Falcons to host Panthers, Packers to start 2023 season

No Monday Night Football game for the Falcons
Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (4) greets his teammates as they walk into the field for warm-ups before the game against the Arizona Cardinals.
 Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (4) greets his teammates as they walk into the field for warm-ups before the game against the Arizona Cardinals. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons’ full 2023 schedule, which features key dates for NFC South matchups and a trip to London, was released by the NFL on Thursday.

The Falcons will be looking to snap a streak of five consecutive losing seasons when they open the regular season against the similarly rebuilding Carolina Panthers at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 10 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Panthers drafted former Alabama quarterback Bryce Young No. 1 overall in the recent draft.

The Falcons and the Panthers split their series last season. The Falcons won 37-34 at home Oct. 30. The Panthers won 25-15 in Charlotte on Nov. 10.

The Falcons also host the Packers in Week 2 at 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17.

The Falcons will play the Jaguars in Week 4 on Oct. 1 in London as part of the league’s International Series, which was announced Wednesday.

The Falcons host the Saints at 1 p.m. Nov. 26 in Week 12, the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

The Falcons will close the season at New Orleans in Week 18. The date and time has not been set yet.

The Falcons have managed to post back-to-back 7-10 seasons under coach Arthur Smith while moving on from most of the players on the 2016 Super Bowl team, including wide receiver Julio Jones, quarterback Matt Ryan and linebacker Deion Jones.

The expectations will be high in 2023 after the Falcons spent lavishly in free agency, trying to keep their offensive line in place and improve their defense. The Falcons entered free agency with $62.2 million to spend against the league’s $224.8 million salary cap. Only the Chicago Bears ($98.6 million) had more cap space.

Because they can spread the money over the term of contracts, the Falcons spent almost $179.3 million in guaranteed money to 17 players in free agency.

They elected to extend the contracts of guard Chris Lindstrom ($62.7 million in guaranteed money) and right tackle Kaleb McGary ($15 million).

In free agency, the Falcons signed safety Jessie Bates ($36 million), defensive tackle David Onyemata ($24.5 million), linebacker Kaden Elliss ($10.16 million), defensive lineman Calais Campbell ($7 million), quarterback Taylor Heinicke ($6.32 million), cornerback Mike Hughes ($3.24 million), defensive end Bud Dupree ($2.5 million) wide receiver Mack Hollins ($910,000), offensive tackle Joshua Miles ($352,500), wide receiver Scotty Miller ($152,500) and linebacker Tae Davis ($101,500).

The Falcons also spent some guaranteed money to retain four players in outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter ($5.2 million), punter Bradley Pinion ($4.3 million), fullback Keith Smith ($625,000) and cornerback Cornell Armstrong ($152,500).

The Falcons have the NFL’s easiest strength of schedule, based on final records in the 2022 season. The Falcons’ 2023 opponents had a combined 119-167-3 record last season (.417).

The Saints have the second-easiest schedule, 122-164-3 (.427). The Panthers have the sixth-easiest schedule, 130-147-2 (.453), and the Bucs have the 11th-easiest schedule 138-148-2 (.483).

The Falcons are ready to hand the ball over to a second-year quarterback in Desmond Ridder, who has four games under his belt.

The Falcons are set to play four games against 2022 playoffs teams in the Bucs (twice), Vikings and Jaguars.

Here’s a look at the Falcons’ 2023 schedule:

> Exhibition games

1 -- Date TBD, at Miami Dolphins, time and TV TBD

2 -- Date TBD, vs. Cincinnati Bengals, time and TV TBD

3 --- Date TBD, vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, time and TV TBD

> Week 1 – Sunday, Sept. 10, vs. Panthers, 1 p.m., Fox

The skinny: The Panthers traded up to land the first pick of the draft and selected former Alabama quarterback Bryce Young. He’ll play for new coach Frank Reich, who was hired after the Panthers finished 7-10. The Panthers also signed running back Miles Sanders, wide receiver Adam Thielen and tight end Hayden Hurst in free agency. The Panthers and the Falcons split 1-1 last season. Series record: The Falcons lead 35-21.

> Week 2 – Sunday, Sept. 17 vs. Packers, 1 p.m., Fox

The skinny: It’s on to the Jordan Love era at quarterback for the Packers, who traded Aaron Rodgers to the Jets before the draft. The Packers were 8-9 last season. Wide receiver Christian Watson came on strong in his rookie season. He finished with 41 catches for 611 yards and seven receiving touchdowns. Five picks after the Falcons took running back Bijan Robinson, the Packers selected Iowa edge rusher Lukas Van Ness with the 13th overall pick. Series record: The Packers lead 17-14.

> Week 3 – Sunday, Sept. 17, at Lions, 1 p.m., Fox

The skinny: The Lions finished last season by going 8-2 to complete an 8-9 record. They replaced their running back tandem of D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams by signing David Montgomery in free agency and drafting former Alabama and Georgia Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs in the first round. Former Falcons defensive tackle John Cominsky has revived his career with the Lions. He played in 14 games and made eight starts last season. Series record: The Lions lead 25-14.

