I’m not sure why it works out this way, but every four years, the Falcons seem to put it all together and make a run in the playoffs — at least since Matt Ryan has been around.
Beginning with Ryan’s rookie season, the Falcons bounced-back from a 3-13 campaign to make the playoffs at 11-5. They lost in the Wild Card round to the Arizona Cardinals in heartbreaking fashion, but those Cardinals went on to the Super Bowl, nearly pulling off an immaculate run led by former grocery bagger turned Hall-of-Famer Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald.
In 2012, the Falcons put it all together again. This time they went 13-3 and won their first playoff game of the Matt Ryan era over the Seattle Seahawks on a game-winning field goal off the toe of Matt Bryant. The Falcons went on to take a 24-7 lead going into halftime against the 49ers in the NFC Championship game, but Colin Kaepernick led a comeback that left Atlanta fans stunned.
Four years later, Matt Ryan and company found themselves in a similar situation, except this time they kept their foot on the gas, thrashing the Packers on the way to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1998. Waiting for them was Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, and for three quarters, it looked as if the Falcons were finally heading for glory. We won’t get into what happened after that.
So, if you noticed, there’s another trend going on here. Not only do the Falcons seem to play their best every four years, but they also make it one step further each cycle. If that’s the case in 2020, Atlanta will be Super Bowl champions for the first time in franchise history.
Do I actually believe that? No, but that’s just because the odds are stacked against every team to begin the season. However, I am that idiotic buffoon that has found a way to hype up this team enough in my head to believe they are going to make the playoffs and be an extremely tough out once they get there. Not because of some weird coincidental trend, but because I believe the changes this organization has made since the second half of last season are enough to make them Super Bowl contenders again.
Offensively, the Falcons have all the pieces to be elite. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a team with more explosive players at the skill positions, Matt Ryan is still a top-tier QB, and the offensive line finally has enough depth that I’m not too worried about Ryan getting laid out 10-15 times a game. My primary concern is Dirk Koetter as the offensive coordinator, but even he should be better in his second season with this group. Defensively, Atlanta has the potential to be as complete as they have been in the Dan Quinn era.
Finally, the days of watching Vic Beasley play in a Falcons uniform are past us. Replacing him with Dante Fowler Jr. should be a night and day difference against both the run and the pass. Grady Jarrett is one of the best defensive tackles in the league. Then add a motivated Takk McKinley, second-year John Cominsky, and rookie Marlon Davidson in the mix, and Atlanta should have a more than respectable pass rush – something they haven’t had in years.
The secondary is what I was worried about. However, the late addition of Darqueze Dennard eases those concerns considerably. First-round pick A.J. Terrell has been raved about throughout training camp. Isaiah Oliver was fantastic in the second half of last season under Raheem Morris, and Dennard should be an above-average nickel corner. The Falcons also have some reliable depth at the position in Kendall Sheffield and Blidi Wreh-Wilson.
On top of that, Raheem Morris plans to implement packages with all three of his starting-caliber safeties. As far as depth goes in the secondary, this is the deepest group Atlanta has had in years, and Morris clearly figured out how to push all the right buttons last season.
It’s going to be a weird season, and who knows if fans will ever be allowed in the Benz. However, if yesterday’s season opener taught us anything, it’s still football, and the best teams will win. The Falcons’ coaches, front office, and many of the players are fighting for their jobs. Everyone is counting them out, which always seems to be the perfect recipe for success during the Matt Ryan era, and I expect that to be the case again in 2020.