Last year, the Seattle Seahawks went 7-9. If we go by record alone, they were the worst team ever to make the playoffs.
The fact that they even made it sparked calls for a reform of the playoff seeding system. They were roundly mocked, pointed at, harangued and predicted to lose by more or less every single pundit in the NFL. Why not? They were the worst team ever to make the playoffs, and the Saints were far superior in all three phases. The story of the Seahawks was the story of a team that didn't deserve to be there and would be promptly jettisoned from the land of deserving contenders.
Except that wasn't the story. The story, as is the case almost every year in the NFL playoffs, was of a flawed football team pulling off an upset win in the playoffs against a team superior in both record and talent. The Seahawks beating the Saints was not a crazy aberration, though the fact that they had a losing record made it seem like it. This happens almost every year.
In those same playoffs, the Falcons and Patriots—both #1 seeds based on dominant regular seasons—lost to Wild Card teams in the Packers and Jets. The Packers went on to beat the division-winning Chicago Bears and win the Super Bowl. As it turns out, 2010 was an aberration, with both #1 seeds meeting in the Super Bowl. In the last decade, only two top seeds have won the big game, and the two "best" teams in each conference have met only once.
Why do I bring this up? Because there's a significant minority of Falcons fans who seem ready to give away this playoff berth. Don't let us be embarrassed on a national stage again, many say. With the way this team is playing, we should just skip it, say others. This team doesn't deserve the playoffs, say a few.
I understand this sentiment, to a point. But I can't support it.
Are the Falcons going to make a deep playoff run? Please note that I'm not crazy enough to say that.
This is a flawed team. It may even be a fatally flawed team. Both lines are weak, which hamstrings the offense and put the coverage team in impossible positions on a regular basis. That's exacerbated by play calling that could charitably be termed weird, and that really does go for both sides of the ball. Chris Owens has superior top end speed and Dunta Robinson excels when he can play his man close and rattle his doors when the ball touches the receiver's hands. Let's stick with the zone!
But why give up? Worse teams than these Falcons have won playoff games. The Cardinals of 2008 made the Super Bowl with a 9-7 record and were blown out in the regular season by the Giants (56-35), the Vikings (35-14) and the Patriots (47-7). Not one of those teams made the Super Bowl, though, despite their seemingly superior defenses and high-octane offenses. The Cardinals did, and they played a vastly superior Steelers team to the hilt.
My point is not that these Falcons will win multiple playoff games, or even that they'll win one. It's that any number of strange things can happen in the playoffs, including this Falcons team bouncing back and putting a whupping on a team like the Saints or the 49ers. To say the Falcons shouldn't even get the chance to play because they've had some (admittedly very) embarrassing games in the regular season is insane. We should be grateful that even with the aggravation we've suffered through this season, there's another chance ahead. Even if this team is lucky to be there.
You can excoriate this team for their mistakes and express healthy skepticism about the likelihood of their winning, as fans of every team do, without insisting they give back a playoff berth. I've not seen fans of any other team lament the fact that their team is even in the big dance.
These Atlanta Falcons have an opportunity that 20 other teams in the NFL would kill for. To give up on them now, with a week left in the regular season, would be folly of the highest kind.
They gave up on the Seahawks, after all.