The NFL officially released its full 2009 regular season schedule on Tuesday. Among the highlights for the Atlanta Falcons are back-to-back games at home to open the season, a seemingly endless trips out of Atlanta in the middle of the season, two prime-time games and a late-season home-stand that may hold the key to making a return trip to the post-season in 2009.
The surprise team in the NFC in 2008, the Falcons kick off their 2009 schedule against their AFC counterparts, the Miami Dolphins, who rebounded from a 1-15 season in 2007 to finish 11-5 and win the AFC East in 2008. In Week 2, the Falcons will stay at home to host the NFC South rival Carolina Panthers, a team they've split their season series against in each of the last three seasons.
Atlanta's first road game of the 2009 season will be in Gillette Stadium (25 miles from where Matt Ryan matriculated) against the New England Patriots, Falcons' general manager Thomas Dimitroff's former employer.
The Falcons' bye week comes in Week 4.
After the bye, the Falcons play five of their next seven games on the road, including trips to San Francisco (October 11), their first appearance in the Dallas Cowboys' $1.2 billion dollar stadium on October 25, and their only 2009 appearance on Monday Night Football, when they'll face the New Orleans Saints on November 2.
Atlanta's lone home game in October will come against the Chicago Bears, and will be shown on NBC's Sunday Night Football. As of right now, this is the Falcons' only other scheduled appearance in prime-time, though that could change due to the NFL's flex-scheduling policy and lack of a scheduled Sunday Night game in Week 17.
After a home game against the Washington Redskins on November 9, the Falcons once again pack their bags and go on a daunting two-game road trip against the Panthers (November 15) and the 2008 NFC East champion New York Giants on November 22.
The NFL rewarded that brutal stretch of road games with back-to-back-to-back home games against NFC opponents, including a pair of NFC South rivals, that could have major playoff implications.
During this home-stand, the Falcons will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (November 29), the Philadelphia Eagles (December 6), and the New Orleans Saints (December 13).
Atlanta will close out its 2009 regular season schedule having to play two-of-three games on the road. After a late December trip back to the Meadowlands to face the New York Jets, the Falcons will close out their home schedule against Terrell Owens (maybe) and the Buffalo Bills, before finishing the regular season on the road against division rival Tampa Bay.
Based on opponents' 2008 records, the Falcons (.588) have the 4th-hardest schedule in the NFL in 2009, trailing only Miami (.594), Carolina (.592) and New England (.590).
Brian McIntyre lives in the Boston area. In addition to writing for FalconInsider.com, Brian maintains his own blog (www.macsfootballblog.com) and charts games for Football Outsiders. If you'd like to e-mail Brian, you may do so here.
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