NFL Week 1 is here! The Atlanta Falcons take on the Carolina Panthers on Sunday in the first game for both teams this year. Atlanta enters the week feeling good about the upgrades to the roster and the (hopefully) improved quarterback position with Desmond Ridder taking over for Marcus Mariota. The Panthers, meanwhile, are dealing with significant questions after an 0-3 preseason, multiple injuries to the receiving corps, and a shaky offensive line situation for rookie quarterback Bryce Young.
Here at The Falcoholic, we like to think we keep you incredibly well-informed on all things Falcons. We’re not nearly as diligent in covering the Panthers, so I’ve enlisted the help of Carolina expert Walker Clement. Walker is an editor over at Cat Scratch Reader, SB Nation’s site covering all things Carolina Panthers.
I brought five questions to Walker on a variety of topics, including what we should expect to see from Bryce Young, the state of the offense and defense heading into Week 1, and more. Read on for his answers!
1. The biggest topic around the Panthers is, obviously, Bryce Young. I was personally very high on Young, but the concerns about his size and long-term durability in the NFL seem to have been exacerbated by the play of the offensive line in the preseason. How are you feeling about Young heading into 2023?
Walker Clement: Unabashedly and, perhaps, unfoundedly optimistic. Between Cam Newton’s injuries starting to mount in 2018 and the entirety of the Matt Rhule cluster. . . of events, being a Panthers fan for the last five years has meant convincing yourself that it’s going to be OK, that the mean man who looks like he smells like a used car dealership can’t hurt you. Now we have the first overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft taking snaps? Yeah, I’m going to ride blind faith until I hit a wall.
Were I to actually open my eyes for a moment and take stock of the offseason, however, I would note that Young had a clean, crisp preseason that was largely muffled by a coaching staff who didn’t want to show him off to any prying eyes. Young also demonstrated his own ability to take a hit and bounce right back up during the preseason. Right now, we have no idea what Young is actually going to bring to the table but we have no reason to believe his floor is any lower than Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, or Teddy Bridgewater’s ceilings over the last three years.
2. Speaking of the offensive line, it seems to be one of the biggest points of concern for Carolina along with the wide receiver group. How has a unit which appeared to be a strength in 2022 taken a step back this offseason? In the receiving corps, how concerned are you about the availability of several starters heading into Week 1 and the overall state of the group?
WC: The offensive line looked through the preseason like you might expect for a group that was missing its starting right guard (Austin Corbett) and several key pieces of depth. Rookie Chandler Zavala looked the best of the rest when he returned from injury during the preseason and will be starting at right guard until Corbett returns. I have no worries about this unit being able to pull itself together and protect Young when the time comes. The Falcons may be able to take advantage of some communication and chemistry gaps while the group gels at the start of the season, but only if they hit the ground running.
3. The Panthers defense still looks pretty talented on paper, although the depth is a bit thin in several places. How do you feel about the defense heading into 2023? Will it be the unit that carries the day for the team once again?
WC: I am way less confident here, even on my blind-faith-mobile. Ejiro Evero was *the* name everybody wanted last season as a defensive coordinator candidate and the Panthers got him. I feel really badly for any other team that had to settle for a lesser candidate when replacing their DC last season. That said, he is switching the Panthers from an ostensibly 4-3 base defense to a nominally 3-4 base defense. There are (and were) a lot of multiple front looks and different subpackages that will mask the personnel differences, but there is no changing the fact that Evero is starting this year with a less than ideal roster for his ideal defense. I don’t know him well enough to know how well he is going to adapt to those differences, but I am looking forward to finding out.
4. With Nick Bosa receiving a record-setting deal and Brian Burns in the midst of a strange hold-in/hold-out situation, is there any concern that Burns might miss Sunday’s game? What’s the explanation for Carolina’s reluctance in giving a new contract to Burns?
WC: There is absolutely concern that Burns might miss Sunday’s game. The man wants to get paid and the Panthers haven’t figured out a number yet that makes both sides happy. Is it bad management. a weird agent relationship, or worse management? Really, who is to say.
5. The Falcons are slight favorites in Week 1 at -3.5 according to DraftKings Sportsbook. What’s your score predictions for the game?
WC: 24-21, Panthers. It’ll be a few years yet before Carolina returns to regularly spanking their neighbors, but I can’t be a blind optimist if I don’t see this interview through to the end with an assumption of a Panthers win. Talk to me again when the Panthers and Falcons play in Week 15 to get the full effect of my Fan Jekyll & Hyde one man show. It, like the whole Panthers and Falcons fan experiences, is something that you sure can afford to miss.
Many thanks to Walker Clement for taking the time to answer my questions. You can follow him on Twitter at @MetaphorGuy, and if you’re in the mood for a Panthers perspective on things, follow Cat Scratch Reader at @CatScratchReadr.
If you’d like to read my answers to Walker’s questions, you can find that article here. Looking for more Falcons-Panthers coverage? Check out our Dirty Birds & Brews game preview show.