Coming off arguably the toughest loss the Falcons have had all season, Atlanta will turn to backup quarterback Tayler Heinicke to try and get them back on the winning track. It won't just be the Falcons rolling out another QB, as the Minnesota Vikings will start rookie Jaren Hall, taking the place of veteran Kirk Cousins, as Cousins will be out for the rest of the season with a torn Achilles. I'll get into both quarterbacks later on, as they'll both be the key players this week. Between starting new QBs, battling injuries, and both teams fighting for playoff positions, Sunday's matchup should be a hard-fought battle from both sides.
In addition to announcing Hall as their starter, the Vikings traded for more quarterback depth on deadline day as they snagged Josh Dobbs from the Arizona Cardinals. Dobbs brings some starting experience to Minnesota as he played in eight games for the Cardinals, throwing for 1,569 yards, eight touchdowns, and five interceptions. Dobbs also ran for 258 yards and three touchdowns as Arizona's starter. The Tennessee alum will be active on Sunday and could see playing time, per Kevin O'Connell's interview after trading for Dobbs.
The injury bug has come in and infected the Vikings as they'll be without superstar WR Justin Jefferson, who is slated to come off the IR next week, but Kevin O'Connell also stated that they won't rush him back. Atlanta dodges a bullet (or a jet) with Jefferson being out, but the talent on the Vikings' offense doesn't lack. Rookie WR Jordan Addison has posted 482 yards and seven touchdowns, while T.J. Hockenson has caught three touchdowns with 478 receiving yards. Defending Mineoasota's pass will be a challenge, even with a rookie quarterback starting (look how ATL did last week against Will Levis). On the other hand, the rushing attack for the Vikings has not been as impactful as the passing attack. Minnesota is 31st in both rushing touchdowns (1) and yards (586).
Defensively, Minnesota has been middle of the pack as they rank 15th in points and 11th in yards. Harrison Smith, Jordan Hicks, and Danielle Hunter are all key players in this defense that has helped Minnesota to three straight wins, one of those wins being over San Francisco in Week 7. Atlanta will have to limit the turnovers (once again) and let their running backs run like stallions to triumph over the Viking's defense.
Date: November 5th, 2023
Start Time: 1pmET/11amPT
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Stadium: Mercedes-Benz Stadium
TV Info: FOX
Key Players- Offense
Taylor Heinicke- Falcons QB
On Wednesday, Arthur Smith officially announced that Taylor Heinicke will be the starter for the Falcons. This is a short-term decision and was only announced for Heinicke just to start this Sunday game and not the rest of the season now; that doesn't mean Ridder will start the rest of the way, nor does it mean Heinicke will start the rest of the either; well just have to wait and see. Regardless, Henicke elevated the Falcon's offense in the second half against the Titans. In the second half alone, Heinicke threw for 175 yards and a touchdown. This will be a nice "factory reset" for the Falcon's offense in hopes they can start finding some consistency. Here's more from Arthur Smith on the QB situation on the Pat McAfee show
Jalen Hall- Vikings OB
Not much on Hall as he made his first NFL appearance last week, throwing three completions on four passes for 23 yards. We saw last week that it doesn't matter how much experience a QB has; they can still torch a defense, and the Falcons showed that. Especially with Atlanta having a lackluster pass rush and now with Grady Jarret being out for the rest of the season, this will be no "brush off the shoulder" for the Falcons' defense.
Key Players- Defense
Jessie Bates lll- Falcons S
When your defense is down and injuries and also coming off a tough loss, I believe you have to turn to your best guys, and one of those guys is Jessie Bates for the Falcons. Bates has had an impressive start in Atlanta, as he is second in the team in total, and he also leads the team in interceptions. Look for number three in black on Sunday to disrupt Jalen Hall's first start in the NFL.
Danielle Hunter- Vikings DL
Hunter was a favorite to be traded at the deadline due to Minnesota not having a winning record, but it was reported that Hunter would be pulled off the trade market. Hunter has been a menace for the Vikings, as he has recorded ten sacks and has forced three fumbles. It will be a necessity to stop any force that Hunter brings; Heinicke will need all the help he can get from the offensive line as they will have their hands full with Hunter.
Points Spread: MIN +3.5 (-110) | ATL -3.5 (-110)
Moneyline: MIN (+156) |ATL (-186)
Over/Under: O 37.5 (-105) | U 37.5 (-115)
Lines via FanDuel as of Friday, November 3rd
I stated that the Injury bug had come in and infected the Vikings, and well, Atlanta couldn't escape the highly infectious bug either, as Drake London, Grady Jarrett (out for the rest of the season), LaCale London (IR), and Keith Smith all headline the injury report on Sunday. With Jarrett and London out, the Falcon's defense line will feature Calais Campbell, David Onyemata, and newly acquired Kentavius Street. With London out as well, I'm sure we'll see Mack Hollins and Scotty Miller take most of the WR snaps along with Van Jefferson. We may also see Kyle Pitts take more snaps in the receiver position. The London injury is impactful, but Atlanta does have the talent, as they can move guys around and fill holes.
So, one more Atlanta is the favorite, but I'm struggling with my pick here because it seems like when I pick Atlanta to win, they lose (totally not superstitious). I think Atlanta has a good chance to win this week, and I like what I saw from Heinckie last week as he was able to wake up the Falcons offense, who only scored 3 points before he came in. The pass rush is troubling me; not having Grady Jarrett is a big blow to the Falcons D-line, which is 26th in sacks. I also don't care who's at quarterback; if they are given time, they'll end up torching a defense. Again, look to last week's game against Will Levis. If Atlanta can run a balanced offense and protect Heinkie, getting in the backfield and not letting Hall get comfortable, Atlanta should get right back to being over .500.
Side note: I think Arthur Smith's seat gets a little hotter if Atlanta can't pull out the win on Sunday; more on this next week.
Prediction: ATL-23, MIN-17
(These two also need to have a big game)
(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)