The Atlanta Falcons’ 2023 schedule was released along with the rest of the NFL slate Thursday.
The Falcons, with the easiest strength of schedule in the NFL, might have received even more help. Provided Bryce Young starts his first game for the Carolina Panthers in Week 1, Atlanta likely won’t face a quarterback entering the season with multiple NFL starts in his career until Week 3, when they go on the road for the first time in the 2023 season against the Detroit Lions and Jared Goff (the Falcons host Jordan Love and Green Bay in Week 2). For a defense making a coordinator change and with a lot of new personnel, that's a pretty good way to break in Ryan Nielsen's group.
Interestingly, the Falcons are choosing not to have a bye after going to London, instead getting a home game against Houston on Oct. 8 -- instead having a bye during Week 11 in mid-November (Nov. 19), which comes at a better time in the season for the Falcons. The toughest stretch? It might be two two-game swings -- Weeks 3 and 4 against the Lions and in London against Jacksonville and then on Nov. 26 and Dec. 3, when Atlanta faces rival New Orleans at home followed by going to face the Jets on Dec. 3.
Cold weather will also be interesting for Atlanta, as three of its final four road games could be in frostier environments -- at the Jets on Dec. 3, at Carolina in Week 15 and then New Year's Eve at Chicago. Bring your parkas for two of them.
Here's what's in store for the Falcons:
Sept. 10: vs. Carolina
Sept. 17: vs. Green Bay
Sept. 24: at Detroit
Oct. 1: at Jacksonville (Wembley Stadium, London)
Oct. 8: vs. Houston
Oct. 15: vs. Washington
Oct. 22: at Tampa Bay
Oct. 29:- at Tennessee
Nov. 5: vs. Minnesota
Nov. 12: at Arizona
Nov. 19: BYE
Nov. 26: vs. New Orleans
Dec. 3: at New York Jets
Dec. 10: vs. Tampa Bay
Dec. 16-17: at Carolina
Dec. 24: vs. Indianapolis
Dec. 31: at Chicago
Jan. 6 or 7: at New Orleans
Strength of schedule: .417 (32nd-toughest)
After two years where the Falcons have had to live with major restrictions over how much they could spend in free agency, Atlanta's head coach/general manager duo of Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot finally could operate more freely this offseason. This led to big signings across the defense (safety Jessie Bates III, defensive end Calais Campbell, edge rusher Bud Dupree) and the potential for major improvement. An upgraded roster combined with the easiest theorized strength of schedule in the league could mean big things for Smith and Atlanta, the team with the longest active streak of not being over .500, dating to the start of the 2018 season.
Don’t know if it would be "revenge," per se, but the rivalry with the Saints always takes precedence here. And there's a little bit of added intrigue with defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen going from New Orleans to Atlanta and defensive tackle David Onyemata and linebacker Kaden Elliss following along. There's not a lot of other bad blood situations out there -- part of the problem when you've been .500 or worse for a half-decade -- but it'll definitely make for an interesting two matchups. Atlanta facing Indianapolis would have fit here, but the Colts cut Matt Ryan, who hasn't resurfaced elsewhere. The other game to watch out for is at Tennessee, where it'll be Smith's first time back since he left the Titans as their offensive coordinator to become Atlanta's head coach in 2021. Also, former Falcons quarterbacks coach Charles London went to Tennessee this offseason to become the Titans' quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator.
The Falcons win the NFC South. Atlanta has made enough on-paper improvement defensively combined with a plethora of offensive talent surrounding quarterback Desmond Ridder to make a legitimate case as the top team in an uncertain division. That theoretical light schedule will help, as will having to face one of their toughest opponents, Jacksonville, at a neutral site instead of on the road. A 10- or 11-win season is possible for the Falcons, who could have almost a quarter of their schedule against rookie quarterbacks (Carolina's Bryce Young twice, Indianapolis' Anthony Richardson and Houston's C.J. Stroud).