After finishing the 2020 season in last place in the NFC South, the Atlanta Falcons have nowhere to go but up.
Can a young coach and an old quarterback lead them there?
Less than three years separate first-time head coach Arthur Smith (born in May 1982) and starting quarterback Matt Ryan (born in May 1985). Ryan, who has thrown for over 55,000 yards (the ninth-highest total in NFL history), is back for his 14th season as the Falcons quarterback and has won 55% of his career starts. However, the team’s 4-12 mark in 2020 matched his worst record under center.
Enter Smith, the former Titans offensive coordinator. He’s hoping to have an immediate impact on both sides of the ball and get the Falcons back on the road to the Super Bowl for the first time since they infamously blew a 28-3 second-half lead against the Patriots in February 2017.
Wide receiver Calvin Ridley will once again be an important piece for Atlanta on offense; he led the team with 1,374 receiving yards in 2020. Ryan will also benefit from the addition of tight end Kyle Pitts, the sixth overall draft pick in 2021. Pitts is among the favorites to win the NFL’s Rookie of the Year award after catching 12 touchdowns for the University of Florida last fall.
Pro Bowl DT Grady Jarrett leads a Falcons defense that ranked 29th out of 32 teams in yards allowed in 2020. They will be tested this fall in a difficult NFC South that includes defending division champion New Orleans (with offensive mastermind Sean Payton) and the Super Bowl-winning Buccaneers (with G.O.A.T. quarterback Tom Brady).
The Falcons begin the 2021 season with a September 12 home game against Philadelphia before traveling to Tampa Bay in Week 2 to start divisional play. October brings a trip across the pond for a Week 5 game against the Jets at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London.
Other highlights of the schedule include a nationally-televised Thursday night showdown with the Patriots on November 18 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The regular season finishes with a home game against the Saints on January 9.
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