The schedule. It's here.
Truth be told, I am not a huge fan of schedule release day because it lends itself to projectional thinking. I am not one to live and die by projections. I don't operate that way. We can try to predict how many games the Falcons may or may not win, but no one will ever really know until we actually get to said season how it will shake out.
But fear not! I'm not here to rain on your parade!
Schedule release day is like Christmas morning in a way, isn't it? You don't know what's under the tree until you open the presents found there. Schedule release follows the same formula. And congrats! Now you know what the present is: A Week 2 and Week 3 trip out west, two Super Bowl teams early, a bye week late and an actual Christmas weekend spent in Baltimore.
There's a lot to unpack with the schedule that was just released. So, here are five quick observations to get you thinking about the season ahead.
1. Season opens with a bang
I really love the idea of playing a rival right off the jump of the season. I think it garners significant interest from both fan bases. There's a ton of hope heading into Week 1 of the regular season that every single team is trying to play up. In the case of the Falcons and Saints, they have a lot of changes, and it will be the first time fans see said changes live. It's an exciting time to be sure.
However, from an analysis standpoint, I like pitting rivals against each other early because it gives you a clearer picture of the changes made from Week 1 to whenever you see that rival again.
For the Falcons and Saints, they won't meet again until Week 15 in New Orleans. I tend to think this is the best way you can visually see the progress you've made, and for two teams with a multitude of questions surrounding them, this couldn't be better.
Rise up! It's a new season, and we can't wait to get started!
2. Going West
When the names of the 2022 opponents came out everyone knew a lengthy trip out west was a possibility. Now, it's a reality, and it's happening very early in the season. The Falcons travel to the home of the reigning Super Bowl champions in Week 2 before heading north to face the Seahawks in Seattle a week later.
One would assume the Falcons would make plans to stay out on the west coast during that week time period between games. With the time change and overall travel logistics, it only makes sense to do so. And if had to guess, that's exactly what the organization would want to do.
3. Welcome to the NFL, rookies
I feel as though I have not been satisfied through the last two years with the Falcons' bye week placement. Last year, I thought it was too early. This year, I think it's too late.
Week 14? That's a whole college season, plus a bowl game before a true bye.
It's significant to point this out because the Falcons have to rely on young talent in 2022. They just do. That's how the roster is currently constructed. A number of first- and second-year guys are going to play, and they're going to play a lot. Conditioning every year is important, but considering the opponents, the schedule and how many rookies you can expect to see play on Sundays? Conditioning takes on a whole new level of importance.
4. Speaking of the bye...
One could argue that the best chance for the Falcons to get some wins will come in the stretch of four games right before the bye week. I'm talking Week 10 through Week 13.
In that stretch the Falcons face Carolina on a Thursday night, which will act as a much-needed mini bye week for Atlanta before the Falcons face the Bears at home. Then, they'll travel the short trip to Washington, D.C., before coming back to Atlanta to face the Steelers. All four of these games are winnable for the Falcons. It's an important stretch for the organization as it fights to the bye.
5. You want a tough, physical team? You're about to play them.
This has less to do with the overall schedule itself, and more to do with who the Falcons are facing. If there's something AFC North teams are known for it is their physicality. The toughness of which they play. Sure, every division is tough. In the words of Arthur Smith: This is the National Football League. Everyone's good.
The AFC North is known for this type of play though, and to have them on the schedule will be a good measuring stick to see how far away the Falcons are from playing the type of physical, tough ball that Smith has said time and time again he wants this organization to be known for.
Well, you get to see that toughness in your opponents this year. In the long run, that could be good for these young players to see early in their own careers.