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Atlanta’s quarterback plans may hinge on the 49ers game

With a win, Marcus Mariota sets himself up to pilot the Falcons through the softest part of their schedule, but a loss could lead to Ridder taking the field sooner than later.

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NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

One of the central narratives surrounding the Atlanta Falcons this year involves whether or not third-round draft pick Desmond Ridder will see the field and become their long-term option at quarterback.

Many believe the window for starting Ridder over incumbent Marcus Mariota is now wide open. But that window could slam shut should the Falcons earn their third win of the season against an injury-depleted San Francisco 49ers team.

That is due to the old adage, that if something isn’t broken, it doesn’t need fixing. And right now, despite frequent criticisms of Mariota’s play during and after each game, the Falcons are far from broken.

You can’t blame fans that conclude based on Ridder’s impressive preseason performances that he may prove an upgrade over Mariota as a passer. As some have noted, the numbers for Mariota aren’t anything to write home about.

Yet the NFL is a results-oriented business, and whether it’s by Mariota’s arm or not, the Falcons winning games equates to getting results. Especially if they can add another win against the 49ers on Sunday, putting them ahead of the curve heading into the softest part of their schedule. After this weekend’s 49ers matchup, the Falcons will face the Cincinnati Bengals but thereafter, they should have six upcoming games where the vast majority of the slate looks winnable.

Falcons can begin to stack wins against the upcoming schedule

Four of those six will come against teams currently sporting 1-4 records. That includes two against the Carolina Panthers, who have already dismissed their head coach Matt Rhule. The Pittsburgh Steelers have already turned the page from their veteran starting quarterback in Mitch Trubisky to rookie Kenny Pickett, and things did not go particularly well in his first start last week. And you also have the Washington Commanders, who always seem to be circling some controversy.

The Falcons also have an upcoming game against the struggling 2-4 Chicago Bears, who would perhaps share the top seeds with the Denver Broncos in a hypothetical tournament for the least impressive 2-something team currently in the NFL.

The only major hurdle in that six-game stretch appears to be the 3-2 Los Angeles Chargers team that the Falcons will face in Week 9. That means it’s quite conceivable that the Falcons could win four or five games in the coming span.

Of course, players and coaches will always warn against looking ahead on the schedule but there are no such rules prohibiting fans, bloggers, podcasters, and radio personalities from doing so.

Part of the reason why many have circled the month of November as a prime time for Ridder to earn his first start is due to the aforementioned softness of the schedule. Setting up your rookie for success is an ideal strategy, something the Steelers may be regretting with Pickett unlikely to overcome upcoming matchups against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins, and Philadelphia Eagles to inspire confidence in his ability to win games at the outset of his career.

However, if the Falcons should pull out a victory this weekend against the 49ers, Ridder’s debut may be delayed. A win would give the Falcons a record of 3-3 and should the team thereafter continue to win against their feebler competition, there will be little reason to pull the plug on Mariota.

Despite inconsistency, Mariota might have Falcons on a path to playoffs

Since 1990, teams with a 2-4 record make the playoffs roughly 10 percent of the time. However, a 3-3 record leads to the postseason about 35 percent of the time. Those odds aren’t great, but good enough to buy Mariota more time as the starter. That’s time that will allow him to start during the portion of the Falcons’ schedule where the team is likely to make up the most ground against lesser competition.

Some may see this as an exercise of counting one’s chickens before they hatch. But the larger point is that this weekend’s matchup against the 49ers, in addition to other upcoming ones, will be critically important in determining the answers to questions surrounding the Falcons’ quarterback future.

Another poor performance by Mariota and/or the team on Sunday could be the catalyst that leads to Ridder making his debut sooner versus later. Success this weekend could also mean the opposite, creating a cascade of subsequent dominoes leading to the possibility that Ridder doesn’t see the field at all this season, simply because the Falcons remain in the thick of the postseason race for the remainder of the season.

Of course, a win against the 49ers doesn’t guarantee anything as far as Mariota’s longevity atop the depth chart is concerned. Injuries will always remain a factor and it also may come to pass that his play doesn’t pick up even against lesser competition in the coming weeks, prompting the Falcons to ape the Steelers by looking for a new spark in their signal-caller.

This will only prompt even more fervent debate amongst fans and others who would prefer to see either Mariota or Ridder leading the team, which is your cue to sound off in the comments. Where do you stand on the quarterback conversation? Do you think the results of this 49ers game will hold significant sway over who starts the rest of the year? Or will you borrow a page from the coaches and players and simply take things week by week?