Five things to watch when the Falcons conclude 2022 season with Tampa Bay matchup

Draft order, games to watch and a Grady Jarrett revenge game all headline the final Five Things to Watch installment. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Let's run it back one more time, shall we?

No, this game doesn't mean anything for the playoffs this year. But it does mean a lot for where the Falcons go in 2023.

Don't believe me? Let's break this down then.

1. One final audition for Desmond Ridder

We knew the moment Ridder was named the starting quarterback in Atlanta three weeks ago that he would have four games to show coaches there could be something worth exploring further in 2023 with him under center. Well, that final audition commences on Sunday.

Through three starts, Ridder has completed 54 passes for 484 yards on 85 attempts. He hasn't thrown a touchdown yet, but he also hasn't thrown an interception, either. He's been sacked seven times, but has ran for 55 yards on 14 carries.

More notable than his totals through three games, though, is the obvious progress he's made from one start to the next. Its evident Ridder is more comfortable in the pocket. It also should be noted that his passer rating and completion percentage have both only improved in every game. If he continues that trend into this weekend, he could continue to make the argument that he's the quarterback the Falcons should run out there to start the 2023 season.

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Regardless of how this final game goes, the Falcons will need to address the quarterback position this offseason. Whether that's sticking with Ridder or finding someone to come in and push him or someone to take over the offense instead of him, it's all on the table. But Ridder has done his part. He's given this staff something to think about.

Arthur Smith continues to hold firm with his assessment that he likes what Ridder is made of. The young quarterback obviously has the intangibles to be a starter, and he's improving every week in the tangibles department. A productive performance on Sunday could be exactly what Ridder and the Falcons need to help them decide where this position is going as the 2022 season comes to an end.

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2. DRAFT DRAFT DRAFT

Here's the thing, y'all. We won't know where the Falcons are picking in the 2023 NFL Draft until majority of the games on Sunday are done.

Right now, the Falcons are looking at a top-10 pick. If the season ended on Saturday morning, the Falcons would have the No. 7 overall pick. But it doesn't, and there's a lot that can happen between now and when the draft order is secure.

The Falcons can't move any higher than the No. 6 overall pick, but they could fall a few spots according to 1) how they fair against the Bucs and 2) how a few other teams come out this weekend, too.

Here are a couple scenarios to consider, just looking at the teams that are around the Falcons in draft order at the current moment:

  • If the Falcons lose to the Bucs and the Rams beat the Seahawks, Atlanta will take the No. 6 pick. If the Rams lose and the Falcons lose, the Falcons will stay at No. 7.
  • If the Falcons win on Sunday and the Panthers or Raiders win, too, they could move to No. 8. If the Panthers and Raiders lose in that scenario the Falcons will move all the way back to No. 9.

So, along with Sunday's home game against Tampa Bay, which other games should you be keeping tabs on? I am so glad you asked.

3. Other games to watch

Right now, the Rams, Panthers, Raiders and Falcons are clustered together on the draft board. So, you should be planning to keep up with all of them on Sunday, plus the Raiders game on Saturday afternoon. Here's the low down on those games:

Raiders vs. Chiefs | Saturday 4:30 p.m. | ESPN | ABC

Falcons vs. Buccaneers | Sunday 1:00 p.m. | FOX

Rams vs. Seahawks | Sunday 4:25 p.m. | FOX

Panthers vs. Saints | Sunday 1:00 p.m. | FOX

There are other variables at play here, too, but these are the main ones to consider considering how close these four teams are on the current draft board. As Greg Aumen reported earlier in the week, though, (prior to the cancelation of Monday night's game between the Bills and Bengals), the Falcons should want the Commanders, Chargers and Bears to lose for optimal draft position, too.

So, essentially, the best advice could be to simply be patient until majority of Sunday's matchups come to a conclusion.

4. Grady Jarrett revenge game

We all know what happened the last time the Falcons faced the Buccaneers: Jarrett was called for a game-changing roughing the passer penalty. It's been deemed by many one of the most controversial calls of the 2022 season.

Because of this, expect Jarrett to come out on Sunday afternoon like a man on a mission.

He may not be playing for a playoff spot, but maybe he's playing for revenge.

5. A reset by way of the salary cap

When the final second ticks off the clock on Sunday, the Falcons 2022 season will be over. Though they didn't make the playoffs in 2022, they played better than many gave them credit for before the season began. A productive and consistent run game was established in Atlanta for the first time since the Michael Vick era. A young foundation of players like Tyler Allgeier, Drake London and many others has showed its a foundation worth building upon.

Since Smith and Terry Fontenot took over in Atlanta, they've been fighting against the salary cap constraints they inherited. With over $80 million in dead money, the Falcons couldn't be high-rolling players on the open market in 2022. That changes at the start of the new league year in March. The Falcons are currently projected to have about $70 million in cap space in 2023, according to OverTheCap.com. According to what moves they make (i.e. cuts), that number could inch closer to $80 million when all is said and done.

This changes the way the Falcons approach this upcoming offseason.

The Falcons' record won't be over .500 when this season concludes, but there's still a lot to be hopeful about in Atlanta even as the final second of the 2022 season tick off the clock on Sunday.

The guys put in the work in Flowery Branch to prepare for this week's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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Breaking down the hottest topics surrounding the Atlanta Falcons and how they can impact the team's success. Like and subscribe to join us for the lively debate on Falcons Final Whistle.

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