Atlanta Falcons 2023 season preview and predictions
This appeared in the original VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on June 29, 2023.
Wes Reynolds: The Falcons look to finally be on the other side of massive contracts given to Matt Ryan and Julio Jones several years ago, and have built up a solid unit here predominantly through the draft in the last three seasons. Atlanta kicked the tires in recent years on free agent quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson or quarterbacks that were available via trade like Deshaun Watson, but have elected to try and build it around second-year man Desmond Ridder. Furthermore, they spent $90 million in guaranteed money to upgrade their defense.
Atlanta is going to run the ball and run it frequently. The Falcons ranked third last season in rushing offense (2,718 yards). Smith ran the ball regularly in Tennessee with Derrick Henry and is doing the same with one of the better stables of backs in the league. Tyler Allgeier ran for over 1,000 yards as a rookie. Cordarrelle Patterson ran for 695 and eight touchdowns, and they added Bijan Robinson (Texas) with the eighth overall pick.
That’s good news for quarterback Desmond Ridder, who will make just his fifth start in the season opener. Ridder’s spark at the end of the season should be good news for the pass catchers – Kyle Pitts and Drake London – that Atlanta drafted in the first round in 2021 and 2022. Smith also traded for Jonnu Smith, who was a staple in his offense during his time as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator and will allow them to line up Pitts on the outside.
The offensive line also returns four starters and will be a force running the ball especially on the right side with former first-round picks guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Kaleb McGary, who both ranked Top 5 at their positions per PFF. Jake Matthews is also solid at left tackle.
While the offense was the best in the division last year, the defense was 30th in DVOA. The Falcons needed to get better up front and give Grady Jarrett some support, and they appeared to have done that with the additions of Calais Campbell, David Onyemata, Kaden Elliss, and Bud Dupree.
The Falcons allowed 231.9 passing ypg (25th in NFL), 7.29 yards per pass (29th), and 45.9% on third downs (31st). Enter Jessie Bates III from Cincinnati, who signed a massive deal and can line up anywhere. He allows Richie Grant, who is very good against the run, to line up closer to the line of scrimmage. A.J. Terrell is one of the better cover corners in the league. Atlanta also traded for former first-round corner Jeff Okudah, who started 15 games last year after only starting seven in his first two injury-plagued seasons. This secondary at least looks better on paper.
The Falcons have not made the playoffs in five seasons. Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot have worked diligently to get this team out of salary cap hell. The offense was the best in the division last year and should be better this year. They were also fifth in special teams DVOA, and the defense should be better. Atlanta ended up losing the second- and third-place divisional tiebreakers last season, which affords them the benefit of playing a last-place schedule this season. That means they’ll be the only team in the division to face Arizona and the only team in the division to face Washington. Those matchups are worth a not insignificant amount of extra win probability compared to the slates to be faced by the Bucs (Philadelphia-San Francisco), Panthers (Dallas-Seattle) and Saints (Giants-Rams). There is also some value on the division price at around +250 to +275.
This appeared in the Updated VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on August 31, 2023.
Michael Lombardi: In the 11th episode of my favorite show, The Sopranos, the title is fitting for the Falcons based on their work this pre-season. “Nobody Knows Anything.” Arthur Smith has been guarded with his intentions of how he will incorporate his skill talent within the offense. One thing we know for sure is Smith’s teams are ready to go at the opener. Last year in the opener, they rushed for 201 yards and threw for 215 against a good Saints defense with less talent than he has this season on offense.
We know the Falcons will move the ball, but are they good enough to stop anyone? That’s the concern, and this summer, when they played their starters against the backups of the Bengals, they didn’t look impressive. They allowed Trevor Siemian to drive the ball into field goal range, only to not convert a 4th and 2. If they struggled to stop Siemian, can they stop a good quarterback? At this point with the Falcons, nobody knows anything.
Player to Watch: DE Zach Harrison
Bijan Robinson is the only rookie anybody wants to talk about with this Atlanta team, but keep an eye on former Ohio State defensive end Zach Harrison. The 22-year-old is a massive 6-foot-6 and 272 pounds, and he has great instincts when it comes to disrupting opposing quarterbacks. He might never be a guy that racks up sacks, but he is good at making opponents uncomfortable and using his arms to block passes. Harrison gave the Falcons second-team offensive line hell during training camp, which helped him quickly earn the respect of head coach Arthur Smith. He isn’t going to be a starter right away, but he should make an impact as a rotational piece along the defensive line. That’ll be big for the depth of a team that is hoping to make a playoff push this season. - Zachary Cohen
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