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Falcons bank on big-play RB to guide path

Aug 18, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Bijan Robinson (7) runs the ball against the Cincinnati Bengals during the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Falcons

2022 record: 7-10, tied-second NFC South

Playoff picture: Since blowing a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl, Atlanta made the postseason one more time and has now missed the playoffs five years running.

Biggest Week 1 question: While the Panthers, Saints and Buccaneers turn to new starting quarterbacks, the Falcons have the longest-tenured starter in the division — at just four games. Desmond Ridder must show he’s the man for the job, because it would be simple and inexpensive for the Falcons to move on from the 2022 third-round pick out of Cincinnati if this season goes south.

What’s new: The Falcons jumped all over the chance to draft Texas running back Bijan Robinson eighth overall in April’s draft. He will lead a three-headed monster of a backfield, as Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson are sure to be used in creative ways as well. The big defensive additions were the acquisition of cornerback Jeff Okudah from the Detroit Lions and the signing of talented safety Jessie Bates. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees retired from coaching for the third time and Ryan Nielsen was hired from rival New Orleans to replace him.

They’re gone: Rashaan Evans, an inside linebacker who played 98.4 percent of the defensive snaps, did not return and the Falcons also cut starting linebacker Mykal Walker in August. Cornerbacks Isaiah Oliver and Casey Hayward are gone from a unit than ranked in second pass defense last year, but the acquisition of Okudah will mitigate those losses.

On the money: Right guard Chris Lindstrom signed a five-year, $105 million extension in the spring, the largest for a guard in league history.

Get to know: Bates started 79 of a possible 82 games in his first five NFL seasons with Cincinnati and was second-team All-Pro in 2020. He had a career-high four interceptions last year and will add to both Atlanta’s pass defense and its culture, as someone who helped the Bengals grow into a Super Bowl contender.

Vegas says: After two straight 7-10 seasons to start Arthur Smith’s tenure as head coach, the Falcons’ over/under at BetMGM sits at 8.5 wins.

–Field Level Media