"Super Bowl or bust" is a phrase that's thrown around frequently regarding the Falcons, and many analysts do believe that a season that ends anywhere other than MetLife Stadium in February will be a bust for the 2013 Atlanta Falcons. But is that actually true?
For many fans, analysts, and even players, that is the mindset. Nobody's eager for yet another offseason of NFL analysts pushing the narrative of, "the Falcons just can't win when it matters." Tony Gonzalez, back for one final year with a 0% chance of delaying retirement any further, has publicly stated the team is in "Super Bowl or bust" mode, as has Roddy White. After coming so close last season, it's easy to understand why they would feel that way. But is a Super Bowl win really the only factor that will allow us to label the 2013 season a success for the Falcons?
Say the Falcons finish 9-7, posting a sixth consecutive winning season. Prior to the Thomas Dimitroff/Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era, this Falcons team had never posted back-to-back winning seasons, so in the long view of franchise history, a sixth consecutive winning season may look like a success to some. I have to be honest, with the top-flight talent this team has, particularly on offense, I would not view a winning season, without a playoff appearance, as a success for the Falcons in 2013.
What if the Falcons finish 10-6, posting a sixth consecutive season and clinching a wildcard playoff spot, but finish second in the NFC South? The Falcons have the talent to exploit defenses and outscore anyone, but the NFC South is a tough division. Also, no NFC South in the division's history has ever won the division in consecutive seasons. If this is how the season unfolds, I would probably have to wait and see how the team performs in the playoffs to determine whether the season was a success or not. If they're one-and-done, definitely not. If they make a decent postseason run, probably.
If the Falcons make history and win the NFC South in consecutive seasons, that may be enough for some fans to label the season a success. If the Falcons finish strongly enough to lock up a top playoff seed for the third time in six seasons, perhaps that's a success. Maybe you're looking for Matt Ryan to be in contention for Most Valuable Player, or maybe you're easy to please, and will just be satisfied with better run defense and wrapping up when tackling.
It's a great time to be a fan of the Atlanta Falcons. Five years ago, heading into the 2009 season, there was no talk of an Atlanta Falcons Super Bowl, really--people wondered whether the team was capable of posting back-to-back winning seasons. Now, the Falcons are consistently a part of the Super Bowl discussion, and considering the huge strides this team has made over the course of the past five seasons to establish that level of relevancy within the National Football League, I can understand why a Super Bowl appearance or win would not be necessary for many fans to determine the success of the season.
For most of us, though, I suspect that playoff performance is going to be a key element of determining whether or not the 2013 season is a success for the Falcons. This team is absolutely talented enough to win the Super Bowl this season, but 31 teams do not win the Super Bowl each season. For me, securing a playoff spot (preferably by winning the division), and winning at least one playoff game will probably be enough to consider the season successful. I may not feel that way immediately after a playoff loss, but in the long run, those are my criteria.
The road to whatever success the Falcons will attain in 2013 begins Sunday in New Orleans, and for some of us, beating the Saints is a huge factor in determining the team's success. What will the Falcons need to accomplish this season for you to view 2013 as a success?