I'm a big believer in the power of critical thinking and realism. It's engaging in it all the time that's a little tough.
We all come to the table with our biases, some of which show through more clearly than others. Every time we enter into an
epic pissing match sensible argument with a Saints fan, you can see those biases working overdrive. We believe the Falcons were a couple of short runs and missed passes away from winning by at least a score; Saints fans believe they own us and we're engaging in wishful thinking.
Our brains are wired to react swiftly to stimulus and less for long-term analysis, though we're obviously better than most species at it (never debate a pistol shrimp). That's less than ideal for sports fans, when you really think about it, because it means we're going to overreact to small sample sizes. That's why Falcons fans, by and large, are pretty despondent about one loss to the Saints against eight wins, and why Saints fans believe they're playoff-bound despite ample evidence to the contrary.
Where did this come from you, ask? A reader took me to task the other night for being too negative about an 8-1 team. It's tempting to dismiss criticism—I am pretty perfect—but I decided to reflect on it and look back over what I've written about these Falcons. As a former journalist and raging cynic, I don't think I was negative, but there's definitely an air of but to everything positive that I've written. It was mildly sobering to realize that.
Frankly, we ought to be thrilled right now. The Saints beat the Falcons? Sure they did, but the Falcons are still mortal locks for a playoff spot and the Saints still have about a 10% chance or less to make it, according to Bill Barnwell. The Buccaneers would need to keep playing at an extremely high level and see the Falcons collapse to get past them. And while many have soured on the perception of the Falcons as the best team in the NFL, every shred of evidence suggests they're in the upper half of the top ten.
Need more? Matt Ryan's an MVP candidate. Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White and Julio Jones are three of the best at their positions in today's NFL. Despite losing Brent Grimes, the Atlanta Falcons pass defense is decidedly above average. Ray Edwards is gone, the Falcons are taking steps to correct a poor punt return game and the schedule isn't exactly difficult from here on out.
I wouldn't dream of telling anyone how to be a fan, and I doubt I'm going to erase my own tendency to find the fault lines lurking underneath Successtown. It's worth noting, though, that this is arguably the best start in franchise history, and no amount of taunting from fans of other teams erases the fact that the Falcons are better-positioned than any of them, Texans being the notable exception. They hatin'.
So for this morning, at least, I urge you to embrace these Falcons warts and all. They're one of the best teams any of us are going to see in our lifetimes.