Dan Quinn may not be a wizard, the Falcons may not actually be heading for great days, and maybe they Panthers lose in the Super Bowl and enter the kind of 2016 tailspin that makes you wonder if the whole thing was a fluke. Doesn't matter, because the currently 17-1 Panthershave beaten every team they've faced, but they lost to the Falcons in Week 16.
That 20-13 win came on the heels of a previous embarrassment (which turned out to be the Panthers' warm-up for the playoffs), where the Falcons lost 38-0 in Carolina. Very few people gave Atlanta a chance at home against Carolina, but it turned out the Falcons were pissed about that previous loss, as they should have been, and were ready for the Panthers. For 60 glorious minutes, they rattled Cam Newton, found enough holes in Carolina's admittedly phenomenal defense to get scores, and had two of the iconic plays of their 2015 season between a 76 yard touchdown catch by Julio Jones and Vic Beasley's late fourth quarter strip sack of Newton to seal the win. Was it fluky? Maybe, but even the Panthers will tell you they got their asses kicked in that game, and for better or worse, it appears to have been a wakeup call for the entire team.
You can't take that win away from the Falcons, though, and if Carolina wins the Super Bowl, Atlanta gets the small honor of being the only blemish on an otherwise sterling season. It's a moral victory at best, of course, but in 8-8 seasons when your division rival is destroying the rest of the league, we'll take those.
You might suggest that I'm being salty or petty or just plain small-minded to fixate on this win, but the fact is that the Falcons showed us the Panthers were beatable, that the Falcons were not an abjectly bad football team, and reminded us just how difficult it is to go undefeated in today's NFL.