Inside the war room: Why Falcons are planning to win now

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Falcons factoid: Atlanta had two “blue” players, premier players in their scouting vernacular, on the entire draft board: Trevor Lawrence and Kyle Pitts.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga., 12:45 a.m. Friday — Not much drama in the Falcons’ draft room Thursday night. Coach Arthur Smith and GM Terry Fontenot (owner Arthur Blank too) had become convinced Matt Ryan could play at least three more years at a productive level. In the days before the draft, Fontenot listened to multiple offers for the fourth pick, but none came close to the mega-package he’d need to move out the slot to take the Florida tight end.

Now, 40 minutes after the first round was over, Smith and Fontenot sat in an office at Falcons HQ, shiny Falcons pins on their lapels, and made four things clear: There was a clear line of demarcation for them between Trevor Lawrence and the other four first-round quarterbacks; it made no sense to take a quarterback with Ryan (36 this season) having three to five years left and Smith liking him; Pitts was far and away the best player left at four; and the two new franchise stewards don’t see the Falcons as a major rebuild.

“They hired the wrong guys if they thought we were going to lower expectations, take our time, and rebuild,” Smith said. “That’s just not who we are. The expectation is to win now, build for the future, have plans.

“With Matt, I see a really high-quality starting quarterback who’s thrown for 55,000 yards in this league and had unbelievable experience and is still throwing guys open. It doesn’t sound absurd anymore to say, ‘Hey, I want to play till I’m 40.’ If he didn’t want to play, that would be a different set of problems. We still may not have taken a quarterback at 4 because soon as you take one, if you take the wrong guy, there’s some bad unintended consequences because right away, it’s like, ‘There’s your quarterback of the future.’ And if you take the wrong guy just because you want to win the press conference tonight, it’s like . . .” His voice trailed off.

The fact the Falcons didn’t take a quarterback is even an extra dose of faith in Ryan, whose compensation is an anchor (cap numbers over the last three years of his contract: $26.9 million, $48.7 million, $43.6 million) on a bloated cap. The Falcons are 29-36 since blowing that 28-3 Super Bowl lead to New England, but Ryan’s four-year numbers since—66.4 percent passing, an average of 4,516 passing yards per year, plus-63 TD-to-pick rate—and the tape Smith watched convinced him the incumbent QB is part of the solution, not the problem.

“The good news is yeah, they did go to a Super Bowl, but to me, in NFL time, it’s ancient history,” Smith said. “You’re coming off a 4-12 season.”

Atlanta may require more roster surgery. I wrote last week I wouldn’t be surprised if the Falcons traded Julio Jones, 32 and coming off a season in which he missed seven games due to injury. Now that the draft is over and Jones is still a Falcon, I don’t believe the prospect of a trade is kaput. Because Atlanta wouldn’t have made a trade official till June 2 so Jones’ dead-cap money could be spread over two years, Fontenot could still trade Jones sometime this summer for a 2022 draft choice. I don’t think drafting Pitts made a big difference in their Jones plans—I think they’d still like to find a taker if the price is right, and my guess is the price would be an unconditional second-round pick. A complicating factor: Blank told me Thursday night, “I hope Julio stays. We want him to finish his career here. We’re not required to make a move with him.” But would the owner stand in the way of a deal? I doubt it.

Having two fresh sets of eyes from new organizations helps, as does Fontenot’s realization that he wasn’t hired to just make the easy decisions—like picking a tight end the Falcons think has a chance to be a faster and more athletic Gronk.

“My son tells me, ‘You need to trade for this guy, you need to get that guy,’ ” Fontenot said. “People talk about it like it’s fantasy football. We’ve had to move on from some players, and we’re going to continue to have to do that. The roster has to work financially. That’s the challenge. It’s not just as easy as saying, ‘We’ll keep the best players.’ The most challenging part of the job has been more so the cap, where we are, and us having to make decisions more so for business and not just about who the best players are.”

Projecting the offense without Jones, Atlanta still looks potent. Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage (combined in 2020: 162 catches, 2,160 yards) make a solid 1-2 at wideout, Hayden Hurst is a good tight end piece, and Pitts is a more developed talent than the tight end Smith made a multiple weapon in Tennessee, Jonnu Smith. Pitts will be used wide, in the slot, as a traditional tight end and maybe even in the backfield. “Jonnu’s my guy,” Pitts told me Friday. “He’s a Philly guy, like me. We’re close. I saw how he was used by Coach Smith in Tennessee. This is going to be a great fit for me, because coach has a great reputation for using the end in different places.” An underrated piece of the offensive puzzle could be the versatile receiver/back/returner Cordarrelle Patterson, one of the game’s most intriguing players. With Smith’s imagination, Patterson could emerge as a big player here.

