“Let’s get ready to ruuummbbbllleee!”
This was not the sentence anyone wanted to have in their minds when thinking about Atlanta’s quest to reclaim the NFC title, but come on, did you really expect anything different?
The Falcons are sitting on a very fortunate 3-1 after four weeks of up-and-down play, have gotten a break to refocus and rest up nagging injuries and are entering a fairly lush portion of their schedule – Sunday’s at home against the woeful Miami Dolphins, followed by a no-trouble-getting-pumped-for-this-one Super Bowl 51 rematch against a suddenly-flawed New England Patriots and a road match against the oddly 3-2 Jets.
That ain’t bad.
November? That’s…not great.
The Panthers are up first – they’re *4-1* right now and just trounced the Detroit Lions in the Motor City. Cam Newton’s playing a lot better, as is that defense. Then, home against the Cowboys, who are feisty on offense and can get to you on defense (the leading defensive player of the year, Demarcus Lawrence, a near-Falcon, is on that unit). Then, the Seahawks on the road, which no matter how pee-poor that offensive line is, has Russell Wilson and the always-formidable Seattle defense. Then, a double-home stand against the Bucs, who aren’t super great right now but seem to always hit a high at some point in the year, and, to head into December, the Vikings, who, when Sam Bradford is healthy, look like the team to beat in the NFC North.
Thank goodness December has two Saints games, another Panthers game and another Bucs game. Wait, hold on, do what now?
Did someone turn the heat up on here? Island heatwave, am I right? Boy howdy it’s hot!
You didn’t need this article to tell you that the team getting back to the Super Bowl was going to be hard, but as the conference begins to take shape, it’s clear – this aint’ gonna be easy.
There are only a handful of teams right now you can confidently say don’t have a chance this season to win the NFC – the wheels have come off for the winless New York Giants, the Kyle Shanahan 49ers are in full test run this season, the Chicago Bears may have waited a little too long to begin the Mitch Trubisky experience, the New Orleans Saints are going to have to fight against the “starting 0-2” statistic and a difficult division, and the Arizona Cardinals might be a David Johnson away from really doing much this season – and that’s even an iffy proposition for the Cards with that defense being what it is.
Right now, you could quite literally make an argument for any of these teams winning the conference: Atlanta, Carolina, Green Bay, Detroit, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Dallas, Los Angeles (Rams), Seattle, Tampa Bay and Washington.
In the words of Bingo…woof.
Teams get better as the year goes on, teams fizzle out, teams stay the same. Atlanta is one we all hope gets better, and by all accounts, once the team is healthy and has its coordinators feeling more comfortable, should be better.
But there are 10 big reasons why you shouldn’t expect a cake walk back to the big game: Carolina, Green Bay, Detroit, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Dallas, Los Angeles (Rams), Seattle, Tampa Bay and Washington.
Heebie dad gum jeebies, man. Heebie dad gum jeebies.
So, at the bye week, it certainly feels like the Falcons have obtained a tie – they’re getting healthier and have a chance to see what has/hasn’t worked over the first quarter of the season. But, they’re also coming to the stark realization that their conference is going to be a meat grinder.
The team going 3-0 in October, right now, isn’t really a best-case scenario anymore – it’s kind of a vital one if the Falcons want the top seed. You’ve arguably got a three-game cushion before that elusive “going through Atlanta” moniker goes away (unless everyone in the NFC is 11-5 or worse by year’s end). Lose at New England, and that goes down to two. The team is certainly talented enough to only drop two more post-November, but can they only lose two games? 12-4, right now, is the dream. 11-5 might be the reality. 10-6 is the bad feeling in your stomach. 9-7 is the nightmare.
The Falcons were a field goal away from the three seed in last year’s playoffs. Arizona misses, and Seattle wins that game and takes the 2-seed. And, the Falcons have a wild card game, with a trip to Seattle all-but-likely if they beat whoever they host. You see how fluid this can get?
We have no idea where this Dirty Bird roller coaster is going (we never do), though that Green Bay game remains the example of what this team can do when all cylinders are firing. The Falcons can beat anyone in the NFC, but the NFC might just can beat them on any given week, too.
The next twelve games are going to get very interesting, for the Falcons and for the other teams vying for their crown. Who’s going to separate themselves from the pack?
You knew this wasn’t going to be easy.
Let’s get ready to rumble.
Cory is an editor of fellow Falcons site Rise Up Reader, where you can find more Falcons coverage. He is a cohost of the new Falcoholic game-recap podcast that airs weekly.