Who’s bullish on the Falcons? The guy who’s never bullish on the Falcons

Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith (left) smiles during rookie minicamp at Atlanta Falcons Training Facility, Friday, May 12, 2023, in Flowery Branch. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)



Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith (left) smiles during rookie minicamp at Atlanta Falcons Training Facility, Friday, May 12, 2023, in Flowery Branch. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

No Arthur over the history of time – not King Arthur of Camelot, not Chester A. Arthur of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., not Arthur M. Blank of The Home Depot – ever received a sweeter gift than the schedule dropped in Arthur W. Smith’s lap. The “W,” which stands for William, is about to stand for “winning coach.”

Three of the Falcons’ 17 games will come against opponents who had winning records last season; two of those went 9-8. They face four games against playoff qualifiers; two will come against Tampa Bay, which finished 8-9 and bid goodbye to the GOAT. The 2022 winning percentage of their 2023 opponents was .417, making this the NFL’s softest schedule.

Of their 17 games, at least 11 will be against teams with a new quarterback, all six NFC South games included. Know the four big-name quarterbacks the Falcons decided not to draft – Young, Stroud, Richardson, Levis? There’s a chance they’ll face all four.

Smith deems Desmond Ridder NFL-ready. Anything less than a playoff run would mean the coach was wrong, and if a coach gets something that big that wrong, he might be looking for a new job soon. I don’t believe he got it wrong. I believe the Falcons will be more than just a team with the all-time bunny schedule. I believe, really and truly, they’ll be good.

Here’s how it will unfold:

Sept. 10, Carolina: Bryce Young’s team. Falcons win.

Sept. 17, Green Bay: Jordan Love’s team. Falcons win.

Sept. 24, at Detroit: Jared Goff’s latest team. Falcons lose.

Oct. 1, Jacksonville in London: Trevor Lawrence’s team. Falcons lose.

Oct. 8, Houston: C.J. Stroud’s team. Falcons win.

Oct. 15, Washington: Sam Howell’s team. Falcons win. (Note: They have one true road game in the first six.)

Oct. 22, at Tampa Bay: Baker Mayfield’s latest team. Falcons win.

Oct. 29, at Tennessee: Arthur Smith’s old team. Maybe Will Levis’ new team. Falcons win.

Nov. 5, Minnesota: The best team on the schedule, which says much about schedule. Falcons lose.

Nov. 12, at Arizona: Kyler Murray mightn’t be back from a torn ACL. Falcons win.

Bye week: The Falcons are 7-3. That’ll do.

Nov. 26, New Orleans: Derek Carr’s new team. What’s he ever won? Falcons win.

Dec. 3, at N.Y. Jets: Aaron Rodgers’ new team. He turns 40 on Dec. 2. Falcons lose.

Dec. 10, Tampa Bay: Falcons win.

Dec. 17 (tentative), at Carolina: Any given Sunday, folks. Falcons lose.

Dec. 24, Indianapolis: Anthony Richardson’s team, maybe. Falcons win.

Dec. 31, at Chicago: Justin Fields’ team outdoors in the Windy City in winter. Falcons lose.

Jan. 7 (tentative), at New Orleans: Falcons win.

The over/under on Falcons wins will fall around eight. I’m going way over. I’m saying 11-6. I’m saying they go 5-1 in the NFC South and take the division.

Faithful readers know I’m not renowned for my enthusiasm regarding the local NFL club. I assume the Falcons can mess up anything because – let’s face it – they’ve messed up most things. But what can I say? I like what they’re doing.

They were 7-10 in Smith’s first season, good value for a team outscored by 146 points. They were 7-10 again last year, this having lost eight one-score games. They weren’t far from winning a bad division in a season where Marcus Mariota started 13 games and Kyle Pitts missed seven. They have the best collection of skill players in the NFC South. If Ridder merely is competent, this team is primed to win.

Yes, that’s a mighty “if.” But I’ve found no reason – yet – to doubt Smith’s judgment. He has the players he wants. He has enough players to win 11 games.