The 2023 NFL season has formally begun. The Chiefs and Lions kicked things off on Thursday night, with the next phase of Week 1 coming on Sunday afternoon.
The Falcons and Carolina Panthers are in the early window, with a 1 p.m. kickoff at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Get there early, especially on opening weekend. It should be a fun one between NFC South rivals.
The mailbag was full of what to expect from Sunday's game and the 2023 season. While you won't see record predictions in this Friday's Bair Mail, we'll talk expectations for several key Falcons and keys to coming out of the opener with a win.
Logan G from N.W. Georgia
You're around the organization day in, day out. I'm curious what the 'general vibe' feels like around some of the incumbents like Jake and Grady. They've seen the org through the sunny days and rainy seasons alike, and I wonder what their anticipation around this season feels like. Do they seem juiced about the schemes and the team's potential? Is it more a 'wait and see' temperament?
Bair: Really dig the question, Logan. There's so much turnover these days, and Jake Matthews and Grady Jarrett have seen so much through their time in Atlanta. They've been to the playoffs, then to the Super Bowl, then a period followed by tougher times.
It's fair to say there's a level of excitement and anticipation within both, a belief that there's better ahead. I think both guys are mature enough to know that they must go out and prove it.
I can tell you Jarrett is thrilled to have veterans along the defensive front and has bought into what Ryan Nielsen is doing as Falcons DC. Continuity is key along the offensive front and the Falcons have given Matthews that by investing draft capital and big dollars to keep good players around.
Both guys are on their third contract, and have an appropriate, guarded optimism about what they can do and how they have to go prove it.
Steve Bullock from Concord, N.C.
Scott, I just took a look at the depth chart on atlantafalcons.com. On offense, Cordarrelle Patterson is listed at the "J" position. I've never seen that before. Can you explain?
Bair: Hey Steve, thanks for the question. We got a few of them just like this, so I'll let the coaching staff discuss it through context given in press conferences and direct quates from those media session. .
Cordarrelle Patterson is the "joker," someone who will do a little bit of everything with his size, speed, strength and unique versatility.
"Well, he can play a lot of different spots," head coach Arthur Smith said on Wednesday, "from quarterback to wideout to running back to tight end."
Smith also said he meets with various position coaches depending on the day.
Offensive coordinator Dave Ragone expanded on the topic a bit during his Thursday presser.
"Instead of calling it positionless, we'll put him in the joker spot," Ragone said. "Obviously, Coach Smith talked about it. It's a wild card, right? Just like in a deck of cards –potentially in some of the games you play. His ability to play in different spots and meet with different people. Look, it's a credit to him with his ability to not just focus on that one position but to be able to handle multiple in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage. And we're fortunate enough to have that type of player on our team."
Jonathan Kolb from Duluth, Ga.
We haven't seen much of Kyle Pitts in the preseason, which makes sense because of him coming back from an injury. What have you seen from him and what are your expectations for his season?
Bair: The Falcons have been careful to ramp Kyle Pitts up appropriately. The goal, as Arthur Smith has said a bunch this summer, is getting the star tight end ready for Week 1. Getting his explosiveness back after last year's knee injury is key. That doesn't come back overnight, so let's be a little patient and avoid judging him purely on stats. The Falcons have tons of options at the skill spots, so his target volume might be lower than Pitts rookie season.
In terms of accurately gauging his progress, that's tough because he didn't play much in the preseason (he shouldn't have) and practices have been mostly closed recently. Pitts is a playmaker and Arthur Smith will find ways to get this playmaker the ball. It will be interesting, though, to see exactly how often he plays receiver versus in-line tight end. Keep an eye on that as we proceed through the first few games.
Nathan P. from Gainesville, Ga.
It's finally football season! With the high expectations by the team and the fan base a good start to the season is important! It's still a young team, especially on offense, and a week one win will be huge for their confidence! With that said what do you think the keys to victory will be against Carolina?
Bair: There's so much unknown with this one that it'll feel even more like a chess match than Week 1 contests normally do. Carolina features a new head coach/offensive play-caller in Frank Reich, a new defensive coordinator in Ejiro Evero and the No. 1 overall draft pick in quarterback Bryce Young. The Falcons have a new DC in Ryan Nielsen and tons of new players on both sides of the ball.
As Nielsen said on Thursday, "it's about us," and that's true. It's about trusting what has been built over camp and trusting your rules for how to react to unscouted looks. Discipline and efficiency will be key on both sides of the ball. And, because this is the NFL and most games are close, they'll have to perform well in the clutch. Odds are good this one will come down to the fourth quarter. Gotta execute when the pressure's on.
Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for week one of the 2023 regular season, presented by Fast Twitch.