ATLANTA — The offseason program was virtual. There were no preseason games to work out the kinks or gauge the opposition. Any familiarity will be welcomed in Week 1 of the NFL season.
In that respect, there should be a bit of comfort today when the Atlanta Falcons host the Seattle Seahawks in a mostly empty stadium.
These teams certainly are well acquainted with each other.
Atlanta coach Dan Quinn used to be the defensive coordinator in Seattle, so he’s got a good feel for his former employer. Likewise for the Seahawks, who are quite familiar with Quinn’s tendencies.
If that wasn’t enough, this will be the fifth meeting in five seasons between the teams.
“We’ve seen these guys before,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We pretty much know their staff, and they know us too. It’s not like there’s a brand-new coach and it’s the first game and we haven’t seen anything.”
Still, it will be a most unusual opener.
The Falcons are not allowing fans into 71,000-seat Mercedes-Benz Stadium for at least their first two home games because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s definitely going to be different,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “But I think the intensity level will be there. When you look at other sports — what’s gone on in basketball, what’s gone on in hockey, what’s gone on in baseball — the quality of play has been really good. The intensity has been there.”
The Seahawks, who went 11-5 in 2019 and reached the divisional round of the NFC playoffs, feel like they’re positioned to make another run at the Super Bowl.
“I’m excited about our group,” All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “We have a really good, talented group.”
Coming off their second consecutive 7-9 season, the Falcons are eager to get off to a good start. A year ago, they lost seven of their first eight games before rebounding to go 6-2 over the rest of the season.
“Nobody wants to start 1-7,” Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “But for us to finish the way we did last year does say a lot.”
Let Russ cook
One of the big offseason questions was whether Seattle will allow quarterback Russell Wilson to open up the passing attack early in games.
The Seahawks generally have been conservative in the first half, which often has put Wilson in the position of having to lead come-from-behind victories.
Wilson’s supporting cast could be as good as any he’s had in his career, and there’s certainly a case to be made for letting him be more aggressive right from the start: Seattle is 57-0 when leading by four or more points at halftime since 2012.
Seattle could have one of the best defensive back groups in the league after a pair of offseason acquisitions.
Adding All-Pro safety Jamal Adams in a blockbuster July trade was a definitive sign the Seahawks think they are Super Bowl contenders, bringing the sort of versatility the defense hasn’t had since its championship teams.
Not to be overlooked was the addition of cornerback Quinton Dunbar, although his off-field legal troubles in Florida limited his participation in the offseason program and kept him out early in training camp.
Despite the concerns around the coronavirus, Seattle was sticking with its normal schedule of leaving on Friday for an East Coast road trip.
Carroll acknowledged the unknowns with how this first road trip would go in the midst of the pandemic.
“I’m really curious about it,” he said. “We’ve worked so hard to get to this point, and I’m hoping that we’ll be able to carry it over.”