The Atlanta Falcons have taken the first step toward making sure their current rebuild goes as smoothly as possible — and possibly accelerating their return to the top of the NFC South.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota has been benched after 13 games, and the team named third-round rookie Desmond Ridder their new starter. Time will (shortly) tell if Ridder has the promise to be the Falcons' quarterback heading into the future — with a date against their dreaded rival Saints coming this Sunday for his first game. While the plan is for Ridder to play well, and the organization is certainly high on their young quarterback prospect, it doesn't matter too much if he shows that he can't play in the NFL.
Arthur Smith’s second year as the Falcons' head coach has had its ups and downs, but there have generally been more things to be excited about with the performance of this team than reasons to be desperately concerned. The fact of the matter is that the Falcons needed to make this move and if they hadn’t, it would have shown a lack of foresight on what lies beyond this year. Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot are in no danger of getting fired, and Mariota had no chance to be the team’s long-term starting quarterback. Might as well start looking at your options beyond this season.
The pathway for the Falcons to fly back up to the top of the NFC South isn’t too daunting now that they’ve made the first step. According to Ben Baldwin of The Athletic, they rank 16th in expected points added per play (0.018) on offense this season and that’s with a roster that’s been hampered by nearly $80 million in dead cap. The expectation should be that this can be one of the better offenses in the league next year since they’ll have access to cap spending that was restricted by the previous regime.
Atlanta is set up to be one of the best teams in the division if the 2022 season is as real a foundation as it appears to be (at least on offense). Kyle Pitts should get back to playing like one of the best tight ends in the league next year, Drake London is a promising young wide receiver and the Falcons have one of the better play-callers in the sport. As Tom Brady, eventually, gets ready to move on from football (or at least the Buccaneers), the Falcons have a chance to seize this opportunity with some of the pieces they have in place right now.
It's a better outlook than any other NFC South team has. Team owner David Tepper shouldn't be trusted with the Panthers at all right now. The Saints went all-in on a terrible roster and are a few losses away from missing out on a top-five pick they traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. There's no reason why the Falcons can't end up being the best team in this division in the near future as the Buccaneers start to figure out their own quarterback issues.
Falcons. Top of the NFC South. The path has begun. And if any of you Saints fans disagree with me, you can meet me at the logo, I was going to fight you guys anyways.