Look, we all know how hard it is for a team to get the Super Bowl. The Falcons have only been twice since their inaugural 1966 season, and I don’t need to remind anyone how those games went. It made Super Bowl 51 that much more painful—getting so close and failing followed by the sobering realization of how hard it is to get back.
Heading into a new season, these Falcons have as good a shot as any team to return to the Super Bowl, but it won’t be easy—it never, ever is.
Within their own division, the Falcons have serious threats in New Orleans and Carolina. The Bucs can’t be taken seriously until they prove they’re even wildcard worthy. Outside of the NFC South, defending-champion Philadelphia is primed to make another run at a ring with Carson Wentz back at the helm.
The Vikings looks all but assured to have another fantastic year, but what they decide to do at quarterback will have a major impact on the rest of the league. Seattle is always dangerous, but age and injury may have clipped their wings for the time being.
Then there’s Los Angeles, a team as young and dangerous as they come. Another year with Sean McVay could put the Rams over the top, and it could be argued that they have the best player both on offense and defense. If the Cowboys can string together a full season without crippling suspensions, they could very well find themselves back in the championship hunt.
Then there’s the Packers, lurking in the shadows with a healthy Aaron Rodgers. As long as he’s on the field, the Packers have a legitimate shot to beat anyone.
The Falcons should be better on offense with offseason additions and another year of Steve Sarkisian finding his groove. The defense took major strides over the course of the year, and there’s still plenty of room for growth. A few more pieces here and there will help, but this is already one of the best rosters in the NFL—keeping their core intact will go a long way towards staying in contention annually.
The Falcons are expected to be in the mix, but as we’ve seen before, unexpected things are bound to happen.
The X Factors
Health is a huge x factor for a team trying to get to the Super Bowl. The Falcons have been almost shockingly healthy the past couple of seasons, which isn’t something to rely on going forward. If the 2013 and 2014 seasons taught us anything, it’s that making it through a full season without a bunch of talent on IR is something for which to be very grateful. Another game with Levine Toilolo playing tackle would be mind numbing.
Assuming the Falcons stay healthy and play up to expectations, there’s always a team that comes out of nowhere to emerge as a legit contender. In 2016, it was the Falcons and their historic offense. The Eagles didn’t make the playoffs in 2016 and then won the whole thing with their backup QB—crazy, unpredictable things happen in the NFL every year.
There are a few dark horse NFC teams that could surprise this coming year, particularly Detroit, Arizona, Washington, San Francisco, and Chicago.
The other x factor is unexpected regression. What if Matt Ryan takes a step back? What if Steve Sarkisian doesn’t improve? What if the defense still can’t force turnovers? What if Matt Bryant strokes a golf ball onto Father Time’s fat foot? We saw it with Vic Beasley last season—sometimes people unexpectedly go backwards or don’t make the assumed leap.
Typically speaking, if a team is going to get to the Super Bowl, they’re going to need to stay healthy, have a great offense or defense, enjoy a lucky year, or throw together some combination of those ingredients. When the Falcons went in 2016, they fielded a historic and healthy offense, the ball bounced their way, and they lucked into the 2-seed during the final week of the season.
In 2017, the Falcons stayed healthy but didn’t get the same bounces (see Matt Ryan’s unlucky interceptions and Keanu Neal’s knee) and entered the playoffs as a wildcard team, making the road to redemption that much tougher. There are differing odds on the Falcons winning Super Bowl 53, but the consensus shown on various sports books is that they’re in the top 10. This review for Bovada says they’re late on getting odds posted to their site, but it shows the Falcons and Cowboys currently tied with odds set at +2000.
If the Falcons can survive the injury bug, play more consistently, and stave off the surprise teams, they’ll have a great shot at winning their division—the first milestone toward getting back to where they want to be.
Do you think the Falcons will get back to the Super Bowl this year?