1. The no-spin zone: Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan, on the “Movin’ The Chains” show on SiriusXM NFL Radio did their breakdown of the NFC South on Monday.
Both picked the Falcons to finish second in the NFC South behind the rival New Orleans Saints. However, Miller picked the Falcons to make the playoffs as a wild-card team. The Falcons have had five consecutive losing seasons.
“Atlanta will be my new (playoff) team,” Miller said. “I’m not saying they’ll win the division because I think New Orleans is going to win the division. Obviously, getting Derek Carr as their quarterback.”
Miller believes the Saints still will be strong on defense and expects them to receive a boost on offense from the return of wide receiver Michael Thomas, who has played in only 10 games over the past three seasons.
“They still have a very good offensive line and skill positions,” Miller said. “I have New Orleans winning the division. I have Atlanta coming in No. 2. They will be my wild-card team.”
He picked the Bucs, who are in cap-casualty mode after the retirement of Tom Brady, to finish third. He noted that Baker Mayfield is set to take over at quarterback and that a potential Mike Evans’ holdout could hurt the Bucs.
“I still think defensively they are going to be good,” Miller said. “(Coach) Todd Bowles, he makes it work. He always does defensively. They’ll have a shot to be competitive in games, but I think they lose some one-score battles and finish 8-9 in that division.”
The Panthers have rookie quarterback Bryce Young.
“I mean they are going to have their struggles, I mean let’s face it,” Miller said. “Much like the other rookie quarterbacks – whether it’s in Indy or down there in Houston, I think they are like a 5-12 team is where I see Carolina.”
He noted that the Panthers are switching to a 3-4 defense.
“So, it’s going to take time to get that group up and running in my opinion,” Miller said. “To me, New Orleans is winning the division, and Atlanta is my wild-card team.”
Kirwan also picked the Saints to win the division and the Falcons to finish second, but he doesn’t see them making the playoffs. He likes quarterback Derek Carr.
“They have the best quarterback in the division,” Kirwan said. “You may not like him in the postseason, but he is a guy that can produce. He will produce. They’ll do a nice job. If Michael Thomas is really back, then they’ll be hard to beat.
“They had the No. 5 defense in the league last year.”
Kirwan is not high on Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder.
“I’m not ready to get on Desmond Ridder, that he’s going to end up doing all of this and bringing them to the playoffs,” Kirwan said. “That’s a bit too ambitious for me. Just New Orleans and then the rest of the division. Atlanta two, Tampa three and Carolina four.”
Miller, a former sixth-round pick by the Steelers in 1994 out of Michigan State, played six seasons in the NFL. He has Ridder projected higher than Kirwan, a former coach and front-office executive.
“I just don’t view Desmond Ridder as a second-year quarterback because much like (San Francisco’s Brock) Purdy, he had a lot of starts in college. I know personally guys that have coached him, and I think he’s received the coaching well. I like the fact that he doesn’t turn over the football (is good).”
Also, Miller believes the Falcons will protect Ridder.
“(Falcons coach) Arthur Smith is fantastic as a play-caller,” Miller said. “How he moves the guys around, those offensive weapons that they have, and they have gotten better (on defense) with Bud Dupree and the players that they signed. Hopefully, more pass-rush (is) there for this group. That’s why I’ve got Atlanta, they will be a wild-card team.”
2. Ready for Bryce Young: Carolina quarterback Bryce Young won the 2021 Heisman Trophy in his sophomore season at Alabama and passed for 8,356 yards, 80 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions in three collegiate seasons.
In the exhibition season this year, Young took a bit of a beating behind a still-developing offensive line and completed 14 of 24 passes (58.3%) for 129 yards and one touchdown, but no interceptions. He had a passer rating of 87 and was sacked three times.
The Panthers added some offensive weapons in veteran receiver Adam Thielen (Vikings), running back Miles Sanders (Eagles), tight end Hayden Hurst (Bengals) and veteran quarterback Andy Dalton (Saints) to help Young. And like most teams, the Panthers did not show too much of their offensive plan in the exhibition games.
“We kind of just go off a scheme,” Falcons cornerback Mike Hughes said. “We know he’s a hell of a player. He won the Heisman Trophy in college.”
3. Series record: The Falcons lead the series 35-21 and have won seven of the past 10 meetings. The two teams split last season.
4. Where to watch, listen and livestream Panthers at Falcons: What you should know about Sunday’s regular-season opener between the Carolina Panthers (7-10 in 2023) and the Falcons (7-10), which is set for 1 p.m. at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
TV: Fox 5. Play-by-play: Chris Myers. Analyst: Robert Smith. Sideline: Jen Hale.
