The NFL schedule-makers didn’t do the Falcons many favors for next season.
The team will open in New Orleans against the Saints, whose coach, Sean Payton, will make his return from his year-long bounty-gate suspension, according to the schedule released by the league Thursday.
Later in the season, in a game that could have NFC playoff ramifications, they’ll face the Green Bay Packers at 8:30 p.m. Dec. 8 at historic Lambeau Field.
Newly acquired running back Steven Jackson will get to face his old team, the St. Louis Rams, in the home opener at the Georgia Dome on Sept. 15.
After reaching the NFC Championship game and falling 10 yards short of reaching the Super Bowl, the Falcons will play in five nationally televised games next season: against New England (Sunday night, NBC), the New York Jets (Monday night, ESPN), the Saints (Thursday night, NFL Network), Green Bay (Sunday night, NBC) and San Francisco (Monday night, ESPN).
“As we were going through last year, we realized that we were no longer the team of 2008 and ’09, where we were feeling a little bit more apprehensive and nervous when we stepped on the field with the big historical teams,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “I think this team truly believes that they can truly strap it up against any team in this league and play. There is not the intimidation factor that there once was, at least as long as we’ve been here, and I love that feeling.”
Last season Detroit played a 7:30 p.m. game at Green Bay on Dec. 9, and the temperature was 33 degrees at kickoff — with a wind chill of 25 amid 10 mph winds.
The Falcons played four national televised games last season, against Denver, Dallas, New Orleans and Detroit, and went 4-0.
The Falcons will play home games against St. Louis (7-8-1 in the 2012 regular season), Seattle (11-5), New England (12-4), the New York Jets (6-10), Washington (10-6), Tampa Bay (7-9), New Orleans (7-9) and Carolina (7-9). They will play road games against Arizona (5-11), San Francisco (11-4-1), Buffalo (6-10), Miami (7-9), Green Bay (11-5) and NFC South opponents Tampa Bay, New Orleans and Carolina. Their game against the Bills will be played in Toronto.
Seattle, New England, Washington, San Francisco and Green Bay all made the 2012 playoffs.
Sept. 8 at New Orleans 1 p.m. Fox
Sept. 15 vs. St. Louis 1 p.m. Fox
Sept. 22 at Miami 4:05 p.m. Fox
Sept. 29 vs. New England 8:30 p.m. NBC
Oct. 7 vs. NY Jets 8:40 p.m. ESPN (Mon.)
Oct. 13 Bye
Oct. 20 vs. Tampa Bay 1 p.m. Fox
Oct. 27 at Arizona 4:25 p.m. Fox
Nov. 3 at Carolina 1 p.m. Fox
Nov. 10 vs. Seattle 1 p.m. Fox
Nov. 17 at Tampa Bay 1 p.m.* Fox
Nov. 21 vs. New Orleans 8:20 p.m.* NFLN (Thu.)
Dec. 1 at Buffalo (Toronto) 4:05 p.m.* Fox
Dec. 8 at Green Bay 8:30 p.m.* NBC
Dec. 15 vs. Washington 1 p.m.* Fox
Dec. 23 at San Francisco 8:40 p.m.* ESPN (Mon.)
Dec. 29 vs. Carolina 1 p.m.* Fox
* Denotes flexible scheduling