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The Atlanta Falcons are the only returning NFC playoff team

Crazy but true.

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

A year ago, the Falcons dispatched the Seahawks and Packers en route to the Super Bowl. Along the way, the Cowboys, Giants, and Lions also fell by the wayside.

A year later, the Atlanta Falcons are the only NFC team from that field that returned to the postseason. The Packers lost Aaron Rodgers and couldn’t overcome that loss, the Giants sucked out loud and cleaned house, the Lions muddled through another mediocre season that got coach Jim Caldwell fired, and the Cowboys fell apart without Ezekiel Elliott and with Dak Prescott suffering a protracted sophomore slump. Somehow, despite all their struggles, Atlanta still went 10-6 and returned as the #6 seed. They’re still, somehow, a team no one really wants to play.

I think in a weird year in the NFL, we’re not making enough of that fact. The NFC was turned upside down by a Carolina Panthers rebound season, the Saints returning to relevance for the first time in years, the sudden emergence of the Rams, and the Eagles and Vikings living up to their talent base to seize the top two seeds. There was barely any room for a Falcons team finding its footing on offense, but they squeezed in regardless. Super Bowl hangover, my butt.

Even in the staid AFC, where the Patriots, Chiefs, and Steelers dominate the landscape, things are slowly changing. The Jaguars, Titans, and especially Bills made the postseason after significant droughts, and the Jaguars have the talent to actually make a deep run.

Time will tell if 2017 is a blip on the radar or a sign of tumult to come, but either way, the Falcons look like one of the NFC’s leading lights over the next couple of seasons. That’s a cheerful thought.