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The Falcons are in limbo now, but December will reveal the team’s true nature

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Thursday night’s Saints game will finally begin to unveil who this team is destined to be in 2017.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

You might as well call the Atlanta Falcons the Atlanta Dom Cobbs for the next two days.

Like the hero in the film Inception, this team has fallen into NFLimbo, the great waiting room of football, and won’t be woken up from this uncomfortable slumber until the rival New Orleans Saints come to town.

A loss to the Minnesota Vikings, particularly like the one experienced on Sunday, just felt like a one time thing.

The Falcons’ performance on offense was a clunker, but it was going up against arguably the league’s best defense, was adjusting its top running back from an injury and lost its starting left guard early. Doesn’t that mean anything?

The Falcons’ performance on defense was startling, as it was going up against one of the hottest units in the league without two of its top corners. Doesn’t that mean anything?

No one expects this talented an offense to post up just nine points in a game ever again. No one expects this up-and-down of a defense to put forth as spirited of an effort as Sunday while missing two of its best players. The latter is more likely than the former, but all of it just felt ... not normal.

Sunday was a morning in Atlanta without a lot of traffic – it just doesn’t happen very often, and when it does, you just kind of consider it an anomaly.

It was eerily reminiscent of the team’s Kansas City Chiefs game last year – while the offense played much better, and the defense much worse, the team lost a close one at home, and ended up 7-5, with no one really all that sure where this team was going.

The main difference? The state of the 2016 Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints.

All of those teams picked in the top fifteen of the 2017 draft – they were putrid at worst, mediocre at best, and besides New Orleans’ offense, none of them posed a threat to the Falcons in any way, shape or form.

The Falcons eviscerated the Rams and 49ers, handled the Panthers and did enough to defeat the Saints, riding that 4-0 record to the playoffs, and not looking back until the Super Bowl.

Atlanta got hot – really hot – on both sides of the ball during that stretch, and got the confidence to mop the floors with two great teams in Seattle and Green Bay. If Dan Quinn’s Falcons know anything, it’s how to ride momentum when it counts (well, until the very worst possible moment).

The guys credited some mythic second gear in their preparation after that Chiefs loss to get them to Super Bowl Sunday. Deion Jones indicated Sunday that he didn’t really seem to think that gear wasn’t already churning.

What if it’s been going all season?

The 2017 Atlanta Falcons should have no trouble getting in the right mindset for any opponent down the stretch. They understand the embarrassment that will await them if they don’t make the playoffs after making the Super Bowl in February.

The locker room Sunday presented a team that really understood that it’s time to get it going. After all, this December isn’t going to go like the last one.

The main difference? The state of the 2017 New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The next four games present a completely different scenario for the Falcons. All are in the division, and three are against bonified playoff teams who know them well. Even the lowly Bucs will have a healthy Jameis Winston this time, who, believe it or not, has only lost to the Falcons once in four starts.

Curious how good the 2017 Atlanta Falcons are? You’re about to find out. Big time.

The Falcons will be without Andy Levitre for a good bit of this stretch – he might not be back until the season finale against Carolina (the penultimate road game at New Orleans appears to be the earliest), but besides Levitre, they’re reasonably healthy on both sides of the ball.

Desmond Trufant will be back Thursday for the first Saints game, putting their defense at full strength besides the absence of Brian Poole, whose status is up in the air after the team signed CB Leon McFadden earlier this week. The offense should still roll just fine with Ben Garland in the lineup to replace Levitre – a nice bit of depth that is now counting when it matters.

So, where is this going, exactly? Are the Falcons going to make the playoffs or what?

They’ve already showed what they can and can’t do this season – what will they show this month? It still feels like January will happen, but the Seahawks and Lions aren’t going anywhere. Only one of those teams gets in unless the Panthers falter.

Right now, no one really knows where this flight is going to land. The Falcons are, indeed, in a state of limbo – they’ve flashed and floundered in equal measure.

Is that their fate? Are they just a good team that can’t consistently be great? Is there a level of untapped potential that a sense of urgency will unearth? Could they stand to be worse?

No one knows.

The first Saints game should wake us all up to where this bird nests for winter, though.

Playoffs in January? Psh.

Welcome to the playoffs in December.

Cory is an editor of fellow Falcons site Rise Up Reader, where you can find more Falcons coverage. He is a cohost of the Falcoholic game-recap podcast that airs weekly.