Atlanta’s first seven weeks will tell the tale of the season, as we’ve said repeatedly this offseason. If they’re still healthy in the NFC South or even thriving after the first six weeks of the year that we’ve predicted out to this point, it will be an impressive achievement given the caliber of opponents on the schedule. Even if they’re scuffling mightily, thankfully, the season won’t be over and the Falcons will be hitting an easier part of the schedule.
Well, almost. The difficulties of the first six weeks will be capped off with the challenge of the seventh, which brings the Cincinnati Bengals. The defending AFC Super Bowl representative represents the end of the gauntlet and also a daunting challenge, given that they have a stellar offense, enough defensive pieces to be interesting, and are clearly a team on the rise.
Who wins this game? Once you’ve read our predictions, please provide your own.
Falcons 27, Bengals 34
A good old-fashioned shootout. Cincinnati aggressively targeted defense in the 2022 NFL Draft and are on their way to building a quality one, but I expect the offense to be Atlanta’s biggest problem of the day. Even accounting for some post-Super Bowl regression, this is a formidable group featuring Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon, Ja’Marr Chase, and the dread Hayden Hurst revenge game.
Atlanta’s ability to win such a contest will depend on their own offense, and you may notice that I have them keeping this one pretty close. By this point in the fall, I do think the Falcons will be capable of putting together a quality performance like this, one that allows them to keep pace with a very good offense throughout most of the afternoon and doing just enough defensively to prevent things from spiraling out of hand. Assuming Cincinnati is anywhere near the team they were a year ago, getting the W is going to be difficult even so.
At this point, I have the Falcons sitting at 2-5. That may put them in a fairly deep hole—just how deep will depend on the rest of the NFC South—but the good news is that they’ll have an opportunity to start digging out of that hole immediately with Cincinnati in the rearview. - Dave Choate
Falcons 20 - Bengals 31
Is this the Hayden Hurst revenge game? The stars may align, as many players have their career-best games against Atlanta.
The more interesting aspect of this game will be the rematch of AJ Terrell vs. Ja’Marr Chase. Terrell’s performance against Chase in college caused him to drop — luckily enough to Atlanta. The two are some of the league-best examples of young players looking to become the future of the game. The problem is that Joe Burrow and Chase are so special together, the two essentially carried the Bengals to the Super Bowl. Atlanta has little to keep up pace.
If Atlanta can keep Chase in check, the game suddenly becomes winnable. Ultimately, that may be too difficult if the Bengals are creative in finding great matchups. That Burrow to Chase connection is too elite to keep it contained through all four quarters. Falcons probably look better than this score shows. - Matt Chambers
Falcons 23, Bengals 30
This brutal stretch to open the season continues for another week with a road trip to Cincinnati to face the defending AFC Champions. The Bengals completed a miraculous turnaround from 2020-2021 and nearly took home a Super Bowl trophy in a magical season. While some regression is to be expected, this is still a team with one of the NFL’s most potent offenses and a dangerous front seven on defense.
In some ways, Atlanta matches up well with Cincinnati on paper. Atlanta’s strength on defense is coverage, so they’ve at least got a chance at slowing down the Bengals elite wide receivers. On offense, Cincinnati is weakest at corner, where the Falcons should have an improved group of receivers to take advantage. I still think the Bengals are the better team, and objectively, they’ll be heavily favored to win this game. I wouldn’t be shocked if Atlanta keeps this a one-score game, however. - Kevin Knight