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Once again, the Falcons are straddling the line between top draft pick and playoffs

For the second straight season, Atlanta’s in it fairly late in the year.

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

In 2021, the Falcons spent much of the season in an interesting place. Atlanta was in line for a top pick much of the year, but they also were in the playoff hunt until late, no matter how unlikely that might have seemed.

You may recall that in mid-December, the Falcons had a shot to make a real playoff push by beating the 49ers. They were sitting at 6-7 at that point and still very much in it, but a loss to the 49ers effectively doomed them. Even then, Atlanta wound up having slim playoff odds until the Bills killed their season for good in January, and they finished with the 8th overall pick.

That odd place wound up leading to a fanbase that was sharply divided on whether the Falcons were terrible or surprisingly good for much of last season, though with the advantage of hindsight I think scrappy, lucky, and not very good was about where they landed.

In 2022, I think it’s fair to say Atlanta is a better team, certainly at running the football and at least slightly overall. That has made it easy to stay optimistic about the direction of the team—at least for me—and it has made the losses a little easier to deal with. For all that, through 10 games the Falcons are in much the same spot they were in through 13 games a year ago: Flirting with a top 10 pick while being in the playoff hunt.

Right now, Atlanta is set to pick 12th, per Tankathon. They’re also 10th in the NFC’s playoff picture at the moment, still very much within striking distance of the 7th seed, and are just a game and a tiebreaker back on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the NFC South lead. They could finish this season with a top 10 selection, or they could finish it as the 4th seed in the NFC. The range of outcomes is very wide with this team, especially with seven games to go.

Because of the shakiness of the NFC South specifically and the NFC more broadly, I don’t think the Falcons are going to truly fall out of contention any time soon, especially with a relatively soft schedule still ahead. They’re also not likely to win enough games to get themselves out of the top 12-15 picks without a playoff berth, with two NFC South matchups and the Ravens still ahead. They are Schrodinger’s Falcons, and that once again reminds us that it’s best to sit back and try to enjoy the ride, rather than investing deeply into any particular outcome with so much uncertainty still ahead.

It’s a familiar space, but fortunately this Falcons team seems much likelier to end the year on a positive note than the one that came before it. We still don’t know what this team truly is or can be, but it seems likely they’ll walk that line between contender and pretender at least a while longer.