If they nail the NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons can be the NFL’s dark horse contender no one’s talking about, especially after how they ended last season.
History might have a weird way of repeating itself with the Atlanta Falcons in 2020.
Despite having a great owner in Arthur Blank, the best receiver in football in Julio Jones and a future Pro Football Hall of Famer at quarterback in Matt Ryan, the Falcons have continually found ways to disappoint their fanbase and NFL fans at large. We all see the talent on both sides of the ball. This is the franchise that nearly won it all in Super Bowl 51 before 28-3 happened. What’s up?
Though they still managed to reach the NFC playoffs in the immediate aftermath of 28-3 in 2017, Atlanta went 7-9 the last two seasons. 2018 was mostly about cluster injuries on defense and blaming coordinators, all of whom were fired before last season. 2019 was about getting off to a rancid 1-7 start, promoting position coaches from within and finishing on a strong note at 6-2.
Atlanta must crush its 2020 NFL Draft because it has no cap space to speak of. To do this, they need a front-seven defensive playmaker to offset the consistently underwhelming play of outside linebacker Vic Beasley Jr., who isn’t coming back in his impending free agency. If the Falcons have another draft like they did in 2016, Atlanta can be the NFL’s biggest dark horse contender this fall.
The last time the Falcons started the year off 1-7 and finished with a 7-9 overall record they went to the Super Bowl the following year. 1997 was Dan Reeves‘ first year in Atlanta. Despite a slow start, he helped set the foundation for the out-of-nowhere 14-2 NFC Championship campaign in 1998. It was the year the Dirty Birds were born, one Jamal Anderson touchdown dance at a time.
The last two times the Falcons won the NFC South (2012, 2016), they played the AFC West in its entirety out of conference. Atlanta swept the AFC West in 2012 en route to 13-3. Though they didn’t get to a Super Bowl, Tony Gonzalez got the only playoff win in his Pro Football Hall of Fame career. While Atlanta split with the AFC West in 2016, the Falcons represented the NFC that year.
Though a second-place schedule could be softer, Atlanta went 4-2 in divisional play last year and doesn’t have to play the NFC West in its entirety again. Landing the NFC North is not easy, but last time the Falcons played that entire division, they still went 10-6 and won a road playoff game in 2017. If Atlanta takes care of business at home, the Falcons can go 10-6 and make the playoffs.
Not only is the NFC South incredibly winnable for Atlanta next year, but both conferences will be gaining a seventh playoff team. Atlanta could sneak in that way if the New Orleans Saints win the division for the fourth year in a row. But after three straight brutal postseason losses, who is to say the Saints still have enough fight in them to attempt to scale the NFC mountain yet again?
Overall, the Falcons seemed to finally find themselves late last season. It feels like they finally got that 28-3 stink off them. As long as head coach Dan Quinn doesn’t submarine the whole thing or general manager Thomas Dimitroff doesn’t have a draft as bad as 2017’s, Atlanta is in terrific shape to be a serious playoff contender in 2020. What if the Falcons won it all in a rival’s building?