We're entering the offseason program for the Falcons, the NFL Draft is just weeks away and training camp looms, so it's natural to start getting excited about this team again. It's also natural to talk about expectations for this team, and doing so in light of the last two years.
There's a certain gambling spirit that comes with predicting your favorite sports team. A lot of people felt the embarrassing 2010 loss to the Packers presaged a Falcons downfall, and many felt the same way about the hideously embarrassing loss to the Giants in the 2011 playoffs. We all know the Falcons rebounded to have one of the finest seasons in franchise history in 2012, but the sense of doom and gloom was warranted following that season.
I'm a cynic and a generally negative person in real life, but I'm an inveterate optimist when it comes to my sports teams. Getting excited about my favorite teams is a nice escape from the larger world, and each of the last two offseasons, that excitement and optimism wasn't warranted. Full stop. I let my belief that the team would adjust to its new circumstances cloud my view of the reality of the team, and it's a mistake I'm not keen to make again. Thus, expectations.
I find I'm less optimistic than many of you heading into 2015, not about the long-term direction, but the Falcons' short-term fortunes. I believe this defense will improve, perhaps considerably, and the offense should be fine. But even with better scheming and some additional talent, this is at best an okay defense, one that can keep the Falcons in games. For that reason, I can see legitimate improvement and I can see an outside shot at a playoff spot in a weak NFC South, but I can't see a return to the 12-4 to 14-2 salad days just yet. With a new coach on the way in and large holes remaining on the roster, we can't say with real confidence that this team will be better record-wise than the 2014 Falcons, though they will hopefully be more competent.
Just yet. That's an important piece of the puzzle here, because I remain an optimist. If the team hits on this draft class and is able to put together another strong offseason in 2016, I truly believe they'll head into that season with a chance to contend. If the Falcons really do nail the draft this year and it turns out Mike Nolan's scheming was a major reason for the team's downfall, you might see this team sneak into the playoffs. I just think it's likelier that we'll see a small step forward before a leap, and right now I'd stand on an 8-8 record.
Manage those expectations. Being pleasantly surprised is better than being disappointed, after all.