The Falcons have fallen to 4-4. In a vacuum they sit in first place in the division and have everything to play for. In the greater context, they are in the same spot they were in last year, record-wise. That’s a problem when you take into account that this was year three of a three-year plan (Arthur Blank’s words during training camp) and that the team invested heavily in offseason roster upgrades.
Maybe that sense of urgency helped contribute to the decision to pull starting quarterback Desmond Ridder — the NFL’s leader in giveaways — and to start Taylor Heinicke in his place. Atlanta’s opponent this weekend, Minnesota, also sits at 4-4 with their own question marks at quarterback after losing starter Kirk Cousins to a season ending achilles injury.
This feels like a key clash for both teams this weekend as this could symbolize a crossroads in the NFL season for either one.
Let’s take a look at the circumstances surrounding the Falcons if they beat the Vikings in Week 9, as well as looking at the scenario if they lose.
If the Falcons win
More than anything, it would likely rally the fanbase around Heinicke, especially if he can prove to be a positive contributing factor in the win. Heinicke has had some modest success in his NFL career, with a 12-12-1 record as a starter coming into this season. With the Falcons having the pieces around him, there’s nothing to suggest that he couldn’t lead this team a division title in a very weak NFC South.
Speaking of the South, the Falcons would guarantee themselves another week at the top of the division no matter what the other results are. The Saints face the Bears, while Tampa Bay faces the Texans. The pressure may be put on Atlanta as both of their rivals will be favorites in their respective matchups.
While the division is the goal, the wildcard still serves as a parachute, and the Vikings (who are currently in the final NFC playoff spot) are shaping up to be a serious opponent for one of those final WC spots. A victory would give Atlanta both a lead and the tiebreaker over Minnesota.
Playoffstatus.com currently gives Atlanta a 59% chance at making the playoffs. A victory this weekend increases those odds to 67% independent of other scores, with a possible chance of going up to 69% if the Saints and Bucs both lose in the best-case scenario.
If the Falcons lose
They will continue on the same trajectory they completed in each of the past two years, where they hover around .500 throughout the early part of the season and then have a complete falloff that they never recover from. The only difference is that this year, nobody can blame the talent on the roster as the reason for a lack of real success.
We may end up with more questions than answers regarding the quarterback position, depending on Heinicke’s play. The late, great John Madden once said if you have two quarterbacks you have none, and that may come to fruition for Arthur Smith.
Atlanta will give both the Saints and Buccaneers an opening to jump past them in the NFC South standings with their own victories. Minnesota will also jump past them in the Wildcard standings, as could the Commanders due to their own tiebreaker over Atlanta.
Playoffstatus.com has the Birds’ playoff odds dropping from 59% to 49% with a defeat, independent of other results. That could go down to as low as 46% in the worst case scenario.