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Two possible paths for the Falcons: Rise up or face a slow demise

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They could go either way, but obviously there’s a right path.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

With a game against the Jets looming, the Falcons will have the chance to get back above .500, where they’ve been for all but one week of the 2017 season, or drop below .500 for the first time. There are obviously a thousand ways this season could unfold from there, but as I see it, there are two likely outcomes here. I don’t, in all honesty, foresee a continued freefall that leads to this team finishing with a top ten pick and answering questions about the future. I think their talent level will, eventually, win out.

So here’s the two possible paths, and I think we’ll see which way they’re headed a bit today.

Rising up

The Falcons have played oddly flat games in five out of their six weeks. I wasn’t overly worried about a Week 1 struggle against a very good Bears defense, and I wasn’t concerned with the Lions game because they were were still winning, but in hindsight the pattern has been pretty obvious. They’ve had too many drives fall short, and they’ve had far too many errors of execution, from overthrown passes to dropped turnovers to penalties at exactly the wrong moment. Even great teams can lose games when they do that, and the Falcons haven’t exactly looked great.

The good news, if such a thing exists, is that the Falcons are well-positioned to get out of this. A win against the Jets puts them at 4-3 with a divisional matchup against the up-and-down Panthers looming. They’re currently pretty healthy on both sides of the ball, “enjoying” a string of turnover luck that probably won’t be sustained all year, and getting more experience with Steve Sarkisian’s offense and Marquand Manuel’s defense by the week.

So here, the Falcons rise up, make strides with their execution, and start to figure out their offensive struggles as time goes on. That puts them in a position to contend the rest of the way, and likely will means they’ll be able to make a playoff push. As I said, the talent level here is genuinely above average.

The slow demise

That said, it’s not that hard to see the flip side of this. The Falcons could lose to the Jets, drop to 3-4, and face another week of questioning, doubting, and taunting from fans and analysts alike. No matter how good your attitude is in the locker room, a four game losing streak against the AFC East has to weigh on you. It’s also a sign that despite weeks of the same, persistent issues, there’s no quick fix coming. That’s my greatest concern.

It’s a valid concern, too, given how long these issues have lingered. The Falcons kept the Bears in the game in the very first week of the season, and their offense was oddly anemic at times throughout that game. Fast forward to the Patriots game and the issues are still there, though the offense seems to be impossibly getting worse at extending and finishing drives by the week.

The talent level ensures the Falcons will win some games, especially in the division, but it’s not hard to imagine them trading wins and losses the rest of the way if they can’t get it together against the Jets. If the offense, in particular, continues to function poorly against New York, I’m going to take it as a sign that these issues will crop up all season long. As likely as that outcome seems, I’m still hoping we won’t see it.