Perhaps the biggest story of the NFL offseason thus far is Tom Brady’s phantom retirement. No one was truly shocked to see the legend come back to the field, but for a man who will turn 45 in August, there are questions about his production. And while Brady will likely defy logic and post another incredible season, it’s the Saints and Falcons who have boom or bust QBs. The bitter rivals will face off with the top two picks of the 2015 draft (Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston) leading their respective offenses, making for one of the most interesting divisional matchups in the NFL. Finally, there’s Sam Darnold and the Panthers. The 2021 NFC South last-place team will likely remain in the cellar, but nonetheless, could provide some players with serious fantasy value. 

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Atlanta Falcons Fantasy Schedule Notes

Don’t expect the Falcons’ run game to get off to a hot start

Cordarrelle Patterson shocked many in 2021, finishing as the 12th-best PPR fantasy running back. And while Patterson could replicate those numbers in the coming season, he and the rest of the Falcons’ run game will have to wait until Week 3 against Seattle to break out. The Falcons’ offense faces the Saints and Rams in Weeks 1 & 2, both finishing as top eight run stoppers in 2021. 

The Falcons’ have a late bye week. A very late bye week. 

Before the NFL implemented the 18th week in the regular season, no team had a bye week beyond week 12. But now that bye weeks are being dispersed across 17 team games instead of 16, certain teams’ fantasy stars are being disproportionately affected. For instance, the Falcons have a bye in their 14th(!) week. That’s tied for the latest of any team and could even occupy the fantasy playoffs in some leagues. So if you’re considering drafting Kyle Pitts or Cordarrelle Patterson, make sure to consider their late-season absence. 

Carolina Panthers Fantasy Schedule Notes

Christian McCaffrey will have it tough down the stretch

The Panthers face a duo of elite rushing defenses (Saints and Buccaneers) in Weeks 17 and 18, making for a devastating end to Christian McCaffrey's season. Both defenses finished in the top three in RB PPG allowed in 2021 and have no reason to regress in 2022. McCaffrey's potential playoff slide shouldn’t dissuade fantasy owners from selecting him, yet it should be something to keep in mind come draft time. 

Panthers’ receivers need to produce leading up to the bye week

The impressive tandem of DJ Moore and Robbie Anderson will look to build on their successful 2021 season. However, the only exploitable part of the duo’s schedule is in Weeks 8-11 – right before the bye week. While the Panthers do face the defending AFC Champion Bengals in that stretch, the rest of their opponents had bottom-six WR coverage in 2021. If Moore and Anderson cant produce then, their seasons could be in serious jeopardy. 

New Orleans Saints Fantasy Schedule Notes

Watch out for Adam Trautman come playoff time 

Saints starting tight end Adam Trautman might not be a household name, but he could turn some heads down the stretch. Trautman likely won't be drafted in your league, and barring any serious early-season success, will be available on waivers by Week 10 or so. It might be worth claiming the third-year TE, as his schedule could not be more favorable during the fantasy playoffs. After their Week 12 matchup against San Francisco, Trautman and the Saints don’t face a single top 10 TE defense, including matchups against teams like the 31st-ranked Eagles. 

If Alvin Kamara is gonna be himself, he has to prove it early

The Saints face four mediocre run-stopping teams towards the beginning of their season, so if Alvin Kamara wants to revert back to being a top three fantasy back, he must do it in those four weeks. Kamara’s Week 4 matchup against Minnesota should serve as a perfect barometer for his season outlook. At that point in the season, Kamara should be fully ramped up, so if he can't muster an elite 20+ PPR pts against a subpar Vikings defense, it might be time to get nervous as a fantasy owner. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Fantasy Schedule Notes

Don’t expect Leonard Fournette to explode out of the gate

While Leonard Fournette is a top 10 projected fantasy RB this year, his true elite production may not begin until around Week 5. Three of his first four games come against teams who were in the top 10 in RB PPG defense last year, but after that, expect Fournette to be himself. Unless the tough schedule manages to throw the Bucs’ rushing attack off-balance, he should be primed to join his quarterback in a fantasy point celebration during the latter half of the season. 

Tom Brady might just win you a championship

Tom Brady versus the Falcons … hmm. There’s one game that comes to mind with this iconic matchup, yet Brady will be looking to revise his role as Super Bowl champ to the ever more important fantasy champ. Only the Commanders gave up more points to quarterbacks in 2021, and in a game with serious (real-life) playoff implications, Brady won’t hold back in Week 18. While his matchup against Atlanta in the final game of the season shouldn’t be enough to move Brady up to the Josh Allen/Lamar Jackson tier, it should be a considerable plus for any fantasy owner drafting him.