 / 4:25 p.m. ET / FOX)
The Falcons take a dreaded cross-country trip to Los Angeles for a tussle with running back Todd Gurley and the Rams. The Falcons were a solid 14th against the run last season, allowing only 105 rushing yards a game. However, Gurley is of a different breed. In 13 games, he totaled 1,106 yards and 10 TDs. A very key matchup in this game is Gurley against the Falcons linebackers. Here is where the signings of strong-side linebacker Courtney Upshaw and defensive end Derrick Shelby will definitely get tested. As will the drafting of the three key rookies in linebackers Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell and strong safety Keanu Neal.
|Tavon Austin's touchdown against Chicago|
Atlanta’s offense will also be on their toes with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald (69 tackles and 11 sacks in 2015) causing havoc in the trenches. Expect for Donald to get well acclimated with free agent pick-up center Alex Mack. The Rams also made an addition via the draft by acquiring receiver Pharoh Cooper. Cooper along with receiver Tavon Austin will test the Falcons nickel defense. Look for the trio of corners Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, and Jalen Collins to see a fair share of the electric slot receivers for the Rams.
Week 15 vs. San Francisco 49ers (Dec. 18 / 4:05 p.m. ET / FOX)
When these two clash, memories of the 2012 NFC Championship Game will hover over the heads of the Falcons fans. Not to mention the Niners were handed a victory in San Francisco last season (17-16).
|Todd Gurley's 71 yard touchdown|
The 49ers were 29th against the run last season, allowing 126.2 rushing yards per game. But in last year's matchup, the Niners held the Falcons to just 17 total rushing yards with starting back Devonta Freeman only tallying 12 carries for 12 yards. The Niners rush defense got better through the draft by bringing in 7th overall pick defensive end DeForest Buckner. Getting the running game going behind Freeman and backup running back Tevin Coleman will set the tone early and make it a long day for the 49ers.
|Russell Wilson to Tyler Lockett against San Francisco last season|
This matchup also favors the passing game for the Falcons. The combination of Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Justin Hardy along with tight ends Austin Hooper and Jacob Tamme can be trouble for a 49ers pass defense that was 27th last season while also not making significant improvements during the offseason. Keep in mind that even though the running game was non-existent, QB Matt Ryan did throw for 303 yards, one TD, and no INTs.
Week 16 @ Carolina Panthers (Dec. 24 / 1:00 p.m. ET / FOX)
When the Falcons travel to Charlotte to take on the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers, a riled-up fan base will definitely be on high alert. Last season’s 38-0 loss in Carolina fueled the Falcons to end Panthers’ undefeated streak two weeks later. Expect Cam Newton and the Panthers to circle this game and make a statement.
Last year’s Week 16 matchup showed one glaring factor when observing both games between the two. The Falcons defense held Carolina to 268 yards in the Falcons win compared to allowing 424 yards two weeks prior. The Falcons also held Newton to 188 yards of total offense and one touchdown. Games such as this is where the drafting of edge rusher Vic Beasley and the signing of defense end Dwight Freeney come into play. Their matchup against Carolina offensive tackles Michael Oher and Mike Remmers will dictate a lot.
Week 17 vs. New Orleans Saints (Jan. 1 / 1:00 p.m. ET / FOX)
This serves as the last game in the Georgia Dome. The Saints stole the week 17 matchup between the two teams in 2015 but this one is extra special for the Falcons and the fan base.
The name of the game here is turnovers. In two games against New Orleans last season, the Falcons committed five total turnovers. The first showdown against the Saints, Atlanta coughed up the ball deep in the Saints territory on more than one occasion and everyone who watches the game knows that an offense can’t score if the ball is not in their hands.
The Falcons offense totaled 413 & 414 yards respectively in both games so moving the ball is not an issue. Yet, having four combined drives in both games resulting in turnovers in scoring position against the Saints can deflate an offense.
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