Local radio: 92.9 The Game. Play-by-play: Wes Durham. Analyst: Dave Archer. Executive producer: Beau Morgan. Engineer: Miller Pope. Pregame/Postgame show – Hosts: Chris Goforth and Mike Johnson. Dylan Matthews and Orin Romain (studio producers).
Livestream: Streaming inside the Atlanta market: Fans in the Atlanta market can stream the game on the Atlanta Falcons app. NFL app (subscription required). Out of the country: GamePass International.
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
5. Dobbins event: Several former and current members of the Falcons attended re-enlistment ceremony and helped with some fitness drills at the Clay National Guard center at Dobbins Air Reserve Base on Tuesday.
Some of the old timers included defensive end John Abraham, running back Jerious Norwood and cornerback Dunta Robinson.
The current players included defensive end Lorenzo Carter, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, punter Bradley Pinion, long snapper Liam McCullough, running back Avery Williams, quarterback Taylor Heinicke, running back Tyler Allgeier and tight end John FitzPatrick.
6. Salary-cap situation: The Falcons have $11,835,628 million in salary-cap space, according to NFLPA documents.
7. The captains: Safety Jessie Bates III, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, kicker Younghoe Koo, guard Chris Lindstrom and left tackle Jake Matthews were named team captains for the 2023 season by the Falcons on Monday.
Bates, who signed with the Falcons in free agency, is in his first season with the team. He spent the first five seasons of his NFL career with the Bengals.
Jarrett, Koo, Lindstrom and Matthews are long-time Falcons. Matthews, who’s set to enter his 10th season, has started 144 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL.
8. The injury report: Falcons coach Arthur Smith is hoping to get some of injured players back by Wednesday, when the team starts game-planning for the season opener against the Panthers.
“Some of those guys will be back out there,” Smith said before practice Monday. “I’m very pleased with everybody (because they are) progressing. We get into Wednesday, and it will be an important day for those. ... We have to decide realistically, who’s going to be ready for Week 1.”
Cornerback Mike Hughes (soft tissue) was back at practice after missing the past three weeks.
Cornerback Jeff Okudah (ankle), running back Cordarrelle Patterson (soft tissue) and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge (ankle) remain out.
Hughes and Tre Flowers are options to start at cornerback opposite of A.J. Terrell, with Dee Alford lining up at nickel back.
Okudah has been down since Aug. 4 and likely is a long shot for the opener, while Patterson also has missed a couple of weeks.
Before waiving him injured last month, the Falcons called wide receiver Frank Darby’s injury a “soft tissue” injury, which turned out to be a hamstring. Smith will have to issue his first NFL-mandated injury report Wednesday and will have to declare the injuries in more detail.
“They worked hard over the weekend rehabbing,” Smith said. “Most of those guys will be out there, with the exception of a few. Wednesday we really need to see something to determine which way we will go, especially with the game plan.”
9. Depth chart. As projected last week after the cutdown to the 53-man roster, the Falcons listed Bijan Robinson at RB1 for season opener on the first official depth chart of the season Tuesday.
Running back Tyler Allgeier, who rushed for a franchise rookie record 1,035 yards last season, is listed at RB2. Cordarrelle Patterson, who is struggling with a soft tissue injury, will enter the season at J1, a position Smith created for the versatile running back/wide receiver/kick returner.
Also, rookie Zach Harrison is as the No. 2 defensive end behind veteran Calais Campbell, and Joe Gaziano, who had a strong training camp, is listed behind Harrison.
Okudah, who’s out with an ankle injury, is listed as the No. 1 cornerback opposite Terrell. Tre Flowers is Okudah’s backup.
Here’s a look at the Falcons’ first official depth chart of the regular season:
WR Mack Hollins, KhaDarel Hodge
TE Kyle Pitts, MyCole Pruitt, John FitzPatrick
LT Jake Matthews, Isaiah Prince
LG Matthew Bergeron, Jovaughn Gwyn
C Drew Dalman, Ryan Neuzil
RG Chris Lindstrom, Kyle Hinton
RT Kaleb McGary, Isaiah Prince
TE Jonnu Smith
WR Drake London, Scotty Miller, Josh Ali
FB Keith Smith
RB Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier
J Cordarrelle Patterson
QB Desmond Ridder, Taylor Heinicke, Logan Woodside
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.