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Early Bird Report: What to expect from Falcons in 2020

The top Falcons headlines from around the country 

It's officially Week 1 of the NFL season and action will kick off on Thursday night when the Houston Texans take on the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. The Atlanta Falcons will host the Seattle Seahawks for their season opener and begin a very important season for the organization.

The goal in Atlanta is to return to the postseason for the first time since 2017. A number of big offseason acquisitions, including Todd Gurley and Dante Fowler, were made to help the team accomplish that goal.

ESPN provided a detailed preview of the Falcons’ 2020 season, and reporter Vaughn McClure explained why Gurley could be the ultimate wild card for an offense that needs to boost to the run game.

"Once one of the most dynamic forces in the NFL, Gurley's now a question mark due to questions about the health of his left knee," McClure writes. "Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter told ESPN he believes a healthy Gurley could see 15 to 25 touches per game. If Gurley can be a red-zone scoring threat and provide a little juice in the run game, it could mean the world to a pass-heavy offense dependent on play action."

The Falcons currently hold the No. 18 spot in ESPN's Football Power Index and have the fourth-toughest schedule according to the index.

With no preseason games this year, fans will finally get their first chance to see the Falcons in action when things kick off on Sunday. Several rookies figure to play key roles this season, and the team is ready to go after training camp.

"Now that it's finally here, game week, you can definitely feel the energy already this morning through meetings and the start of our preparation for Seattle," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "We're excited. Everybody has put a lot of work in to get us to this space, so we're definitely wanting to go forward in a big way."

Falcons release first depth chart of 2020

The Falcons revealed their first depth chart of the 2020 season on Monday. There were some notable revelations in the depth chart, including James Carpenter being listed as the starting left guard over rookie Matt Hennessy. Running back Brian Hill also landed as the primary backup to Todd Gurley at running back.

On the defense, the Falcons list rookie A.J. Terrell as a starter at cornerback. Notably, the team also lists three starting safeties and figure to have Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen and Damontae Kazee on the field at the same time in many games this season.

Week 1 NFL power rankings

With football set to return, released its Week 1 power rankings. The Falcons fall right near the middle of the pack, landing at No. 18 in the rankings. They are the third-highest ranked team in the NFC South. The New Orleans Saints hold the No. 4 spot and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sit at No. 13.

"It's hard to say if the Todd Gurley experiment will work in Atlanta, but you still feel confident in a Matt Ryan-led Falcons offense putting up enough points to win most Sundays," Dan Hanzus writes. "The pressure is on the defense to level up and get the Birds back in the postseason after consecutive dark Januarys. Pass rush was a particular weakness in 2019, when Atlanta had the second-fewest sacks in the NFL. Enter Dante Fowler Jr., the free-agent acquisition who hopes to become the new version of the old Vic Beasley. Last year, Fowler posted the second-most sacks on the Rams (11.5) and added 16 tackles for loss. That's exactly what the Falcons need."

NFL's 40 most compelling people for 2020

Ahead of the 2020 season, ESPN's Bill Barnwell listed the 40 people he believes will be the most compelling to watch this fall. These are people who range from established superstars to rookies to head coaches, but they are all individuals who could shape the story of this season. There's one member of the Falcons on Barnwell's list, but it might not be who you expect. Coming in at No. 39 on the list is second-year tackle Kaleb McGary.

"You probably didn't see McGary coming on this list," Barnwell writes. "I might be the only one fascinated by the former Washington product. In the 2019 draft, though, the Falcons decided against using their first-round pick on a player to help out their ailing defense and used the 14th pick on offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom. At the end of the round, the Falcons then traded up to draft McGary. Given how Matt Ryan's dominant 2016 season came behind a fully healthy and dominant offensive line, you can figure that the Falcons thought they might be able to just win shootout after shootout if they upgraded their line.

"It didn't go well. The defense was a mess for most of the season. Lindstrom broke his foot and missed 11 games. McGary was healthy for all 16 games, but ESPN's pass block win rate analysis ranked him 166th out of 171 qualifying offensive linemen. The right tackle was assigned the blame for a league-high 18 sacks, two more than any other player. McGary has a great story as someone who has overcome multiple heart procedures to make it to the pros, but the Falcons made a big bet on their right tackle. I'm rooting for him, but he has a lot to prove in 2020."

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