“Let’s put Cordarrelle on a Jet sweep,” mused Smith. “Let’s see if Kyle can run the football. I don’t care who’s back there. Let’s mix and match and morph.”

I drove away from the Falcons in the wee hours thinking they needed a GM and coach who understand the business of football can be cold sometimes, and it’s not a business to keep heroes a year too long, and who aren’t married to anyone here. That’s what they’ve found in Fontenot and Smith. This line from Smith, a big reader, stuck with me: “I use my Jim Mattis quote, and Terry and I talk about it all the time, ‘If you don’t like problems, stay out of leadership.’ “ They’ll have their share, and they don’t seem to mind.

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America column here. 

2022 NFL Christmas Schedule: TV Schedule, live stream info, what teams are playing, kickoff times, and more

Here is the full 2022 NFL Christmas Schedule with additional how to watch/live stream info
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Christmas falls on a weekend this year which means the NFL is giving the gift of a full, three-day slate of action. The excitement kicks off on Christmas Eve–Saturday, December 24–with 11 total games taking place including an NFC East showdown between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys on Saturday evening.

On Sunday, December 25, the NFL will have a Christmas Day triple-header for the first time ever. First, at 1:00 PM ET, the Green Bay Packers take on the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. Then at 4:30 p.m. ET, it’s the Denver Broncos vs Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium. At 8:20 p.m. ET the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will go head-to-head with the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET with a special Christmas Day edition of Football Night in America on NBC and Peacock.

See below for the full 2022 NFL Christmas schedule as well as additional information on how to watch/live stream each match-up.

RELATED: FMIA Week 12 – Josh Jacobs Takes Heckling Personally, And A Banner Week For Two-Point Conversion Risks

2022 NFL Christmas Weekend Schedule:

*All times are listed as ET

Saturday, Dec. 24
Atlanta Falcons vs. Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m., FOX
Detroit Lions vs. Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m., FOX
Buffalo Bills vs. Chicago Bears, 1 p.m., CBS
New Orleans Saints vs. Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m., CBS
Seattle Seahawks vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 1 p.m., FOX
New York Giants vs. Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m., FOX
Cincinnati Bengals vs. New England Patriots, 1 p.m., CBS
Houston Texans vs. Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m., CBS
Washington Commanders vs. San Francisco 49ers, 4:05 p.m., CBS
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys, 4:25 p.m., FOX
Las Vegas Raiders vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 8:15 p.m., NFLN
Sunday, Dec. 25
Green Bay Packers vs. Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m., FOX
Denver Broncos vs. Los Angeles Rams, 4:30 p.m., CBS/Nickelodeon
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Arizona Cardinals, 8:20 p.m., NBC/Peacock
Monday, Dec. 26
Los Angeles Chargers vs. Indianapolis Colts, 8:15 p.m., ESPN

Which NFL teams are playing on Christmas Day?

  • Green Bay Packers vs Miami Dolphins
  • Denver Broncos vs Los Angeles Rams
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Arizona Cardinals

How to watch Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Arizona Cardinals:

  • Where: State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona
  • When: Sunday, December 25
  • Start Time: 8:20 p.m. ET; live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET with Football Night In America
  • TV Channel: NBC
  • Stream liveWatch live on Peacock or with the NBC Sports App

What time is kickoff for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Arizona Cardinals game?

Kickoff is at 8:20 p.m. ET.

RELATED: 2022 Sunday Night Football Schedule: TV channel, live stream info, NFL schedule

For all your tailgating needs for the 2022 Fall season, click here!

Football Night in America will feature a weekly segment hosted by former NFL quarterback Chris Simms and sports betting and fantasy pioneer Matthew Berry, which highlights storylines and betting odds for the upcoming Sunday Night Football game on NBC, Peacock, and Universo. Real-time betting odds on the scoring ticker during FNIA also will be showcased. Peacock Sunday Night Football Final, an NFL postgame show produced by NBC Sports, will also go deep on the storylines and BetMGM betting lines that proved prominent during the matchup.


How to watch Sunday Night Football on Peacock:

If you have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can watch Sunday Night Football on your TV or with a TV provider login on the NBC Sports app, NBC app, or via NBCSports.com. Check your local listings to find your NBC channel. If you can’t find NBC in your channel lineup, please contact your TV provider.

