The Houston Texans and the rest of the AFC South see the NFC South as their crossover division this year and the Falcons are the first opponent from that division. The two divisions aren’t exactly the same but they are eerily similar. There doesn’t seem to be a clear favorite and the top three quarterbacks from the 2023 draft find themselves in these two divisions. Let’s see how this one goes as the Falcons return stateside for what looks like a close battle between two and coming teams.
Battle Red Blog: We are now in year two of Desmond Ridder as a full time starter. Do you see him as a long term answer at quarterback? If no, what does he need to do to convince you he is one?
Kevin Knight: I was one of Ridder’s bigger supporters this offseason, believing that he’d continue to take small steps forward from his 2-2 start in 2022. While he’s been with the team since 2022, Ridder has only started eight games so far. Ridder’s first two games were a little sketchy but encouraging: by the time the game was over, Ridder had made enough plays—particularly in the fourth quarter—that you were willing to live with the mistakes. Most importantly, he wasn’t holding the team back from winning. Over the past two games, Ridder’s productivity has nosedived and he’s begun turning the ball over at an extremely high rate. The passing game has essentially broken for the past two weeks, and Atlanta has lost two straight games by double-digits due to the failure of the offense. I don’t think you’ll find anyone who still has hope that Ridder can be a long-term answer, but it’s definitely not impossible. At this point, we’re hoping he can just right the ship and not torpedo the offense every week.
BRB: Bijan Robinson is an early candidate for Offensive rookie of the year. For Texans fans that haven’t seen him, what back past or present could you compare him to?
KK: There have been a ton of lofty comparisons for Bijan at this point, which are obviously premature. To me, I think Bijan’s flashes most resemble LaDainian Tomlinson, but I’ve heard Marshall Faulk and others thrown in there. Deebo Samuel is another player who draws comparisons—the two are almost identical athletically. Bijan is quite literally carrying this offense on his back at the moment, and his presence alone seemingly gives this team a chance every week. Atlanta won’t be able to rely on that exclusively, particularly against defenses that can bottle up the run. We’ve already seen defenses begin to put 8, 9, and even 10 players in the box in response to Atlanta’s passing ineptitude.
BRB: Who are players on both sides of the ball we may not be familiar with but who will have a big impact on Sunday?
KK: The Falcons added safety Jessie Bates III to the defense this offense in a move that wasn’t grabbing headlines at the time, but he’s come in and made an immediate impact as arguably the NFL’s best safety through the first four weeks. The team also beefed up the interior defensive line with the addition of David Onyemata alongside longtime stalwart Grady Jarrett—that duo is playing like one of the premier tandems in the league. Offensively, the Falcons have turned to tight end Jonnu Smith as a primary option due to the pass protection issues and Ridder’s inability to get the ball downfield. Smith is Atlanta’s leading receiver and is one of the more dangerous yards-after-catch threats on the team.
BRB: The NFC South is wide open this year. How do you see the division shaking out? Who do you think the Falcons toughest opponent will be?
KK: I still think the Falcons are in contention for the division at 2-2, but they’ll need to either get more out of Ridder or make a move to veteran Taylor Heinicke at some point. Atlanta’s defense is more than good enough at this stage, which is surprising but not at all unwelcome. With Derek Carr’s injury and the Panthers looking like one of the worst teams in the league, it seems likely to come down to Tampa Bay and Atlanta. Props to Baker Mayfield, he’s playing very well right now and the Bucs still have a good defense. I’m just skeptical that things will continue that way. The NFC South winner will probably have 10 wins, so it’s a race to that number at this point.
BRB: The Falcons are 2.5 point favorites going in according to DraftKing Sportsbook. Do you like the line where it is? Do you think the Falcons will cover? Are there any other prop bets you feel comfortable recommending?
I have zero faith in the Falcons offense at this stage, but my gut feelings about Atlanta week-to-week are rarely all that accurate. I think this ends up being a weird bounce-back game for Atlanta that coincides with a little bit of a “mellow out” game for the Texans, who heading into this game have looked like the much better team over the past two weeks. Desmond Ridder, somehow, is still undefeated at home and has definitely played his best football there. In terms of props, the Bijan Robinson receiving yardage over has hit every single week. It’s been creeping up ever so slowly as a result, but it’s probably the safest bet on this offense.
We want to thank Kevin for taking the time to answer our questions this week. Two up and coming teams will square off on Sunday and one of them will walk away with a winning record. We want to wish Kevin and the Falcons the best of luck, but hopefully that luck will take off on Monday morning.