Atlanta Falcons Bench QB Marcus Mariota, Rookie Desmond Ridder to Start

The Atlanta Falcons decided to shake things up during their bye week when they benched quarterback Marcus Mariota. Rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder will start for the Falcons in Week 15 against the New Orleans Saints.

Desmond Ridder Atlanta Falcons rookie quarterback benched Marcus Mariota
Desmond Ridder Atlanta Falcons rookie quarterback benched Marcus Mariota
Rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder will get his first start with the Atlanta Falcons in Week 15. (Image: AP)

The quarterback change occurs with the Falcons currently a long shot to advance to the playoffs. The Falcons are +40000 odds to win Super Bowl LVII, according to DraftKings’ NFL futures board.

The NFC South is one of the weakest divisions in the NFL this season. Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Bucs are in first place with a 6-6 record. The Falcons are in second place with a 5-8 record.

The erratic Falcons lost the first two games of the season, but then won four out of their next six games to take over first place in the division with a 4-4 record. Since Week 8’s wild overtime victory against the Carolina Panthers, the Falcons lost four out of their last five games.

Mariota Benched … Again

Mariota won the Heisman trophy in 2014 during his glory days at Oregon. The Tennessee Titans selected the Hawaiian-born Mariota with the second pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. He lost his starting job with the Titans midway through his fifth season when head coach Mike Vrabel benched him in favor of Ryan Tannehill in 2019.

Mariota spent the last two seasons as a backup quarterback behind Derek Carr with the Las Vegas Raiders. The Falcons signed Mariota this season after they traded Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts. Falcons head coach Arthur Smith was reunited with Mariota. Smith was Mariota’s offense coordinator with the Titans before he took over the Falcons’ head coaching position last season.

With Mariota under center, the Falcons averaged 15.5 points per game in their last six losses. When the Falcons score 27 or more points, they were 4-1 this season.

When you play close games, every point counts. In 13 games with the Falcons this season, 10 were decided by one score. Four of the Falcons’ five victories were one-score games, and all four were decided by three points. Six of the Falcons’ losses were one-score games.

In 13 games this season, Mariota completed 61.3% of his passes for 2,219 yards. He threw 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also added 438 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. During the last five games, Mariota’s accuracy drastically declined.

Future Bright with Ridder

The Falcons selected Ridder with a third-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He was the second quarterback selected last season behind Kenny Pickett, who went to the Pittsburgh Steelers with the #20 overall pick.

Ridder won 44 games, including two bowl games, as the starting quarterback of the Cincinnati Bearcats. When he graduated, Ridder tallied the third-most victories by a quarterback in NCAA history. He started 48 regular season games and went 42-6 as a starter for Cincinnati.

Ridder completed 62.1% of his passes for 10,239 career yards. He threw 87 touchdowns and 28 interceptions. Ridder also added 2,180 rushing yards and 28 rushing touchdowns. In his senior season in 2021, Ridder threw for 36 touchdowns.

Ridder led Cincinnati to a 13-0 record in the 2021 regular season, and they qualified for the College Football Playoff. The Bearcats were no match for Alabama and lost 27-6 in the CFP semifinals.

After 13 games as an NFL backup, Smith thinks Ridder is ready to take over for the Falcons for their final stretch. The move will also give the organization a chance to see how he’s progressed as Mariota’s understudy.

According to the look-ahead line by the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, the Falcons are a -3.5 road underdog in Week 15.

Falcons Have 5% Shot at NFC South Title

FiveThirtyEight projects the first-place Bucs have an 87% chance to win the NFC South for the second consecutive season. With a break-even record, the Bucs can qualify for the postseason with an automatic berth by winning the division.

The second-place Falcons have a 5% chance to win the NFC South. They last won a division title in 2016. The third-place Panthers, with Sam Darnold at quarterback, are 4-8 and have a slightly better chance at 8% to win the division. The Falcons and Panthers won’t have enough wins to earn an NFC wild-card berth, so their only hope for a trip to the postseason is to win the NFC South.

The Bucs are the consensus favorite to win the NFC South at -650 odds, according to DraftKings. The Panthers are +900 odds, and the Falcons are +1100 odds to win the division.

After the bye this week, the Falcons play four more games and will probably have to win all four to secure a playoff berth.

The Falcons hit the road to play the New Orleans Saints (Week 15) next Sunday, and the Baltimore Ravens (Week 16). The Falcons host two home games to end the season against the Arizona Cardinals (Week 17) and the Bucs (Week 18). The final game of the season between the Falcons and Bucs could determine the NFC South title.

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