An Atlanta Falcons’ loss to Green Bay will leave us heartbroken, but win or lose on Sunday, the 2016 team made a complete season out of defying expectations.
Full disclosure, I never expected the Atlanta Falcons to get this far this season. One look at the roster before year stared and I thought, “Looks good on paper but…”. Many of us underestimated the free agency moves, draft class, and training that Atlanta made happen before the season. Remember the voluntary passing camp that Matt Ryan organized? How about the Falcons training with Navy SEALs? Both were undoubted contributors to the success of the 2016 team, a success that has exceeded our wildest expectations.
I remember looking at the Atlanta Falcons schedule before the season. No part of being tied with San Francisco for the toughest NFL schedule was something to look forward to.
It’s amazing to think back at all the hurdles the ‘Birds leaped over during the year. They won on the road against the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, came within an eyelash of winning at Seattle, and beat Green Bay at home. There were also the pair of games against the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers, as well as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I figured the Bucs and the Raiders to be tough up-and-comers this season. We also can’t forget games against the Chiefs and Cardinals. The Cardinals were my preseason pick to win the NFC so…yeah, what do I know?
The Atlanta Falcons finished 11-5, but even better is that all five losses were close games. I guessed the ‘Birds would finish 8-8, at best. They’d be a better 8-8 team this year than last, but surely they weren’t the best in the NFC, right? To me, the season was more about the caliber of competition. I thought 3-3 against division rivals was fair, on top of a 2-2 split against AFC West opponents. The NFC West would bring losses to Seattle and Arizona, but I imagined the Falcons would beat Los Angeles and San Francisco. Toss in a 1-1 result against Green Bay and Philadelphia…
I remain ecstatic to have been very wrong about it all.
My best guess was a lucky 9-7 for the Falcons and 6th seed Wildcard berth. I, along with many of you, certainly did not see the 2nd seed and trip to the NFC Championship Game. And what’s even better, the ‘Birds aren’t the underdog like they were back in 1998. The possibility of planning for the big game in Houston is well within Atlanta’s realm.
So as devastating as a loss to the Green Bay Packers would be on Sunday, we’ll someday reflect on the 2016 team as one that beat us. We didn’t give them a chance to win and they did. The Falcons have won at least 12 games this season and set many offensive records in the process. Win or lose on Sunday, the best days of the Dan Quinn era still lie ahead.