It’s Week 12 of the NFL season and the 6-5 Washington Commanders will be facing a 5-6 Falcons team in Raljon.
This game has significant NFC Wild Card implications with both teams still in the thick of the race for the final couple playoff spots. The Falcons are in the midst of a three game losing streak, while Washington has won 5 of 6, and is one of the hottest teams in the league right now. Will Washington be able to dispatch another struggling opponent like it did with the Texans last week? Will the Falcons thrust themselves right back into the playoff mix?
To learn more about these and other issues, I asked Kevin Knight of the Falcoholic five questions about the state of the Falcons and what to look for in this game.
1) The Falcons passing offense hasn’t been highly productive, yet they are in the thick of the hunt for the NFC South lead. What’s the opinion of Marcus Mariota? Will he be the QB in Atlanta next year?
Marcus Mariota is a very polarizing figure in Atlanta. On the one hand, he offers a lot as a runner and puts some splash plays on tape. On the other, he’s a very limited and inconsistent passer who is clearly holding back Atlanta’s passing game. I do not expect him to be the starting QB in 2023, but there’s a chance he returns as the backup. Ultimately, I think the Falcons will turn to Desmond Ridder this year if/when they’re eliminated from playoff contention.
2) On the heels of a tremendous 2021, Kyle Pitts was putting up much less impressive stats this year before his knee injury. What was the reason for that? How much will the Falcons’ offense struggle without him?
Much of it has to do with Marcus Mariota and the limited nature of the passing game. A full third of Pitts’ targets were considered “off target”, which when combined with a low volume passing game to begin with, has resulted in a disappointing statistical season.
Pitts has had opportunities for a half dozen long TD passes that have been missed by Mariota. His loss will be massive even though the production wasn’t necessarily there. Defenses can now focus all their attention on Drake London and the rushing attack. It’ll be much harder for Atlanta to move the ball on the ground without Pitts threatening defenses in the passing game.
3) It looks like Atlanta’s rush defense has been far better than its pass defense, which appears to be one of the most porous in the league. What’s the best way to attack this defense? What are its strengths?
Throwing the ball against Atlanta is the best way to succeed, although I’d expect them to improve to merely “below average” with A.J. Terrell’s return. The pass rush is poor and the secondary has been reeling from injuries. Add tackling issues to the mix and you have a struggling unit.
The run defense has been fairly stout, but even that could suffer with the loss of Ta’Quon Graham to IR. This is an injury-depleted defense that was thin to begin with due to the team’s salary cap issues.
4) General Manager Terry Fontenot selected former Washington personnel executive Kyle Smith as his vice president of player personnel a couple of years ago. The Bills Brandon Beane made a run at him this past summer, but the Falcons turned down the interview request. What do Falcons’ watchers think of Fontenot and Smith?
Terry Fontenot has done terrific work thus far and deserves accolades for cleaning up a complete salary cap mess in just two seasons. Atlanta maneuvered out of a number of bad contracts and is currently dealing with $77M in dead cap this year, but will be all but free of those constraints in 2023 and beyond.
Kyle Smith has done terrific work as well, though his contributions are less obvious to fans. I really like the front office that has been put together in Atlanta.
5) What are you expecting the final score of the game to be this week? DraftKings Sportsbook has the over/under set at 42. How many points do you expect to be scored overall?
I’m predicting a 27-20 win for the Commanders this week. This is a tough matchup for the Falcons, who have struggled against teams that can stop their rushing attack. However, Atlanta’s defense has been opportunistic, and I think turnovers will keep this game close and present an opening for the Falcons to pull off an upset. Still, Washington deserves to be favored in this one.
Thanks again to Kevin Knight for taking time out of his day to answer our questions about the Falcons.
As of right now, Vegas has Washington as 4.5 point favorites over Atlanta. How would you bet?
Washington wins by 5 or more points.
Washington wins by 4 points or less, or ties.
As of now, Vegas has the over/under for this game at 42 points. Which would you bet?
43 or more total points are scored.
41 or fewer points are scored.