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This week’s big Falcons question: Will Kyle Pitts play?

This one looms large for multiple reasons.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

This passing game is the Kyle Pitts show, both now and in the future. Regardless of what happens with Calvin Ridley this offseason, Pitts is the centerpiece of the offense, and aside from Ridley he’s the only compelling receiving threat under contract in 2022. The Falcons may choose to set their offense on fire and start over this offseason, but Pitts will be here, and should be even better next year.

In light of all that, whether he suits up in the final game of the season when the playoff dream is well and truly dead is not all that important in the grand scheme of things, because he’s the guy going forward and has nothing left to prove. Given how integral he is to this passing game in the here and now, and given that he’s chasing Mike Ditka’s all-time rookie record for receiving yards for a tight end, he’s still the focus of this week’s big question.

Will Kyle Pitts play against the Saints?

If he doesn’t, the offense is likely in trouble. Last week was an unusual circumstance given that Tajae Sharpe was out and the weather was such a factor, but the Falcons essentially did nothing after halftime with Pitts out. Ryan threw for just a tick over 50 yards in that half on a day where Pitts accounted for more than a third of his passing yards, and minus Pitts defenses are going to key on Russell Gage and try to remove the last consistently credible receiving threat the Falcons have. Arthur Smith and company have not been able to make magic happen for this passing game much this year, especially not when pressure is in the backfield, as it frequently is. Missing their most intimidating receiver will not help matters against the Saints, who will be eager to put Matt Ryan on the ground as often as possible.

Pitts’ value to the passing game can’t really be overstated, given that he attracts so much defensive attention and nearly has as many yards this season as the team’s second-and-third leading receivers combined (Russell Gage and Cordarrelle Patterson have 1,191 yards together, Pitts has 1,018 by himself). The player with the second-highest yards per game average in 2021 is...Ridley, who hasn’t played since Week 5.

For Pitts himself, being out Sunday means he won’t get to break Mike Ditka’s extremely long-standing record. People can and will quibble about whether breaking the record in 17 games “counts,” but it would be another impressive milestone for the rookie and one I’m sure the team would love for him to get.

The game matters more for pride (and the fun of beating the Saints, if they do that) than anything else. Victory will hinge in part on whether the Falcons have Pitts ready to go.