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ESPN projects Falcons to finish 3rd in the NFC South, so hopefully they’re wrong

We’re not exactly objective, here.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Will the Falcons make it to the Super Bowl?

I know many of you just probably spit our your coffee and now have a laptop-related problem to deal with, but it is the biggest question this team has to answer every year. While we may be harboring some quiet optimism every year for that possibility, it’s fair to say all the offseason moves this front office has painstakingly been putting together have not moved many analysts to anoint them as a favorite to make it out of the NFC South, much less hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

We missed it last week because everything is insane all the time, as you may have noticed, but ESPN’s analytics department put out early season predictions drawing on their Football Power Index. What is that index, you ask?

Preseason ratings are based on each team’s Las Vegas win total; last season’s performance on offense, defense and special teams; the number of returning starters; coaching staff changes; and starting and backup quarterbacks.

Based on all of those factors, the Falcons rank...18th in the NFL, projected to win 7.5 games and given a 31% chance of making the playoffs. That would put them in line for a disappointing campaign that would leave them right around where they were in 2019. It would, to put it mildly, not be well received by Falcons fans, especially since the Buccaneers and Saints are expected to finish significantly better.

Why? Ignoring the Vegas win total, which gives you a good sense of expectations but a poor sense of how a team will actually do, the index is likely not impressed by the small gains on offense, shuffling on defense, and I guess drafting a punter. The truth is that while the additions of Dante Fowler, Todd Gurley, A.J. Terrell and others are exciting ones, we’ve seen this team struggle to play with consistency over the past two season far too often to get mad at a projection that doesn’t have them making significant strides.

While my prediction for the season is ever so slightly sunnier than this one, the good news is that projections are not destiny. If the Falcons have truly improved as much as they think they have—and maybe if they have one more signing left in them to bolster this roster—there’s always the chance we’ll look back at ESPN’s late May attempt at figuring ou the NFC South and deem it hilariously pessimistic.

Let’s not start projecting Super Bowls just yet, though.