Best and worst case scenario for 2022

Welcome to FanSided’s 2022 NFL preview! It’s time to look into our crystal football and take a glimpse at the Atlanta Falcons season prediction.

The 2022 Atlanta Falcons will play hard, whether or not anybody even wants them to.

Not expected to do much of anything this season, the Atlanta Falcons hope to prove everyone wrong by still playing competitive football in the midst of their most painful rebuild.

Atlanta finally ripped the band-aid off last season. The Falcons enter year two of the Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot partnership. Despite being one of the least talented teams in the NFL a year ago, they still won seven games and were in the playoff mix into late December with a rookie head coach and general manager. Unfortunately, they may be so much worse…

Thankfully, this rebuild feels like it is ending soon with plenty of financial capital to use in free agency next spring. If Atlanta ends up with a top-five pick, the Falcons will have the privilege to draft their next franchise quarterback, or potentially a total game-wrecker in the defensive front-seven. If they are better than advertised, Smith and Fontenot just might be here to stay.

Here is the Atlanta Falcons season preview, so expect some turbulence on this bumpy flight.

Atlanta Falcons 2021 season in review

  • 7-10 record
  • 3rd place in NFC South
  • Did not qualify for playoffs

Admittedly, it was hard to gauge what the Falcons were going to be last season. It was all about getting that Thomas Dimitroff/Dan Quinn stink out of Flowery Branch. Though both men had success in Atlanta, these Dirty Birds were cooked ever since Steve Sarkisian couldn’t score in the red zone at Philadelphia in a very winnable 2017 NFC Divisional Round game.

While Smith’s gruffness was greatly appreciated over the agonizingly redundant cliches from Quinn, people did question if Fontenot was a New Orleans Saints plant. We have seen owner Arthur Blank get fooled by a wolf in sheep’s clothing before, as illustrated by those four “delightful” years this franchise was led by Jim Mora and Bobby Petrino from 2004 to 2007…

With Julio Jones breaking up with the Falcons on Undisputed and Calvin Ridley channeling his inner Paul Hornung and Alex Karras by betting on the NFL, the Falcons continued to embarrass themselves because they are so f*****g great at this. All the while, Matt Ryan put up numbers in an offense featuring new running back/Atlanta cult hero Cordarrelle Patterson.

Although the offensive line leaked like a sieve throughout (with Jalen Mayfield being the worst draft pick since Peter Konz), the defense having no clue how to sack the quarterback and the team routinely getting blown out by playoff-caliber teams, the Falcons kind of held their own vs. fellow NFL cannon fodder. We saw Smith improve as a coach and the team progress, too.

Despite having the No. 8 overall pick, Atlanta honestly overachieved a year ago. It wasn’t exactly fun to be a Falcons fan, but it was not perpetual Dan Quinn empty-cliched nonsense any longer. Unfortunately, Fontenot decided this puppy needed a reboot in the worst way imaginable. After flirting with Deshaun Watson, Matt Ryan decided he needed to leave, too.

After briefly being NFC South Offseason Champions after Tom Brady’s short-lived retirement that Gisele Bundchen wanted more than anything in the world, Sean Payton actually retiring and the Carolina Panthers mostly being ass, the Falcons find themselves on the short list of the worst teams in the NFL. Thankfully, the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks also suck.

Ultimately, the Falcons find themselves in 2021 Detroit Lions territory, man. Unfortunately, Smith is not as lovable as Dan Campbell is, man. Although Falcons fans are fricking starving for a championship man, they are more likely to be on Hard Knocks next year than hoist a Lombardi Trophy, man. Surely, Smith would hate Hard Knocks more than anyone alive, man.

This is a great year for Falcons fans to invest in college football Saturdays and just kind of let whatever the hell happens on NFL Sundays happen. Unless you cheer for Auburn or Georgia Tech, then you are completely screwed. May I suggest Atlanta Braves baseball instead before Trae Young and Dejounte Murray decide to hoop it up on the hardwood for y’all in October?

This team will not be bad forever, but don’t be a fool and have unrealistic expectations either.

Atlanta Falcons NFL Draft class

  • Rd 1: Drake London, WR/USC
  • Rd 2: Arnold Ebiketie, DE/Penn State
  • Rd 2: Troy Andersen, LB/Montana State
  • Rd 3: Desmond Ridder, QB/Cincinnati
  • Rd 3: DeAngelo Malone, LB/Western Kentucky
  • Rd 5: Tyler Allgeier, RB/BYU
  • Rd 6: Justin Shaffer, G/Georgia
  • Rd 6: John FitzPatrick, TE/Georgia

This is the most important draft of the Smith/Fontenot era in Flowery Branch. While they did procure a hall-of-fame talent at tight end in Kyle Pitts a year ago, people scratched their heads when Atlanta took often-injured USC wide receiver Drake London No. 8 overall in an incredibly deep receiving class. He went ahead of every other wide receiver who turned pro.

