It’s a saying which you continuously hear when it comes to elite teams in the National Football League, the saying that brings about the greatest of expectations for the greatest of teams: “Super Bowl or bust.” When a team’s fanbase makes this type of proclamation, they make it known that anything less than a Lombardi Trophy will be a failure.
This saying is often exaggerated. Most teams don’t really have to win it all to have a successful season, and even great teams sometimes don’t come away with the big win. The 2018 Atlanta Falcons will be one of those rare cases where the season will look like a disappointment if they don’t hoist the Lombardi Trophy amidst the confetti on the first Sunday in February.
You don’t need me to tell you that the Atlanta Falcons have never won a Super Bowl, you’ve probably heard that factoid enough in your lifetime. The Super Bowl this season will be played in Atlanta, and the birds will have a chance to be the first ever team to play in the big game in their home stadium, but that’s not the reason why they have to win it all this year.
The Falcons are in the middle of their window of contention, and the window has never been so open for this team, no matter how tough the NFC South and the NFC are. No other Falcons team in franchise history has ever had this much talent going into a season: not in 1998, not in 2004, not in 2016.
On the offensive side, the star quarterback is in place. The team features arguably the most potent running back duo in the game. The receiving trio of Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley is poised to be the best in football. The offensive line, while not elite, looks like it’ll be above average to very good after having its weakest link in Wes Schweitzer replaced by a very solid Brandon Fusco in free agency. Even at tight end, the team is looking for Austin Hooper to make that big step in his third season.
The defensive side of the ball, meanwhile, is littered with rising stars and playmakers all around the field. The only slight concern is with the second defensive tackle position next to a star player in Grady Jarrett, but the team brought in two competent replacements for the departed Dontari Poe in third-round draft pick Deadrin Senat and late free agency addition Terrell McClain.
The LB corps, led by Deion Jones is fast and versatile regarding their skillset. I also doubt that there’s a single team in the league that boasts four CBs as good as what Atlanta has in Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Brian Poole and second-round pick Isaiah Oliver. Keanu Neal is a rising star at strong safety, and Ricardo Allen is an incredibly capable free safety. Maybe the most exciting part of the defense is the fact that the team has two legitimate pass rushers for the first time in over a decade in the form of Takk McKinley and Vic Beasley.
To put it in simpler terms, this roster doesn’t have any real holes that other teams will be able to exploit. With the team’s back toward the wall when it comes to the salary cap, as well as the extensions for a number of core players looming, the Falcons are likely to lose some playmakers in the coming offseasons. With Julio Jones also about to enter the back end of his prime, that Super Bowl window of opportunity may never be more open than it is right now.
What’s different from last year?
Last season, a bunch of excuses were cultivated for why the team struggled. A new offensive coordinator ruined the offensive chemistry; the Super Bowl hangover loomed over the entire season like a dark cloud. They were legitimate excuses, but they aren’t there this season. Barring catastrophic luck with injuries, this team has no excuse for not winning it all aside from fierce competition from the NFL’s finest. The coaching continuity is there, the Super Bowl hangover isn’t as prevalent anymore, the talent is there and the experience is now also there.
To be honest with you, I don’t think that this would be a “Super Bowl or bust” type season if not for the memories of Super Bowl 51. This team has to win the big one at least once so that they can overcome that blown lead in Houston, both for their own sake and for the sake of the fanbase. You can look toward the misery of the Buffalo Bills or Minnesota Vikings fanbases as a warning of what’s to come if our lasting memory of this brilliant core ends up falling short of what we all expected.
I’m not saying that the window won’t still be open in the 2019 season, but it probably won’t be as open as it will be this year. Unless a catastrophic injury that derails the campaign occurs, then this entire season will be a failure unless Matt Ryan, Dan Quinn and Arthur Blank are hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the Benz when all is said and done.