Atlanta Falcons Switch Quarterbacks, Taylor Heinicke to Start in Week 9

Posted on: November 3, 2023, 11:14h. 

Last updated on: November 4, 2023, 11:40h.

Backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke will start for the Atlanta Falcons this week after they benched starter Desmond Ridder.

Atlanta Falcons Taylor Heinicke
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Taylor Heinicke, seen here dropping back for a pass against the Tennessee Titans, earned a promotion from backup to starter in Week 9. (Image: Getty)

The Falcons (4-4) are tied for first place in the NFC South with the New Orleans Saints.

Head coach Arthur Smith made the command decision to switch quarterbacks against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 9.

The Vikings will also have a new starting quarterback this week. Kirk Cousins sustained a season-ending torn Achilles on Sunday, and backup Jaren Hall will start against the Falcons. The Vikings recently acquired veteran quarterback Josh Dobbs in a trade with the Arizona Cardinals, but he won’t be ready to step into the starting role until next week.

The Falcons are -4 favorites when they host the Vikings (4-4) on Sunday. The Falcons are one of the worst betting teams in the NFL this season, with a 2-6 record against the point spread. The Vikings are 4-3-1 ATS this season, but that was with Cousins at quarterback.

Struggling Desmond Ridder Benched

Smith benched Ridder to jump-start the sputtering offense. The Falcons average 17.3 points per game, which is the fourth-lowest scoring offense in the NFL. Three of their victories were decided by three points or less. They scored fewer than seven points in two of their losses.

For the second consecutive season, Ridder finds himself in the middle of a quarterback shake-up. In December of last season, Smith benched starting quarterback Marcus Mariota. Ridder was an untested rookie out of Cincinnati, but Smith gave him a chance to play in the final month of the season. Ridder showed promise and went 2-2 during his stint as a starter.

The Falcons installed Ridder as the starter this season, and he’s 4-4 so far this year. He completed 65.4% of his passes for 1,701 yards, with six passing touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns. He tossed six interceptions and was sacked 25 times.

In Week 8 last Sunday, the Tennessee Titans sacked Ridder five times. A banged-up Ridder was evaluated for a concussion at halftime. Even though the Falcon’s medical staff cleared Ridder, Smith tapped Heinicke to come off the bench and finish the game.

“We’re always going to be cautious,” said Smith. “I’ll be conservative.”

Smith insisted that he didn’t bench Ridder, but kept him out for health concerns. The Falcons lost, 28-23, and slipped to 4-4.

Heinicke Finally Gets a Shot

Heinicke started 24 games with the Washington Commanders and went 12-11-1 over the last two seasons as their starter. He joined the Falcons in free agency as a well-paid backup behind Ridder. Some fans clamored for Heinicke to start over Ridder at the beginning of the season. Now, they finally get their wish in Week 9.

Smith didn’t say whether or not the quarterback switch was temporary or permanent.

There are a lot of variables, just kind of looking at it in the short term,” Smith said. “But really our focus is short term and what gives us the best chance Sunday. Everything considered, a lot of variables.”

The Falcons trailed 14-3 against the Titans at halftime when Heinicke took over at the start of the third quarter. Heinicke led the Falcons to scoring drives on four of their first five possessions in the second half. Although Heinicke made the game competitive, the Falcons came up short and lost by five points. He completed 12 of 21 passes for 175 yards and one touchdown in a relief appearance.

“Whether you call it spatial awareness or whatever, Taylor’s got a unique ability to extend plays,” said Smith. “This isn’t his first rodeo. He’s been a great fit here. That’s why you sign a guy like him.”

In 26 total games with the Commanders, Heinicke completed 64% of his passes for 5,145 yards. He threw 33 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.

“The only thing I’m focused on is this week,” said Heinicke. “The Vikings have a really difficult defense. That’s enough on my plate right there. I’m focused on being the guy this week. We’ll see what happens going forward.”

Betting the Falcons in Tight NFC South Race

The NFC South has been wide open ever since Tom Brady retired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and they signed Baker Mayfield to replace the superstar. The division winner locks up an automatic bid to the postseason, and the NFC South is a three-way race among the Falcons, Saints, and Bucs. As the NFL approaches the midpoint of the season, the Bucs (3-4) had an early bye week, and they’re a half-game behind the Falcons and Saints at 4-4.

The Falcons are the current betting favorite to win the NFC South at +115 odds. The Saints are right behind them at +125 odds. The Bucs are at +500 odds, and the last-place Carolina Panthers are a long shot at +6500 odds.

DraftKings offers a popular prop bet on which teams will make or miss the playoffs. The Falcons are -185 odds to make the playoffs and +150 odds to miss the postseason. The Saints are -150 odds to advance to the playoffs but +120 odds to miss it.

According to Upshot’s NFL playoff simulator, the Falcons have a 57% chance to advance to the playoffs and a 36% chance to win the NFC South. The Saints have a more favorable projection, according to Upshot, with a 71% chance to make the playoffs and a 52% chance to win the division.

The Falcons began the season at +6000 odds to win Super Bowl LVIII. They’re currently +7000 odds and have a 1% chance to win the Super Bowl, according to Upshot.