The Falcons are primed to compete for a playoff spot in the weakest division in football.
The Panthers are in the first year of a new regime with a rookie. Though I believe they’ll eventually become threats, it’s unreasonable to expect a bunch of winning in 2023. The Buccaneers have some talented pieces, but the coaching leaves something to be desired, and Baker Mayfield won’t cover up their deficiencies like Tom Brady would.
The Saints are the betting favorites and the Falcons’ stiffest competition. New Orleans’ roster isn’t much better, if at all, in any one area other than quarterback. Obviously, you can’t just ignore the most important position in the sport, but Arthur Smith’s offense shouldn’t rely too heavily on Desmond Ridder.
That doesn’t take away from the fact that Atlanta’s playoff hopes hinge on Ridder. His offensive supporting cast is young but talented and good enough to lead the club to the postseason. The defense should be much improved from a year ago too after a complete overhaul of the defensive front as well as additions to the second and third levels.
Still, the foundation isn’t impressing ESPN. The network did a future power rankings over the next three seasons for the NFL, based on five areas — overall roster minus quarterback, quarterback, coaching, draft, and front office.
The Falcons did not receive a favorable score, coming in ranked 24th, with the overall roster ranked 20th, the quarterback ranked 30th, coaching ranked 18th, the draft ranked 19th, and the front office ranked 29th. The piece also gave Falcons fans a reason for concern and for hope. As always, bad news first:
Reason for concern: I like Ridder’s mobility, ability to throw on the move and his effectiveness in the play-action game on short-to-intermediate throws. But the field vision, decision-making and ball placement/accuracy? I need to see improvement. Atlanta can give him time, though, and see if efficiency and consistency start to emerge as he gets comfortable in Smith’s system. — Riddick
There really is one thing holding this roster back from winning the NFC South — Desmond Ridder. Can he be even average? I believe the Falcons win the division if Ridder can be serviceable. Atlanta’s offense doesn’t put a lot of responsibility on the quarterback, but there will come a time when Ridder will have to make a play in the fourth quarter or on a third down.
Ridder struggled at times during his four-game mini-audition last year, but there are plenty of things to improve, most notably his decision-making and accuracy. The former will come with experience, while the latter can be developed through refining mechanics. Let’s end on the bright side.
Reason for hope: Bijan Robinson. Drake London. Kyle Pitts. The Falcons’ past three drafts have started with extremely promising, talented players at the offensive skill positions. If nothing else, they should be a lot of fun to watch. And if Desmond Ridder can play quarterback at an NFL-starter level, he has plenty of help around him. Coach Arthur Smith is the right guy to bring it all together on offense — again, assuming they have the right quarterback. — Graziano
Graziano hits the nail right on the head. The Falcons skill group will soon be regarded as one of the best in football. If Ridder doesn’t prove to be the answer at quarterback, veterans would love to play in this offense. Trading for a signal caller has also become more frequent — i.e., Matthew Stafford. There’s more than one way to skin a cat and more than one way to find a franchise quarterback.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire