It's crazy to think that there are only three weeks left in the NFL season; it seems like I was defending Arthur Smith and Desmond Ridder last week, and now I'm in full support of Atlanta moving on from them. Again, I hope in some way, shape, or form that both of those guys can work out, but it seems bleak that there's any chance of those guys reaming in the Falcon's future. To recap my weekly recap/game piece from last Sunday's game against the Panthers. Arthur Smith announced that Taylor Heinicke will be the starter for Sunday's game against the Colts and for the foreseeable future. This move comes as Desmond Ridder has shown that he can not limit turnovers, and the Falcons need any sort of boost on their offense they can find. The Falcons' playoff chances have pretty much depleted. Atlanta will have to win out and hope the wheels of both the Saints and the Bucs fall off within the last three weeks of the season. But, I hate to say it, Falcon fans, it's not looking good.
Alright, enough talk about the Falcons for a minute. Now, we will move on to their opponent, the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts are tied for first, but it's a first-place tie between the Jaguars and the Texans at 8-6. However, the Colts do not hold the tiebreaker for the AFC South, as that belongs to the Jags, but they do hold the seventh seed in the playoffs. Indy is currently on a hot streak as they've won five of their last six without their first-round quarterback, Anthony Richardson. Without Richardson, the Colts offense has been riding pretty high, 8th in points and 13th in yards. Gardner Minshew has done well in taking over the Colts' offense. Minshew currently has 17 total touchdowns, leading the Colts to a top-10 offense in the league.
On the other side of the ball, the Colts' defense isn't something to write home about. Indy currently ranks 27th in points given up and 21st in yards given up. The Colt's defense has done well in defending the pass as they are 14th in yards, 6th in touchdowns, and 3rd in interceptions. However, defending the run has hurt the Colts, who are 26th in yards and 31st in touchdowns. One (me) would say, " Wow, that could be good for Atlanta," well, recall last week when the Panthers had the 22nd run defense, and the Falcons got held to 52 yards on the ground. Being back in the ATL could mean good news, but still, it's hard to keep my hopes high.
Date: December 24th, 2023
Start Time: 1pmET/10amPT
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Stadium: Mercedes-Benz Stadium
TV Info: FOX
Key Players- Offense
Taylor Heinicke- Falcons QB
Heinicke is due to make his second set of appearances as he appeared in weeks 8-10, making two starts and coming in relief once. Heinicke completed 41 passes in those three appearances and threw three touchdowns and one interception. The veteran backup quarterback took over the offense to elevate the offense and put more points on the board. That wouldn't happen,f as Heinicke would find the bench again after suffering an injury against the Arizona Cardinals. Heinicke will be called upon once more in hopes of turning the Falcons season around in three games. Turnovers will have to be limited for succession on the Falcons offense, as that's the main reason Ridder was benched. However, I have a feeling Heinicke won't be the one to blame for issues on the offense... take a look at the graphic below.
Whether Heinicke has the worst play-caller calling for him or not, there's no doubt that he has to play his best football. As I said above, Atlanta has to win these last three games to make the playoffs.
Michael Pittman Jr.- Colts WR
Pittman Jr is on the brink of a career year as he currently sits at 1,062 receiving yards and four touchdowns. His career highs are 1,082 receiving yards and six touchdowns, which was back in 2021. It'll be an exciting matchup for Pittman, as he is due to go up against Atlanta's eight-ranked passing defense.
AS OF 12/23/23, PIttman Is QUESTIONABLE with a shoulder injury.
Key Players- Defense
Jessie Bates lll- Falcons S
Have I become a massive Jessie Bates fan? Yes. Have I probably included him too much in my defensive key player of the week? Most likely, yes. Do I care? Absolutely not. It can go without mentioning, but Bates has just not been the best defensive player for the Falcons. However, Bates has arguably been the best safety in the NFC, maybe the NFL. Bates is second in the league among safeties in solo tackles (72) and third in the NFL with five interceptions. Bates has been the game-changing factor this defense has needed in a long time. A lot of weight will be put on Bates's shoulder to lead this defense, along with the Falcons as a whole, to the playoffs.
Zaire Franklin- Colts LB
Not just the leader tackler for the Colts, but Franklin leads the league and the whole NFL at 149 tackles. This will be Franklin's second year in a row where he has reached over 100 tackles. If you recall, the Colts waived Shaq Leonard earlier in the season, and it seems like Franklin has taken over the lead linebacker role well. Other than battling their issue within, Atlanta will keep a watch on number 44 in white.
Points Spread: IND +2.5 (-110) | ATL -2.5 (-110)
Moneyline: IND (+118) | ATL (-138)
Over/Under: O 44.5 (-115) | U 44.5 (-105)
Lines via FanDuel as of Friday, December 22nd
Another player that needs some love from the Falcons is Drake London. Due to being on the 26th-scoring offense in the league and having below-average quarterback play, London's sophomore season has been clouded. Even though London has fewer yards and touchdowns than in his rookie year, he is still averaging more yards per reception (13.3) and more yards per game (59.2), and his succession rate is higher by 5%(66.7). If only London were running two-man routes and having the quarterbacks he's had thrown to him (three in two seasons), London could very well be on track to being one of the better WRs in the league. Just look at the graphic below; feed this man the ball.
Somehow, someway, the Falcons are favored by 2.5 points in this matchup. Of all the research I've done this week, I don't understand how. What comes to mind is the Colts' defense hasn't been that well this year, and there is always the possibility that Atlanta's offenses will explode. As much as I want the Falcons to pull this one out, along with their next two, I don't see it happening. The Colts are surging hot right now, and their run game has greatly improved since Jonathan Taylor came back. Even with Arthur Smith coaching for his job, Atlanta's offense will have to keep up with the Colts' offense, and I don't foresee that happening.
Prediction: IND: 24, ATL: 17
(I am proud to call Heinicke my QB1 again)
Main Image via