London could be the next Mike Evans, and could thrive playing in the same receiving corps as Pitts, but the injury concerns are very real. He had one catch in the preseason before suffering a knee injury, and that was the end of that! Rookie year aside, he needs to show Falcons fans he can be a go-to receiving target by the end of his second season in the NFL.

While Arnold Ebiketie could improve what should be another toothless pass rush for the Falcons, the real guy who faces a great deal of scrutiny on defense is linebacker Troy Andersen. He may have been “Mr. Everything” for the Montana State Bobcats, but he went ahead of Georgia legend and Butkus winner Nakobe Dean. It is not his fault, but my god…

As far as other rookies to watch, it is all about Desmond Ridder backing up Marcus Mariota. He looked fantastic in the preseason with a great deal of poise and improved velocity in his throwing motion. If he overtakes Mariota and is the real deal, then Atlanta may have drafted its version of Ryan Tannehill or Dak Prescott, which is exactly what Smith would be hoping for.

Running back Tyler Allgeier could provide a physical presence in the ground game out of BYU. A pair of cousins are now draft classmates in DeAngelo Malone out of Western Kentucky and Justin Shaffer out of Georgia. Bucking the trend in recent drafts, the Falcons actually picked a pair of Dawgs in Shaffer and tight end John FitzPatrick to UGA fans’ delight.

There is a lot of promise in Atlanta’s draft class, one that future successes could be built on.

Previewing Atlanta Falcons offense for 2022 season

  • Key offseason additions
    • Marcus Mariota (QB)
    • Desmond Ridder (QB)
    • Drake London (WR)
    • Bryan Edwards (WR)
    • Damien Williams (RB)
  • Biggest X-Factor: Drake London (WR)
  • Squeakiest Wheel: Ladies and gentlemen, the offensive line!

Atlanta did add a few interesting pieces to its offense, including a pair of mobile quarterbacks in 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and former Cincinnati star Desmond Ridder. Drake London headlines this revamped receiving corps, with guys like Bryan Edwards coming over from the Las Vegas Raiders. Damien Williams is a new guy who will be carrying the rock.

If Atlanta wants to overachieve on offense, it will need London to perfectly complement the dynamo at tight end that is Kyle Pitts. For a franchise that had been elite at moving the sticks aerially throughout the Matt Ryan run, it will be a huge stepping stone in the right direction for Atlanta if London can live up to his draft hype right away. Otherwise, people will turn on him…

For as low-key exciting the offense can be with someone other than Ryan running it for a change, none of that is going to matter if the offensive line resembles a useless wet paper bag again. While Jake Matthews is solid at left tackle and Chris Lindstrom is an emerging star at guard, Matt Hennessy is a work-in-progress at center, while Kaleb McGary might be a bust.

While McGary can save his career this year, Jalen Mayfield’s is probably on life support now.

Previewing Atlanta Falcons defense for 2022 season

  • Key offseason additions
    • Rashaan Evans (LB)
    • Lorenzo Carter (OLB)
    • Casey Hayward (CB)
    • Arnold Ebiketie (OLB)
    • Troy Andersen (LB)
    • DeAngelo Malone (OLB)
  • Biggest X-Factor: Richie Grant (FS)
  • Squeakiest Wheel: This pass rush stinks! (When hasn’t it, to be honest?)

There are many new faces to the Atlanta defense, including a trio of rookie draft picks listed above, as well as three savvy veterans looking to prove themselves. Rashaan Evans reunites with Smith and Dean Pees from their time together in Nashville. Lorenzo Carter is back in Dawg Country and former Vanderbilt star Casey Hayward is back playing in his home state.

While A.J. Terrell and Grady Jarrett are the two best players on this mediocre defense, it is imperative that second-year pro Richie Grant lives up to his draft status. Fontenot used a second-round pick on the free safety out of UCF two springs ago. If he plays like he did for Josh Heupel in Orlando, the Falcons could have an incredibly underrated secondary in 2022.

