How does the old baseball saying go? “Spring hope is eternal.” Well, it’s not spring now, but we can easily revise that saying to reflect our ambitions regarding football season, while keeping the same meaning — something along the lines of “early September hope is eternal.”
The Atlanta Falcons line up at the starting gates, equal with every other team from a record perspective, as we begin the odyssey that is another football season. Every team is 0-0, and everything is on the line to play for.
As if Week 1 wasn’t contentious enough, the Falcons will kick it off against their most bitter foe, the New Orleans Saints. This will be the first time these teams have opened the season against each other since 2014, when the Birds won an overtime shootout. That victory moved the Falcons to 7-1 all time against the Saints in season openers.
This will be the fourth consecutive year in which I will be writing this article series. It will not go into a deep analysis of the matchup at hand — we have those articles here at the Falcoholic, however, and I encourage you check them out! — instead, it will answer the most basic questions possible. What if the Falcons win this game, and what if they lose?
The hope every year is that this becomes a series where we track the NFC playoff picture and discuss standings and implications. Unfortunately, in most years this has instead devolved into a series looking at draft scenarios.
Let’s kick off this year’s rendition of the series by looking at the circumstance surrounding the Falcons if they beat the Saints in Week 1, and also looking at the fallout from a scenario in which they lose.
If the Falcons win
It will be Atlanta’s first win in a season opener since the 2017 season, when they started off 3-0 following the Super Bowl run. Additionally, the Falcons will also move their record to above .500 for the first time at any point since 2017 — between 2018-2022, the Birds have not spent even a single day with a record above .500, always living on the back foot.
The post Matt Ryan era will get off to the best possible start for Atlanta, with a major feel good win against the hated New Orleans Saints. Victory would also move the all time record against the Saints to 55-52, guaranteeing a continued positive winning percentage for at least another year. Arthur Smith will move to 2-1 against the Saints in his young career, as he aims in the long term to become the first Falcons head coach with a positive win percentage against the hated rivals since Dan Reeves.
The projections and predictions on paper in the offseason mean nothing at this point. Sure, the Falcons aren’t predicted to make much noise, but the best way to combat the doubt is by winning, and a few wins strung together could put them in a position where they are competitive. If that happens, then beating the Saints will mean a lot for both morale now and possible tiebreaker purposes down the road.
Marcus Mariota will move to 2-0 in his career against New Orleans, after eviscerating them for 371 yards, a TD/INT ratio of 4/0 and a passer rating of 135.7 back in 2015.
If the Falcons lose
Everyone will have a bad taste in their mouth. I would say that Training Camp and the preseason were largely successful this year, and that gave the team some “feel good” points with the fanbase, but all of it will go out the window if the first game that matters results in defeat against their biggest rivals at home.
The Saints will set themselves up to finally tie the all time record against the Falcons with another victory in New Orleans later this season, something they have been trying to accomplish since 1969. They will also extend their recent dominance against Atlanta, moving their record against the Birds to 23-10 since 2006.
Moving beyond just the Saints aspect of this game, Atlanta will once again be staring down the barrel of an 0-2 start to the season for the third consecutive year, as the team’s next game will the toughest challenge possible — on the road against the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams, who will be coming off of three extra days of rest.
Atlanta will immediately be on the back foot once again when it comes to the divisional race and the Wildcard race. The Birds have not made the playoffs since 2017 and they have not won the NFC South since 2016.