The 2022 season is the start of a new era for the Atlanta Falcons.
Atlanta made waves this offseason when it traded franchise icon Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts. All the quarterback did for the Falcons was play 14 seasons that included a league MVP, a Super Bowl appearance and four Pro Bowl selections.
The 36-year-old became synonymous with the organization during his career, and Marcus Mariota will have massive shoes to fill assuming he beats out third-round draft pick Desmond Ridder for the starting job.
The NFC South team agreed to a deal with Mariota shortly after the Ryan trade, potentially clearing the way for the Oregon product to start for the first time since he was a member of the Tennessee Titans during the 2019 campaign.
His first season in Atlanta will be all the more difficult, though, since go-to wide receiver Calvin Ridley has been suspended for the year for betting on NFL games. At least first-round draft pick Drake London provides another option in the aerial attack alongside tight end Kyle Pitts.
The Falcons missed the playoffs in each of the last four campaigns, and it will be up to Mariota and Co. to change that.
Here is the schedule they will have to face as they look to be a surprise factor in the playoff race.
2022 Atlanta Falcons Schedule
There is a Super Bowl feel to the Falcons' schedule but not because they are expected to compete for a Lombardi Trophy.
Rather, they face the participants in last season's big game thanks to a slate that features matchups against the Cincinnati Bengals' AFC North and the Los Angeles Rams' NFC West.
Those two divisions are challenging outside of the headliners, as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens are seemingly annual contenders in the AFC North, and the Cleveland Browns figure to be much more difficult to face with Deshaun Watson under center. As for the NFC West, the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals were also playoff teams last season.
Atlanta's extra 17th game is also an imposing one against Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers, although it caught something of a break with a third-place schedule that features winnable games against the Chicago Bears and Washington Commanders.
That break will be needed since the Falcons' own divisional matchups against the NFC South means two games against Tom Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers and two games against a presumed contender in the New Orleans Saints.
Buckle up, Falcons fans. It may be a bumpy ride with this schedule.
The thought here is Brady's return clears the way for Tampa Bay to win the NFC South.
That means the Falcons and Saints will be competing for wild-card spots, making their head-to-head showdowns all the more important. Atlanta fans would surely like to see the team turn things around against its rival considering New Orleans is 7-2 in the last nine meetings.
The Saints re-signed Jameis Winston, will feature a strong defense and have Michael Thomas returning, so turning that series around will be no easy task for Atlanta.
Elsewhere, defeating the champion Rams may be too much to ask, but the Falcons may need to at least split games against the Cardinals and 49ers if they are going to legitimately challenge for a playoff spot.
After all, they may also be going for wild-card spots if Los Angeles is going to win the NFC West.
Arizona and San Francisco took up two of the three NFC wild-card positions last season, so head-to-head wins and the tiebreakers that come with them will be key for Atlanta against those contenders.