Unfortunately, that is not going to matter if they cannot rush the passer if their lives depended on it. Outside of the one year where Dwight Freeney gave Vic Beasley all the answers to the test, Atlanta has been horrendous at getting after the quarterback. Forever chasing the ghost of John Abraham, nothing is going to change in Atlanta until this brutal bottleneck is resolved.

Pees has taken it personally to not let his Falcons defense be a national embarrassment.

Atlanta Falcons coaching staff overview

  • Head Coach: Arthur Smith
  • Off. Coordinator: Dave Ragone
  • Def. Coordinator: Dean Pees
  • 2023 Head Coach Candidate: Charles London

This is an important year for the Falcons’ coaching staff. No, I don’t think anybody is getting fired because the lack of talent on this roster is not the coaching staff’s fault. However, it needs to be clear that Smith still has the guys buying in, that Pees can improve this porous defense and that Dave Ragone is more than just an offensive coordinator in his job title only.

Smith will still probably call the plays, but may give Ragone a bit more responsibility in coaching up the skill-position players. Pees has been entrusted by Smith to take full control of this defense. The man is in his 70s and has seen everything. His side of the ball needs to play up to what should be an underrated offense for the Dirty Birds. Otherwise, this season is lost.

As far as a future head-coaching candidate is concerned, we are years away from that happening in Atlanta. However, quarterbacks coach Charles London seems to be on the fast track towards something special on this staff. If he can play a part in Ridder’s development, he may be tabbed as a future head-coaching candidate if this era of Falcons football wins big.

Atlanta is not bereft of coaching talent, but it is up to the staff to get the most out of this team.

Atlanta Falcons Awards Watch

This is not going to be a year where Falcons clean up during awards season in the slightest, but keep an eye on these three emerging star playmakers for them.

Kyle Pitts, MVP

For Kyle Pitts to win NFL MVP, not only will Hell have to freeze over, but he will need to have the greatest season in the history of the league by a tight end ever. He was a Pro Bowler last year in his rookie season out of Florida, and nearly broke Mike Ditka’s record for most receiving yards by a rookie tight end ever. Pitts is a total mismatch as a pass-catcher for sure.

Overall, Pitts is on a hall-of-fame trajectory at the tight end position. He projects to be something like an Antonio Gates or a Darren Waller. Although he is probably a year or two away from being in the running for the best tight end in football, look for him to make that a reality before the end of his rookie contract with Atlanta. The Dirty Birds drafted an all-timer.

Desmond Ridder, Offensive Rookie of the Year

If any Atlanta player is capable of winning a major award of note, it would have to be rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder. The third-round pick out of Cincinnati certainly turned heads in the preseason with his confidence at the line of scrimmage, his dual-threat playmaking abilities, and this newfound velocity he has when it comes to throwing the football downfield.

Of course, for Ridder to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, he will need to rip the starting job away from Marcus Mariota. While Mariota is a former No. 2 overall pick and a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Oregon, he does have a tendency to get hurt. Even if the Falcons have a limited ceiling at quarterback this year, they are not that hopelessly bad off.

If Ridder can play with the poise he demonstrated under Luke Fickell’s guidance in college, Atlanta could have something special at quarterback. The Falcons have had plenty of excellent quarterbacks in their history, but very rarely is that guy not a blue-chipper coming out of the college ranks. Ridder could buck the trend in the most spectacular way possible.

A.J. Terrell, Defensive Player of the Year

For those of you who don’t understand how good A.J. Terrell is, listen up. Terrell Island is about to become a thing, not just in front of his hometown crowd. The former Clemson and Westlake star is playing with the confidence outside the numbers we have not seen out of a Falcons defensive back since Deion Sanders. You’re damn right I went there with that comp!

For Terrell to be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year, he needs to get lucky on a few passes thrown his way. The numbers don’t really tell the tale when it comes to his style of play. Take what Desmond Trufant was at the peak of his powers in Atlanta uniform, project that out a little bit and that is what the Falcons have in their star cornerback: An absolute gem!

Biggest game on Atlanta Falcons schedule in 2022

If Atlanta is just going to win games anyway, the one that could flip everything in the Falcons’ favor is the Week 4 home date vs. the Cleveland Browns. With Jacoby Brissett starting at quarterback over a suspended Deshaun Watson, it is not a guarantee that the Browns will come into Atlanta and get the W. Atlanta could actually start the year 3-1 with a win here.

Because they open at home vs. the arch-rival New Orleans Saints, a bad team that doesn’t know it’s bad yet can beat Jameis Winston, Dennis Allen, and company to start the year out 1-0. While the Los Angeles Rams game is a loss, the Seattle Seahawks may be abysmal. The Falcons have a shot to beat Geno Smith and Pete Carroll in their trip to the Pacific Northwest.

