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Atlanta Falcons 2023 NFL Season Preview: Playoffs a Possibility?

Desmond Ridder, Atlanta Falcons, QB
Jan 1, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (4) scrambles against the Arizona Cardinals in the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

As teams head to training camp and the NFL season approaches, The 33rd Team asks its experts to preview every team’s outlook for the 2023 season. In this installment, Matt Cassel takes a deep dive into the Atlanta Falcons.

>>READ: Falcons Fantasy Football Preview

Falcons Team Preview

What To Know: Offense

It starts at the quarterback position. You’ve got Desmond Ridder now taking over the reins as the first-string quarterback this year. He came in last year as a third-round draft pick and started only four games at the end of the year; he did well in those outings.

At the same time, this offense is going to go as far as Ridder will take it. He had a lot of experience in college, but this is a different game, and it’s all going to lie in the hands of Ridder. The fun part for him is the Falcons have a pretty good offensive line, but it’s the weapons on the outside who are so intriguing with Drake London and Kyle Pitts and with the eighth-overall pick this year, RB Bijan Robinson. Ridder will have weapons at his disposal to make this thing go this season.

What To Know: Defense

They brought in 12 free agents, and eight of them were on the defensive side of the ball. And these are good players. You’ve got DE Calais Campbell, Edge Bud Dupree and NT David Onyemata.

They added depth to their secondary, starting with CBs Jeff Okudah, Mike Hughes and Tre Flowers. The Falcons also made a big signing at safety with Jessie Bates. So there’s going to be a complete overhaul on the defensive side of the ball, and the Falcons could be really good. They might have to hang their hat on the defensive side of the ball early on this season as Ridder gets up to speed and comfortable.

Biggest Off-Field Storyline

They went out and pulled off a heist within the division. They went and got Ryan Nielsen, longtime defensive line coach for the New Orleans Saints, and brought him in to replace Dean Pees as defensive coordinator. When you look at Nielsen, the past three seasons, the Saints were a top-10 team in terms of points allowed and yards given up. So I’m excited about this. If he can mesh the new pieces they got during free agency with the old pieces, this could be a really exciting defense to watch.

Breakout Player Prediction

This is the one, the only, Bijan Robinson. I loved this guy at Texas. He was an all-American. He’s not just good at running the football and making people miss, he’s also dynamic in the passing game. Coach Arthur Smith knows how to use these backs to their full potential. He’s creative in the way in which he might spread them out and let them go empty and run certain routes. But in addition, he’s going to be committed to this run game, especially with Ridder being in his first full season as a starter.

2023 Season Expectations

This is a playoff contender this year. And the reason I say that is I like the direction in which Smith has taken this team up to this point. Now it’s about taking that next step.

They’re in a winnable division. When you look at the Falcons’ schedule, they’ve got the easiest schedule of any NFL team this year. So they’ve got a lot of winnable games out there. They lost a lot of close games last year. But if they can get over the hump and with all the new additions they have, both offensively and defensively, this could be a team that competes for the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

Other Previews

NFC East: DAL | NYG  | PHI | WAS

AFC East: BUF | MIA | NE  | NYJ

NFC North: GB | CHI | DET | MIN

AFC North: PIT | CLE | BAL | CIN 

AFC West: KC | LAC | LV | DEN

NFC West: SF | SEA | LAR | ARI

NFC South: TB | CAR | NO 

AFC South: JAX | TEN | HOU | IND  

Matt Cassel is a former NFL quarterback who played with seven teams in his NFL career, most notably the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys. Follow him on Twitter at @M_Cassel.