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The Falcons don’t have to win in 2018

Really, they don’t. Seriously. It’s okay to have a down year.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, I’m preparing myself for the rotten tomatoes and spoiled cabbages here. Let’s just get this over with.

The Atlanta Falcons don’t have to win in 2018. Okay, I said it. Please be nice.

The difficult narrative we all told ourselves all offseason long is that this was guaranteed to be the year. Well, maybe not the year, but it was going to be a year. It had to be a year. Heck, it might’ve had to be the year. A Super Bowl in Atlanta; how perfect would it be?

But the NFL did what the NFL always does to any and all teams that aren’t the Patriots and chewed this team up.

Message in a Bottle

If I ever said it, shame Tweet me, but the pressure put on 2018 to be something special is causing all of us to crack as it slowly breaks in our hands. The tough news is, a loss Sunday puts Atlanta at 1-4. Our DW tweeted that teams that go 1-4 have a six-percent chance of making the playoffs...six percents. That’s not a lot.

We don’t mean to be all doom and gloom, but Sunday carries playoff ramifications already, and almost every Sunday the rest of the way will too. If they drop the road bout against the Steelers, things are not good from here. Even if they beat the now-struggling Buccaneers and lowly Giants, they’ll still be 3-4 going into the bye and will be forced to only lose two or three games on a schedule that was backloaded with road matchups, including ones to New Orleans, Carolina, Green Bay, Washington and Tampa Bay.

We could realistically be looking at the first losing season under Dan Quinn. As difficult as it is to swallow, though, that season was going to come eventually.

Unless you’re literally Bill Belichick and the dastardly Patriots, teams have losing seasons. The Falcons somehow have only had two, making the 2010s by far their best decade ever from a win/loss perspective. The bad 2013-2014 seasons in the earlier part of the decade gave way to the Quinn era, arguably the most successful so far in franchise history. From talent acquisition to player development, team culture, postseason success and coaching quality, these Falcons should be built to contend for the next few seasons.

The problem is, even teams with long-term potential can suffer short-term setbacks. It is quite possible a loss Sunday sets this team back for the fall. Again, though, it doesn’t have to be this year, and it may not be.

Learning to Let Go

The narrative that 2018 was a live or die situation was the kind of thing that happens when you build a talented roster and set expectations high. Unless you’re literally counting off the days until your legacy quarterback calls it quits (*coughs* Saints *coughs*), few teams are ever beholden to a single season to make them or break them.

The arguments for Atlanta’s 2018 were hidden behind well-meaning, but rushed desires. We all wanted them to be that ultimate team now and not later. The good thing is, the offense we all worried about looks to have arrived right on schedule. The bad thing is, the defense we all took for granted fell off a cliff thanks to injury and disappointing performance. You can’t just make that back with some trades and positional changes, and it’s going to take until the Falcons get their lost starters back in 2019 to really put this thing together.

They may not be able to bounce back from all that this year. They may lose a lot of games. Realistically, though, the 2019 Falcons really could be the team that has everything working together, even if there are no guarantees for that either.

Back to the Future

Losing Tevin Coleman to free agency would stink, but Ito Smith has looked quite sharp in his snaps and more than deserving of the RB2 spot. It’s possible that OC Steve Sarkisian could be getting head coaching offers at the collegiate level if this offense keeps clicking, but then again, he’s in a heck of a spot right now. That feels less likely than you might think, especially given Sark’s flameout at USC and his lack of a Shanahan-esque track record.

The defense will remain intact. Brian Poole might be the only potential free agent to leave, and that’d only be if the Falcons don’t offer him a high tender on his restricted status. The team has a big decision to make about Vic Beasley’s fifth year option, but that’s for another day and another conversation based on how the fourth year pass rusher fares this year.

Getting all these healthy guys back and potentially a top-15 draft pick could boost Atlanta past even our expectations for this year.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. It’ll be something in 2019 that screws this plan up, and it’s natural to think that. But it’s entirely possible for this team to win a Super Bowl as it is, and as it will be in the future. Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff are two of the best team leaders in the NFL right now, whatever their flaws, and hopefully the days of us waiting for this team to fall back into the basement are over.

This season could be a grim one. The Falcons could be wondering what might have been when we get to January. But they know—and if we’re being honest, we know—the window doesn’t close in December.