> Week 4 – Sunday, Oct. 1, vs. Jaguars in London, 9:30 a.m., ESPN-plus

The skinny: Trevor Lawrence (Cartersville) last season started to show some of the promise that made him the No. 1 player taken in the 2021 draft. He helped guide the Jaguars to the playoffs in coach Doug Pederson’s first season. Tight end Evan Engram (Hillgrove High) caught a career-high 73 passes for 766 yards last season. The Jaguars won the division with a 9-8 record. Series record: The Falcons lead 5-3.

Falcons fans celebrate during the third quarter against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, November 20, 2022, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.  
(Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

> Week 5 – Sunday, Oct. 8, vs. Texas 1 p.m., Fox

The skinny: The Texans drafted former Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud and former Alabama pass rusher Will Anderson with the second and third picks in the draft. New coach DeMeco Ryans takes over after serving as the defensive coordinator in San Francisco. Series record: The Texans lead 3-2.

> Week 6 – Sunday, Oct. 15, vs. Commanders, 1 p.m., CBS

The skinny: The Commanders re-signed defensive tackle DaRon Payne to a four-year, $90 million deal. Ron Rivera named former North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell the starting quarterback. If Howell falls on his face, the Commanders signed Jacoby Brissett as the veteran backup. They were 8-8-1 last season, with a win over the Falcons. Series record: The Commanders lead 16-10-1.

> Week 7 – Sunday, Oct. 22 at Buccaneers, 1 p.m, Fox.

The skinny: Quarterback Tom Brady retired, and the Bucs signed Baker Mayfield this offseason. Saddled with Brady’s dead salary-cap money, the Bucs had to cut several key veterans, including offensive tackle Donovan Smith, tight end Cameron Brate and running back Leonard Fournette. They selected former Pittsburgh defensive tackle Calijah Kancey with the 19th overall pick in the draft. Series record: The Bucs lead 30-29.

> Week 8 – Sunday, Oct. 29, at Titans, 1 p.m., vs. Saints, CBS

The skinny: The Titans’ front office was overhauled after general manager Jon Robinson was terminated during last season. New GM Ran Carthon got his start with the Falcons in 2008. The offense currently is built around running back Derrick Henry. The Titans drafted quarterback Will Levis. Series record: The Titans lead 8-7.

> Week 9 – Sunday, Nov. 5, vs. Vikings, 1 p.m., Fox

The skinny: The Vikings feature dynamic wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who led the league with 128 catches and 1,809 yards last season. Running back Dalvin Cook’s future with the Vikings is cloudy after he refused a pay cut. The Vikings went 13-4 last season and will try to defend their NFC North title. Series record: The Vikings lead 19-11.

Atlanta Falcons' Cordarrelle Patterson (84) returns a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown.   (Bob Andres for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Bob Andres

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Credit: Bob Andres

> Week 10 – Sunday, Nov. 12, at Cardinals, 4:05 p.m., CBS

The skinny: After going 11-6 and making the playoffs in 2021, the Cardinals nosedived to 4-13 last season, and coach Kliff Kingsbury was fired. They hired former Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. Injured quarterback Kyler Murray will miss the beginning of the season. Backup Colt McCoy appears set to play early. The Cardinals drafted former Ohio State offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. with the sixth overall pick. Series record: The series is tied 16-16.

> Week 11 – BYE WEEK

> Week 12 – Sunday, Nov. 26, vs. Saints, 1 p.m., Fox

The skinny: Quarterback Derek Carr signed in free agency after he was released by the Raiders. Running back Jamaal Williams, who led the league with 17 rushing touchdowns last season, signed in free agency. The Saints were 7-10 last season in Dennis Allen’s first season as head coach. Series record: The Saints lead 54-53 in the regular season. Falcons lead 1-0 in the playoffs.

> Week 13 – Sunday, Dec. 3, at Jets, 1 p.m., Fox

The skinny: The Jets made the trade of the offseason by acquiring former Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Jets finished 7-10 last season. The Jets’ defense ranked fourth in yards allowed (311.1) and in points allowed (18.6) per game. Series record: The Falcons lead 8-5.

> Week 14 – Sunday, Dec. 10, vs. Buccaneers, 1 p.m., CBS

The second meeting of the season between the NFC South foes.

> Week 15 – TBD, at Panthers

The second meeting of the season between the NFC South foes.

> Week 16 – Sunday, Dec. 24, vs. Colts, 1 p.m., Fox

The skinny: The Colts hired former Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen and drafted former Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson with the fourth overall pick in the draft. Matt Ryan was released by the Colts after one season. Series record: The Colts lead 15-2.

> Week 17 – Sunday, Dec. 31, at Bears, 1 p.m., CBS

The skinny: Quarterback Justin Fields is set to enter his third season in the NFL. He has a 5-20 record as a starter and was sacked a league-leading 55 times last season. The Bears picked Tennessee offensive tackle Darnell Wright with the 10th overall pick in the draft. They will be trying to rebound from a 3-14 season. Series record: The Bears lead 15-14.

> Week 18 – vs. Saints, TBD

The second meeting of the season between the NFC South foes.

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