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Bair: Falcons can navigate reasonable 2023 schedule and seriously contend for NFC South title

The team's slate has some obstacles, but doesn't stand in Falcons way. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons will enter the 2023 season with the lowest strength of schedule. That sentence is code for this: The combined 2022 win percentage of all opponents on this year's Falcons slate is lower than any other NFL team.

It's .417 to be exact.

It's the lowest strength of schedule since 2018, per NFL Research. Of the next six teams ranked just below the Falcons on this list, four of them made the playoffs.


How'd the Falcons end up with that. They're playing the entire NFC South twice, and every team in Atlanta's division finished below .500. They're also playing the entire AFC South, where only Jacksonville finished with a winning record. And, since the Falcons finished last in their division, the rest of their slate is filled with last-place teams.

Does that mean the Falcons have a decent shot to win the NFC South, against this opposition, with a vastly improved roster and a wide-open divisional race? It sure does.

One caveat: If we can freely say the Falcons are better, the same might be said of 2022's lackluster performers on the Falcons slate. That's why strength of schedule is an ultimately flawed stat. It doesn't take roster (and possibly coaching staff) turnover into account.

But we can all admit facing the Commanders and Cardinals is better than dealing with the Eagles and 49ers. There are some advantages to a lower strength of schedule.

Even still, the NFL is anything but static. The league evolves, with ebbs and flows created by competition. And, on paper at least, the Falcons are better. They could be as competitive as any team within their division.

Now, does the schedule you surely devoured and overanalyzed Thursday night come into play?

A little bit. The Falcons slate sets up favorably, with two home games to open the season. The opener comes against Carolina and No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young. Better to catch him early than after he gains experience.

The Falcons comes in Week 11, which is a sweet spot. The London game against Jacksonville could add a complication, but there's room in the early going to gain footing against inexperienced quarterbacks in four of the first six games. Then the Falcons run through a gauntlet of opponents who might struggle, with just two teams that made last year's playoffs between Week 6 and their bye.

Then Arthur Smith and Ryan Nielsen will have an extra week to face New Orleans in Week 12, the start of a more difficult stretch that could define the season. They play four division games in the last seven, giving a Falcons roster with so much new a chance to jel and get ready for the home stretch.

The NFC South should be wide open, considering the state of these teams and their equal uncertainty at quarterback outside Derek Carr in New Orleans, but the Saints have other problems to handle.

The Falcons have a couple of true cold-weather possibilities in a Dec. 3 game in New York and a Dec. 31 game in Chicago, the rest of the slate could be pleasant. They don't have a Thursday game, so there are no severely short weeks on the slate and won't even if they get flex

Overall, though, it's a reasonable run. I'm of the belief that schedules can occasion add complications. This schedule isn't that.

Generally speaking, that should allow the Falcons to go out and earn it on their own merits. If they can stay relatively healthy and grow together despite so many new faces, in addition to finding ways to execute better overall and in close games especially, there's no reason why this group can fight for a division title at season's end. The schedule certainly doesn't make that endeavor more difficult than most.

It's a new season, and we can't wait to get started! Get an inside look at our opponents week by week for the 2023 season.

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