After 2012, the Falcons were there. They had lost in devastating fashion to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Conference Championship Game, but in the eyes of analysts, pundits, and even many notoriously hard-to-impress Atlanta fans, the Falcons had shown they deserved the respect associated with a contender. There were a fair number of people who had lofty expectations for the Falcons heading into 2013, even as they shed veterans in an attempt to re-tool the team and added established (if former) stars like Osi Umenyiora and Steven Jackson.
Of course, that effort fell short, and the Falcons have been worse than .500 in the three seasons since. Predictably, the respect afforded to the franchise for a brief time from 2008-2012 (and especially shortly after 2012) evaporated with that fall, and the Falcons are back to being an easy punchline.
Unless the Falcons pull off something miraculous in 2016 and win the Super Bowl, that’s not going to change, even if the team makes the genuine strides I expect they will. A franchise like the Patriots, Packers, or Steelers can ride for years on the gains of past wins, but franchises with history like the Falcons have have to either win it all or become a perennial contender for several years to earn that respect. Frankly, it’s not that crazy that they have to.
So remember that as you gear up for this season, which we’re all a little excited about in July, and see the sea of 8-8 or worse predictions.
Respect isn’t as valuable as winning, of course, but one still inevitably leads to the other. Let’s hope the Falcons take a shortcut on the long road to respect and sustained winning.