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What the best Falcons teams ever all had in common

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Point differentials, spoiler alert.

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons have had a handful of truly great teams over the years, but if you were to boil down the three best ever, I think you’d be remiss not to go with 2016, 1998, and 1980. That’s two Super Bowl berths and a truly great Falcons team that got stopped short in heartbreaking fashion by a great Cowboys team in the Divisional Round.

The 2012 team was great, too, but got by on guile and finesse at times and clearly outperformed its talent base. Ditto the 2004 Falcons, who rode Michael Vick and a game defense all the way to the NFC Conference Championship. What separates those three teams from all the others is, as it turns out, pretty straightforward.

In all three of those cases, the Falcons racked up at least a +130 point differential, while the 2012 and 2010 Falcons managed +120 and the 2004 Falcons managed, weirdly, just a +3. That tells you a lot about the quality of those teams, both offense and defense, with the history-making Falcons offense of 2016 making up for a merely so-so scoring defense. The Falcons have only gotten above the +120 mark those five times, total, and they’ve been strong teams every time out.

History tells us that if the Falcons put up that kind of point differential again in 2017, they’ll likely be making a nice postseason run.