ATLANTA — For football fans, Sunday marks the start of a new season - for Falcons fans, it marks the start of a whole new era.
The early heights of the Dan Quinn era - 21 wins between 2016-17, three playoff wins and a Super Bowl appearance - are starting to seem like a distant memory, and of course Quinn himself is now gone.
In his place is Arthur Smith, and Falcons fans will get their first shot Sunday to see what that will look like and to see if there's reason to hope that a three-year skid that bottomed out with a 4-12 season in 2020 will begin to turn around.
- Who: Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles
- What: NFL Week 1
- Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
- When: 1 p.m.
- TV: FOX
- Tickets: Available on official resale markets for $50 at the low end
The Falcons host the Philadelphia Eagles starting at 1 p.m.
Early attention will likely focus on Atlanta's offense - Smith is an offensive specialist, and Sunday will be the first real-game look at what he's been scheming up.
There will be significant differences to past Falcons offenses - no Julio Jones, for one. Calvin Ridley has been hyped for a massive season stepping into Julio's shoes - will we see he and Matt Ryan connecting early and often?
Then there's Kyle Pitts, the fourth overall pick in the 2021 draft who carries the expectations of stepping onto the field and immediately looking like a superstar tight end - he's the highest-drafted tight end ever.
And at running back, we'll see what Mike Davis brings to the table, after the Falcons signed the Stone Mountain native from Carolina to replace Todd Gurley, whose homecoming wound up being a dud in 2020.
Defensively, the question marks surround the pass rush - the likes of Grady Jarrett and Dante Fowler Jr. give it a lot of talent, but the Atlanta defense managed more sacks than only eight other teams last year, with 29.
We'll also get a chance to see how the how the cohesiveness of the secondary looks following offseason signings of new starting safeties Duron Harmon and Erik Harris.
Expectations are not necessarily high in Atlanta, but last year's 4-12 disaster was at least in some part a product of bad luck - they scored almost as many points (396) as they allowed (414) which is usually more reflective of a .500 team.
With a creative new coach, Ryan as consistent as ever, improvements on defense and a little bit of good luck, the upside is there for a big turnaround season.