After opening the season at home against the Saints and then closing out a two-game road swing on the West Coast against the Rams and Seahawks, the Falcons will be back in Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Week 4. They won’t be returning home to an easy matchup.
That’s because they’ll be facing one of the AFC’s most talented teams, the Cleveland Browns, and I’m still not used to thinking of the Browns as a good team. Cleveland has one of the most gifted running back rooms in the league, plenty of playmakers on offense, and a very good defense brimming with young stars and would-be stars. They’re another tough matchup in a brutal opening stretch for Atlanta.
One thing the Falcons probably won’t have to contend with is seeing Deshaun Watson, the quarterback they tried and failed to land this offseason. The NFL is weighing whether to discipline Watson, and as new civil cases emerge and troubling new details of his alleged behavior come to the fore, a lengthy suspension seems likely to be on the way that would almost certainly wipe out his chances of seeing the field against Atlanta.
With all that in mind, will the Falcons be able to win this one? Our staff roundtable tackled the question, and you can do so as well in the comments.
Falcons 17, Browns 27
I expect this to be a rough one. The quarterback for Cleveland is obviously going to be worth watching, but you’re talking about Nick Chubb, weapons like Amari Cooper and David Njoku, plus one of the league’s most intriguing and potentially fearsome young defenses. Atlanta’s going to have to be incredibly sharp to win this one unless current-day Kurt Kittner is under center for the Browns come Week 4, given that the talent disparity between these two teams is pretty massive on paper. Coming home would seem to be an advantage, but playing at home hasn’t done much for Atlanta in recent years.
Winning will involve bottling up Chubb, keeping the Browns from having the kind of solidly efficient-or-better passing day that nearly doomed them against lesser lights like the Lions a year ago, and keeping things going against a fearsome front. It’ll be yet another early test of how far this team has come, but again, they’d have had to improve a lot to hang on in this one.
Per my predictions, at least, the Falcons will still be 2-2 coming out of this week, a fine spot to be in for a rebuilding team still figuring things out. I just don’t expect this one of to be an easy or particularly enjoyable matchup unless a lot changes between now and October. - Dave Choate
Falcons 19, Browns 31
The Falcons already took a loss against the Browns in 2022. The first was the (thankful) bumbling of the Deshaun Watson trade, where the Falcons overlooked allegations that Watson is a sexual predator so the team could be embarrassingly used as leverage for a better deal elsewhere. This game will be the second of 2022, and I don’t think the ultimate result changes if Watson is suspended for this one (that score might though).
Best case scenario, the Falcons at this point in the season could have an average defense, an effective but unspectacular run game, and a limited passing offense taking advantage of size matchups. Add all of that together and I would still take Nick Chubb. The Browns have a legitimate defense as well. Mayfield or Watson, the Falcons need everything to work and the Browns need everything to fall apart for this to be competitive. That just feels waaaaayyyyyy too unlikely at this point. - Matt Chambers
Falcons 20, Browns 26
I think it’s entirely possible for the Falcons to lose more games than they did in 2021 and for our takeaway after 2022 is that this is a team headed in the right direction. How do they get there? By sticking in games with the good teams. I think this will be a game that comes down to the wire, but the talent discrepancy for Atlanta will ultimately prove too much to overcome. By the fourth game of the season, teams start to find a semblance of team identity—and I think this year’s Falcons unit will first find its stride on defense.
Yes, the Browns have some really quality skill options, and Nick Chubb is my favorite running back in the entire league, but the depth isn’t a strong as you might think. Atlanta’s defensive strength right now lies in the secondary, which should allow it to focus on slowing down that run game and clogging things up for the tight ends. I just don’t know if the Falcons have enough offensive firepower against a really solid Browns defense to score when they need to. Coaches will never say that a loss is good, but I think there’s a chance we see more than one silver lining in this one. - Will McFadden
Falcons 17, Browns 20
Projected record through Week 4: 1-3
This opening stretch is absolutely brutal for the Falcons, who have to face three of the NFL’s top defenses in the first four weeks. In Week 4, it’s the Cleveland Browns on tap, and this game is legitimately hard to predict at this point. The big questions all have to do with Cleveland’s offense, namely: who will be under center? It’s seeming more and more likely that Deshaun Watson will be either suspended or placed on the Commissioner's Exempt List for at least some of the 2022 season. Baker Mayfield is demanding a trade, and there appears to be mutual interest heating up with the Carolina Panthers. If both those players are gone, that would leave veteran Jacoby Brissett in charge of the offense.
Brissett is a perfectly capable spot-starter, but he’s not striking fear into the heart of a defense. However, the Browns do have an excellent offense in place around him, with an elite offensive line, one of the best RB duos in the league, and quality weapons in the passing game. There’s also the defense to contend with, which is among the more talented units in the NFL. I think the Falcons have a shot at winning this one if Watson isn’t playing, but it’s hard to predict anything with certainty right now. So I’ll have the Browns scraping out a win in an ugly, close affair. -Kevin Knight
Falcons 14, Browns 27
We don’t know what Cleveland’s QB situation will look like in this one. I don’t expect that Deshaun Watson will play, and there seems to be a limbo between the Browns and Baker Mayfield. Honestly, though, at the end of the day I don’t think it’ll matter.
The Browns have two strong units along the trenches, and I expect that they’ll dominate both Atlanta’s offensive and defensive lines. Cleveland features arguably the best running back trio in the league with Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson and I expect that they’ll run all over Atlanta’s front seven. On the other side, the Browns were a defense that was top 10 in sacks last year, led by Myles Garrett, whom the Birds will likely have no answer for. This is a well built team overall.
Even operating under the assumption that Jacoby Brissett starts, I think this will be a low scoring and close game for a while, with the Falcons wearing down in the fourth quarter. - Adnan Ikic