2021 Falcons preview: Do we really know what to expect this season?

ATLANTA — We had to start this preview of the 2021 Atlanta Falcons with a question mark because nobody seems to know yet exactly what they’ve got. That may however, be due to design and planning.

Through three preseason games, there’s been plenty of playing time for mostly reserves and players fighting for spots on the roster while the big names like Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley, Grady Jarrett and others practiced and worked on their craft.

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New head coach Arthur Smith has said he wanted to see what the guys he wasn’t familiar with had in the preseason as the team focused on trying to build depth.

The preseason was not kind as the team lost all three games and scored a grand total of only 30 points.

Still, the expectations are much higher for a team that lost a lot of close games in 2020 on the way to a 4-12 record. Gone are stalwarts from the past few seasons such as Julio Jones and Keanu Neal but newcomers like RB Mike Davis and top draft pick TE Kyle Pitts are expected to be standout performers.

QB Matt Ryan is back to lead the offense along with WR Calvin Ridley. Davis will be the featured RB and Pitts is expected by most NFL scouts as a “can’t miss” prospect.

LT Jake Matthews and LG Chris Lindstrom will anchor the offensive line and some improvement is expected in that area as well.

The Falcons have not had problems scoring points in most games. While things may look different under Smith who will be the play caller, the expectation is Atlanta should still score points in bunches.

Defensively, new coordinator Dean Pees has a lot of returning starters from last years unit which struggled quite a bit, but the look is likely to be very different.

DT Grady Jarrett is still the gold standard at nose tackle. The inside linebacker tandem of Deion Jones and Foye Oluokun is one of the NFL’s best. A.J. Terrell, last years top pick had a solid rookie year and is expected to be much improved in 2021. If LB Dante Fowler can play like he did in 2019, the pass rush could also be much improved.

And lastly, all word kicker Younghoe Koo returns for another steason. Koo has been a standout for the Falcons since signing on in 2019. Last season, he led the NFL in scoring, making 37 of 39 field goal attempts.

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The NFC South itself should be interesting as usual. Tampa Bay is the conference and Super Bowl champ from the past season and the Bucs are favored to win the division again this season.

After that, things are potentially wide open for Atlanta.

New Orleans lost Drew Brees to retirement and their star WR, Michael Thomas in injured and won’t return until at least midseason. And Carolina has a new QB in Sam Darnold and a slew of new players. The Panthers struggled in 2020, they are another team with question marks heading into 2021.

The Falcons kick off the 2021 season at home, in Mercedes-Benz Stadium against the Philadelphia Eagles. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.