RELATED: What to know about Super Bowl 2023 – Date, location, halftime performance info, and much more

If you don’t have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can stream Sunday Night Football on Peacock with a $4.99/month Peacock Premium plan.  Sign up here or, if you already have a free Peacock account, go to your Account settings to upgrade or change your existing plan. 

Please note that selection of a Premium plan will result in a charge which will recur on a monthly or annual basis until you cancel, depending on your plan. You can cancel your Premium plan at any time in your Account.

RELATED: 2022 NFL Regular Season Schedule – How to Watch, Live Stream, Dates, Times, Matchups


 Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 NFL Season, and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!

How to watch Indianapolis Colts vs Dallas Cowboys: TV, live stream info for Sunday night’s game

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It’s the Indianapolis Colts vs Dallas Cowboys this Sunday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock with Football Night in America. See below for additional information on how to watch tonight’s game.

RELATED: FMIA Week 12 – Josh Jacobs Takes Heckling Personally, And A Banner Week For Two-Point Conversion Risks

Indianapolis Colts

Matt Ryan and the Indianapolis Colts fell 24-17 to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night in their 7th loss of the season and 2nd loss under interim head coach Jeff Saturday. Saturday, a former Colts center with no professional or college coaching experience prior to this season, took over after the Colts fired Frank Reich ahead of Week 10. Reich spent 5 seasons with the Colts, reaching the playoffs just twice (2018, 2020) and finishing with a 40-33-1 record in the regular season. Indianapolis’ offensive struggles have continued this season after ranking 10th in scoring last season at 26.5 points per game. Entering Week 13, the Colts are averaging 15.8 points per game–they’re tied with the Texans who are ranked 31st in the league. Ryan went 22-of-34 for 199 yards with a touchdown and an interception in Monday night’s loss. RB Jonathan Taylor rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.

RELATED: Jeff Saturday on not using timeouts – “I thought we had plenty of time”

Dallas Cowboys

Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys completed the season series sweep with a 28-20 win over the New York Giants last Thursday evening. Prescott finished 21-of-30 for 261 passing yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. RB Ezekiel Elliot, who was playing in his second game since returning from a knee injury, rushed for a season-high 92 yards and ignited the Cowboys’ offense scoring the first touchdown of the game. On defense, the Cowboys had 3 sacks–two of them were from OLB Micah Parsons who ranks 2nd in the league with 12 sacks this season. Dallas currently has one of the best defenses in the NFL and leads all teams with 45 sacks this season. The Cowboys have won 4 of their last 5 games and enter Week 13 just two games behind Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East lead.

RELATED: Dak Prescott – I am as confident as I can be in this team


How to watch the Indianapolis Colts vs Dallas Cowboys:

  • Where: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas
  • When: Sunday, December 4
  • Start Time: 8:20 p.m. ET; live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET with Football Night In America
  • TV Channel: NBC
  • Stream liveWatch live on Peacock or with the NBC Sports App

What time is kickoff for the Indianapolis Colts vs Dallas Cowboys Game

Kickoff is at 8:20 p.m. ET.

RELATED: 2022 Sunday Night Football Schedule: TV channel, live stream info, NFL schedule

For all your tailgating needs for the 2022 Fall season, click here!

Football Night in America will feature a weekly segment hosted by former NFL quarterback Chris Simms and sports betting and fantasy pioneer Matthew Berry, which highlights storylines and betting odds for the upcoming Sunday Night Football game on NBC, Peacock, and Universo. Real-time betting odds on the scoring ticker during FNIA also will be showcased. Peacock Sunday Night Football Final, an NFL postgame show produced by NBC Sports, will also go deep on the storylines and BetMGM betting lines that proved prominent during the matchup.


How to watch Sunday Night Football on Peacock:

If you have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can watch Sunday Night Football on your TV or with a TV provider login on the NBC Sports app, NBC app, or via NBCSports.com. Check your local listings to find your NBC channel. If you can’t find NBC in your channel lineup, please contact your TV provider.

RELATED: What to know about Super Bowl 2023 – Date, location, halftime performance info, and much more

If you don’t have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can stream Sunday Night Football on Peacock with a $4.99/month Peacock Premium plan.  Sign up here or, if you already have a free Peacock account, go to your Account settings to upgrade or change your existing plan. 

Please note that selection of a Premium plan will result in a charge which will recur on a monthly or annual basis until you cancel, depending on your plan. You can cancel your Premium plan at any time in your Account.

RELATED: 2022 NFL Regular Season Schedule – How to Watch, Live Stream, Dates, Times, Matchups


 Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 NFL Season, and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!