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The Falcons find themselves at a familiar crossroads heading into 2019

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The ghosts of Falcons past, specifically from 2013.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Falcons won only four games. Mired in a hellish season caused by injuries, wildly disappointing performances from key additions and steady veterans, and hilariously bad coaching decisions, they went into the offseason with pressure on the coaching staff and a promise to upgrade both lines, which had struggled mightily.

This was post-2013, but if that seemed eerily applicable to this year...well, that’s the frightening thing. Mike Smith’s Falcons went from the NFC Conference Championship Game in 2012 to downright awful in 2013, with a raft of poor decisions that saw them get rid of veteran contributors, lose Julio Jones to injury and others to injury, and struggle. Smith was still very much a fan favorite in Atlanta, but a sizeable portion of the fanbase called for him to be fired post-2013 before it was too late. Many of us felt he deserved the chance to show he could get the team back in punching shape, and the team added legitimate beef on both lines, with Jon Asamoah working out at guard at least briefly, Paul Soliai offering some solid run defense and Tyson Jackson oh no I’m blind.

But it turned out that Smith couldn’t change, or at least not enough. The team stumbled to another mediocre finish with basically zero pass rush to speak of, dreadful linebacker play and a crumbly offense, and Smith found that falling short of the playoffs was not enough to save his job.

Heading into 2019, Dan Quinn and the Falcons are in very nearly the same position, albeit with what should be a more talented team. Quinn is going to survive this year because injuries hurt and 2016 was one of the best years in franchise history and 2017 was pretty good, but he has looked overmatched at times and this team just keeps sinking further into the mire without the coaching staff looking like they have a clue about how to pull them out of it. The last five games have almost certainly gotten some coaches fired, even if they don’t know it yet, and more disappointment over the next three will challenge the patience of everyone in the building. That means that Quinn can’t afford another lousy year in 2019, not with Arthur Blank chomping at the bit for a championship and legitimate doubts about his acumen hovering over this football team.

The good news, if you’re looking to avoid that grisly fate? The Falcons are going to have a top draft pick again, possibly even higher than the #6 they used to snag Jake Matthews, and they’re going to have some legitimate cap space to play with. If they shed Brooks Reed, Mohamed Sanu, Ryan Schraeder, Robert Alford, or some combination of those, they should have enough cash to land a marquee free agent or two after tightening their belts in a major way this past offseason. And as I mentioned before, this team is more talented on paper than they were coming into 2014, for what little comfort that is at the moment.

It won’t be news to anyone in Flowery Branch, but they have to nail this offseason. Otherwise history is going to repeat itself in Atlanta, as it so often does.