Are the Falcons playoff contenders or pretenders?

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It’s early, but the Falcons have the playoffs in their sights. After dropping the first two games of the season in excruciating fashion, Atlanta has won in back-to-back weeks thanks to a dominant run game, posting 200+ yards on the ground in both victories. The NFC playoff picture is wide open, but the Falcons will likely have to sneak into the Wild Card because Tom Brady and the Buccaneers still exist. So, is this team a playoff contender or pretender?

Adam Schein of NFL.com recently explored this topic. Per Schein, teams that start 2-2 make the playoffs just 36.6% of the time, but he did note this is only the second season in which the NFL has had the 17-game regular season and 14-team postseason format. Nearly half of the league sits at .500 entering Week 5; the entire NFC West and AFC North, outside of Pittsburgh, sit at 2-2, along with seven other clubs. That’s 14 teams, most of which will not make the postseason. Schein attempted to decipher which are postseason contenders and pretenders — the Falcons being the last playoff-caliber team.

Honestly, in the wake of Cordarrelle Patterson hitting injured reserve on Monday, I almost dropped the Falcons into the next section. That injury hurts. A lot. But I believe in Arthur Smith. This guy can coach.

Atlanta clearly lacks talent, but this team plays hard. Smith squeezes everything out of an overmatched roster. I mean, in Sunday’s 23-20 win over the Browns, the Falcons got 140 yards and a touchdown off 20 carries from Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley. Who?! Exactly.

Frankly, the Falcons should’ve beat the Saints in Week 1 — they led 26-10 in the fourth quarter — which would have them sitting alone atop the NFC South at 3-1. Patterson’s absence will be felt, but Drake London is a difference-making receiver in Year 1. Mismatch nightmare Kyle Pitts has been surprisingly quiet to start the season, but I trust Smith will get him going. Marcus Mariota is hardly spectacular, but he’s a savvy veteran at quarterback.

These are not playoff predictions. I’m just trying to surmise which teams will remain in the playoff race over the next three months. Even without Patterson for at least the next four weeks, Smith will get the most out of his team.

As Schein states, this wasn’t a prediction. Instead, it was merely deciding which clubs would remain in the playoff race over the next three months. And I couldn’t agree more. The Falcons probably won’t make the postseason, but like last year, Arthur Smith demands a level of grit from his team that will keep Atlanta competitive in most games. In 2021, the Falcons’ playoff hopes were alive up until the end when they lost in Week 17 to the Buffalo Bills.

The loss of Patterson is a crushing blow, but the team showed last week they were still able to move the ball on the ground with Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley. The reason is that the offensive line has been the primary catalyst of the unit’s overall success. If the big uglies continue their impressive play up front, it doesn’t matter who is running the ball. At some point this season, though, a game will come down to Marcus Mariota‘s arm, and that’s where things get far less optimistic. Time will tell. But as it stands right now, Arthur Smith has this team believing they’re a playoff contender.

Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

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