FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Buddy the Elf, what's your favorite color?
Why yes, you heard right, this week's installment of "Five things to watch" is coming to you a day early.
Why? Because the Falcons are playing on Saturday, you cotton-headed ninny muggins.
That's right, between (or better yet, during) those hefty helpings of the four main food groups (candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup), you can catch the Falcons face the Ravens in Baltimore where it'll be a balmy seven degrees (just like the temperature of the seventh level of the Candy Cane Forest).
Doesn't that sound fun?! I think so. And I should say it's so nice to meet another human who shares my affinity for elf culture. Anyways, I won't keep you any longer. Let's dive in.
(P.S. I'm sorry I ruined your lives, and crammed 11 cookies into the VCR.)
1. Desmond Ridder's growth
What did I tell you last week? Don't expect Ridder to be the savior of Falcons football! That's just not fair. And look, I stand by this as the Falcons travel to Baltimore. Honestly, I hope you do, too.
We know Ridder's stat line in his first start wasn't great. But that's not the end-all-be-all. Let's be honest, too: This final four game slate in which we are able to see Ridder in a starting role was always going to be an evaluation period, one in which the Falcons' decision-makers would use to help decide whether or not they see Ridder as more than a backup in Atlanta.
You cannot - and should not - let one game be your sole evaluation. If that were the case there'd be a lot of really good players who never would have gotten their careers off the ground.
When I think about Ridder, I actually go back to evaluations of other rookies in this most recent draft class. All of them - seriously, all of them - have made significant steps in their level of play since the start of the season to now. Why? Because they have garnered experience. Ridder has not.
Troy Andersen and Tyler Allgeier have moved into primary roles within their units because they've 1) gotten significant playing time and 2) grown because of it. Up until last week, Ridder could not say that.
So, now that we have a starting point for Ridder, we have a better idea of where he needs to go. He needs to settle into the pocket a little bit more, essentially allowing more time for plays to flesh out before him. That comes with actually being in the pocket, which is a place he hasn't had a chance to be in since the preseason.
How much more comfortable will Ridder be in the pocket this week from how he looked last week? That's something you should pay close attention to, more than the stat line from the Saints game even.
2. No Lamar Jackson
For the third game in a row, the Ravens leader and primary producer on offense will be on the sideline. It was announced on Thursday that Jackson would not play the Falcons on Saturday as he continues to work through a lingering knee injury. Tyler Huntley will be the Ravens starting quarterback.
Huntley has started the last two games for Baltimore. Through those two most recent appearances, Huntley was 25-of-42 through the air for 226 yards. He's been sacked four times and thrown one interception. He's also rushed for 46 yards on 15 carries.
At the time Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees spoke to the media on Wednesday, a decision had not been made about Jackson's status. When asked about his preparation for the unknown of who would start at quarterback for the Ravens, Pees said you often find yourself prepping to face the opposing coordinator not necessarily a specific quarterback.
"There are certain plays that are never going to change. They're staples. They're going to show up no matter who the quarterback is," Pees explained. "You have to make sure you have those handled. Then, it's just a matter of what style quarterback they have. If you look at all of their quarterbacks, they're the same style quarterback. It's not like that one time... where I went from Michael Vick to Matt Schaub. There's a distinct difference there. Their three guys are very similar, so they can do the same stuff."
Pees and the Falcons defensive staff will have two games worth of film on Huntley, too. They should be prepared.
3. A low-scoring game
This matchup really has the potential to be a low-scoring barnburner, which the Falcons have found themselves in quite a lot this season.
In their last three games, the Ravens haven't broken into the 20-point range in scoring. They didn't even make it into the endzone at all last Sunday in their 13-3 loss to the Browns. However, of those last three games, they've still managed to win two of three thanks to their stout defensive play.
Meanwhile, the Falcons don't look too different. In the last month and a half they haven't been high-scoring either. Like the Ravens, the Falcons last three games haven't yielded over 20 points scored in any of the three. The good news is that the defense hasn't allowed opponents to score more than 21, but the Falcons are still 0-3 in those contests.
Either way you slice it, neither team has been very productive in punching that ball into the endzone recently. This game could be a grind because of that, especially with weather conditions being what they're set to be at kickoff.
4. Two teams that want to run the ball
Is it possible that between the Ravens and the Falcons offensive attacks that we see a combined run total of 70 individual runs in this game? Perhaps you shouldn't count it out.
Allgeier is coming off his first triple-digit rushing performance of his young career. The Falcons offense as a whole ran for 236 yards last week, their most this year and the most they've had in a single game since 2016. They have a top-three rushing offense in the league. But you know who's No. 2 in a couple of those rushing categories? Baltimore.
The Ravens ran for 198 yards last week against Cleveland with J.K. Dobbins leading the way with a 9.6 yards per carry average. They're entering into Sunday's game wanting to run the ball as much as the Falcons do.
What's interesting is that both the Falcons and Ravens are coming off of losses in which a productive and prosperous run game didn't equate to a win. They'll both want to change up that narrative this week.
5. What else is going on in the NFC South
Despite losing five of their last six, the Falcons are still in playoff contention. I know. It's crazy.
However, because they have lost those games and because they only have one divisional win, they do not own a tiebreaker in the division. Essentially, the Falcons need the Buccaneers, Saints and Panthers to lose (or tie) when they face their opponents on Saturday and Sunday. That, and basically, the Falcons need a win in Baltimore.
If you want to keep up with these games, here's when they're happening:
The Falcons face the Ravens at the same time the Panthers face the Lions and the Saints face the Browns on Saturday. Tampa Bay takes the Christmas Day game, playing the Cardinals on Sunday night.
None of this really matters, though, if the Falcons don't beat the Ravens in Baltimore. It begins and ends there.
The guys put in the work in Flowery Branch to prepare for this week's game against the Baltimore Ravens.