If Atlanta defeats Cleveland, the Falcons could win 10 games if every bounce goes their way.

Atlanta Falcons season prediction: Best case scenario

So you drank the Coca-Cola Kool-Aid spiked with alcohol and lemon pepper wing greatness? You are one of one, as in an optimistic Atlanta Falcons fan in the great year of 2022 A.D. The spirit you have is unbreakable, or you are five years old and don’t know any better. Then again, the 2008 Falcons team was supposed to be total ass and that team made the NFC playoffs.

Unrealistically, this team can go 10-7 and be this year’s Philadelphia Eagles. For that to happen, Atlanta starts the year out 3-1 with wins over the Saints, at the Seahawks and the Browns. I don’t how you beat the Buccaneers in Tampa, the 49ers at home or the Bengals in Cincinnati, but one of those teams might suck for all we know. Maybe they steal a win there?

After that, you have to sweep Carolina and beat the Bears, Commanders and Steelers in succession. If Brandon Staley is a fraud as a head coach, then maybe you beat the Bolts too and ride a six-game winning streak heading into the bye? That is not happening because these are the Falcons, but that is the softest part of their regular-season schedule for sure.

Where the issue lies is how many winnable games are there after the bye. You’re not sweeping the Saints, so just stop. At Baltimore ain’t happening, but maybe the Dirty Birds split the pair between the Cardinals and Bucs at home? In truth, there are only five or so games the Falcons are not winning under any circumstances, but as for the rest, we will have to see.

Arthur Smith is Coach of the Year, Desmond Ridder is Offensive Rookie of the Year and A.J. Terrell wins NFL Defensive Player of the Year, as the 2022 Falcons go 10-7 or even 11-6 and make the freaking playoffs!

Okay, now wake up, you got dam fool!

Atlanta Falcons season prediction: Worst-case scenario

Disclaimer: You cannot break me, you cannot break us, as we are unbreakable because we are already broken!

Will the Falcons be the worst team in the NFL? They could, but I think there are more positive things going for this team than in Chicago, Seattle or both New York teams for that matter. Unfortunately, we dig pain ‘round here. It’s not a good time, but in the same metroplex that has the defending World Series and College Football Playoff champs, someone must suck.

If it hits the fan, Atlanta does not win its first game until the day before Halloween vs. the Carolina Got Dam Panthers. Win No. 2 comes vs. the Bears at home, and maybe you get a third before the bye either at the Washington Commanders or vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers in front of a 90-percent pro-Steelers crowd in The Benz. And that will be it for the 2022 Falcons!

They did it! They f*****g did it! Atlanta went 2-15 to procure the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Between C.J. Stroud, Bryce Young or whoever ends up being deemed the top quarterback prospect, the Falcons draft Ryan Leaf. The Dirty Birds will be experiencing their worst run since the 1980s. Do we want to live in a post-Bart, but pre-2 Legit 2 Quit era, y’all?

I don’t think they are going to be his putrid, but I sure don’t think they are making the playoffs.

Atlanta Falcons season prediction for 2022

  • 5-12 record
  • 3rd place in NFC South
  • Playoff Prediction: Miss playoffs

Will the Falcons be worse than they were a year ago? Yes, but not by as much as you think. They are going to be somewhere around a 4-13 to 6-11 team this year. Although I don’t think they beat Tampa Bay, they split with the Saints and potentially sweep the Panthers, so that puts the Dirty Birds in the 2-4 to 3-3 range in divisional play. The problem is the other games…

So they are not beating the Rams and they are not beating the Ravens. San Francisco, Cincinnati, the Chargers and Arizona are probable losses, too. As for the other five games (at Seattle, Cleveland, Chicago, at Washington, Pittsburgh), the best they can do is probably go 3-2, maybe 4-1 if the Falcons beat the Seahawks and the Browns back-to-back very early on.

This team will be picking in the top 10, but if they can beat teams who are probably only slightly better than them in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Washington, it will be closer to 10 than one. However, if the Falcons lose to the likes of Chicago and Seattle, they will have the No. 1 overall pick. Ultimately, this team will not keel over and die, as they will win about five games.

Look for Atlanta to take Will Anderson Jr., Jalen Carter or Bryce Young with its top-five pick.

Read more from FanSided’s 2022 NFL Preview here. For more Atlanta Falcons coverage, check out Cat Crave. 

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