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Intriguing players to watch in Falcons vs. Panthers

Since it’s Week 1, it’s all about first impressions.

NFL: Preseason-Cincinnati Bengals at Atlanta Falcons John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

We are back for another season of trying desperately to name five Atlanta Falcons! Of course, these five will captivate our hearts and arouse curiosity as the team takes on the Carolina Panthers in the first game of the 2023 season.

The theme of this week is first impressions, appropriately enough.

Desmond Ridder

There’s a high probability that this weekly writeup will always include Ridder, and instead should be seen as trying to name four other intriguing Falcons for each matchup. Of course, Ridder is intriguing due to being the first-year starter with so much of the Falcons’ long-term success hinging on his development.

This opening matchup can help set the tone for a strong season for Ridder, or one that leaves many more skeptical about his future. After all, I think a lot of the current skepticism surrounding Ridder is owed to an underwhelming debut versus the New Orleans Saints last year in Week 15. First impressions are important, after all.

Bijan Robinson

If we’re talking about first impressions, the Falcons 2023 first-round pick has a golden opportunity to make a great one in the team’s home opener. Robinson may very well become the “face” of the Falcons, being their most marketable star.

Fans only got to see a glimpse of him during the preseason, but it was very promising. He should continue to show that promise with a strong opener against the Panthers.

David Onyemata

One of the more favorable matchups for the Falcons this week against the Panthers lies along the interior of both lines. There, the Falcons have a pair of potent defensive tackles in Grady Jarrett and Onyemata facing a weak Panthers interior that will feature a rookie in Chandler Zavala at right guard.

It is likely Onyemata that gets the majority of his reps against Zavala, while Jarrett faces left guard Brady Christensen. Keep an eye on both, but especially the former Saint, as he tries to provide a rough welcome for Zavala to the NFL.

Matthew Bergeron

Like Robinson, Bergeron will be making his NFL debut after a solid preseason. But despite looking capable on the field, he didn’t get a ton of work this presaeason. And that may not help him going up against Panthers defensive tackle Derrick Brown, who wrecked the Falcons more experienced unit in both meetings last season.

Bergeron has been battle-tested in practice going up against the likes of Jarrett and Onyemata, but that needs to translate over into real games. The last time the Falcons started a rookie at left guard, it was a disaster. Hopefully, Bergeron can avoid a similar fate.

Tre Flowers

With starting cornerback Jeff Okudah out of the lineup with an ankle injury, it’ll be up to Flowers to fill the void. Flowers’ last stint as a starter was a less-than-promising run with the Seattle Seahawks in 2021, which led to his release. He did find a home as a hybrid dime safety with the Cincinnati Bengals thereafter, but now will be tasked with moving back to full-time cornerback for the time being here in Atlanta.

Fortunately, the Panthers are dealing with their fair share of injuries at wide receiver, so he may not be truly tested this week. But if Okudah’s absence lingers into the future, he may not find himself so lucky. So it’s another opportunity for a good first impression that can not only help the Falcons win on Sunday, but set them up for success down the road.

There are of course many other Falcons worth keeping an eye on in this weekend’s action. Leave a comment discussing some of the other names that intrigue you going into this afternoon.