Is this team going to be a surprise contender or are we just tuning in for the fun efforts?
What kind of team are the 2022 Falcons going to be? I’d say a majority of fans were impressed by the team’s draft haul and encouraged by some of the franchise’s sensible additions in free agency, if likely not enamored with the Matt Ryan trade and some of the free agent losses. Regardless of how you felt about what’s transpired to this point, we’re all aware that 2023 is the offseason that will bring big money free agents to Atlanta to help what we hope will prove to be three successful draft classes.
That means 2022 feels a bit like a year in limbo. Atlanta’s brass has been adamant that this team isn’t going to roll over and stink this year en route to brighter days, but whether they can be more than an interesting collection of talent capable of some fun efforts en route to a losing record is very much an open question. This is a team without a settled quarterback situation, without many proven elite players, and one looking to put a lackluster season’s worth of efforts against good teams behind it. There’s still a lot to like here—Kyle Pitts and Drake London, rocket-powered bowling bowl Tyler Allgeier, a defense that appears to be adding some real talent to go with A.J. Terrell and Grady Jarrett—but we won’t know until the games start whether that’s going to coalesce into a team capable of pushing their way into the postseason conversation late in the year.
That doesn’t mean we’ll have to wait until December to take the full measure of this team, though. Chances are we’ll know this team’s 2022 fortunes by the time the first seven games wrap up, and we may even know by the time the first three games are over. That’s because there’s a gauntlet ahead of this team in the initial stretch of the season, one that’s going to pit them against the two teams who just played in the Super Bowl, a pair of division rivals, and a 49ers team that figures to be one of the NFC’s best.
Here’s that stretch, if you didn’t look too closely at the schedule last night.
Week 1: vs. New Orleans Saints, Sunday, September 11, 1 p.m. ET
Week 2: @ Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, September 18, 4:05 p.m. ET
Week 3: @ Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, September 25, 4:25 p.m. ET
Week 4: vs. Cleveland Browns, Sunday, October 2, 1 p.m. ET
Week 5: @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, October 10, 1 p.m. ET
Week 6: vs. San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, October 16, 1 p.m. ET
Week 7: @ Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, October 23, 1 p.m. ET
The closest thing to an easy matchup in there has to be the Seahawks, who are in a rebuilding phase of their own after trading away Russell Wilson. Otherwise, you’re looking at the always weird Saints matchup to kick off the year, an immediate road trip against the defending Super Bowl champions, a home game against a talent-laden Browns squad, a road trip to the Tom Brady-led Buccaneers, the aforementioned tough 49ers team, and then a road game against the Bengals. Almost all of those teams look tough on paper, and while things can change a lot between now these matchups, chances are Atlanta’s not going to find any gimmes in the first seven weeks.
If Atlanta can come out of the Saints, Rams, and Seahawks stretch at 2-1, it won’t be hard to talk yourself into this squad. If they come out of the first seven weeks at 4-3 or better—hell, even 3-4 and playing close games—you can be forgiven for looking at a stretch that features the Panthers twice, the Bears, the retooling Steelers, and (less encouragingly) the Chargers and Commanders and thinking Atlanta might still be standing in the NFC playoff hunt at the end of the year. If they’re 2-5 or worse and the best teams on that slate are absolutely crushing them, then we’ll settle in for a season that’s likely to end up well shy of the playoffs.
Either way, the record and the caliber of performance we see in that brutal season-opening stretch is probably going to tell us who the 2022 Falcons are going to be and how successful the year is going to look. For all of the fans who are tired of this team losing, let’s hope there are pleasant surprises and several wins in those first seven weeks.