Atlanta Falcons must target playoff berth, not Super Bowl

The blown 25-point lead heard around the world.

The start of the 2017 season is at arm’s reach, but the goal for the returning NFC Champions should be making the playoffs, not a Super Bowl return.

The 2016 Falcons will be a team never forgotten. They were one of two teams to lead in yards per game for all three skills positions last season. League MVP Matt Ryan led a scorching hot offense. Julio Jones looked like the best wide receiver in football. The Falcons defense played with a chip on their shoulder, not caring about perception, but focused on winning.

All the greatness they left on the field. None of it mattered. Time will pass, and the only thing fans will remember is the historic collapse the Falcons had on the grandest stage.

This isn’t about the silly “Super Bowl curse” fans discussed in the 2000’s where only 80-percent of the Super Bowl runner-ups missed the playoffs the following year. Different factors will cause them to rise or tumble.

A case for the NFC Champions.

The Falcons were a great team last season. If they stay focused, hungry, and healthy next season, nothing will stop them from winning the division. They held an 11-5 record with the most points scored in the NFL.

With a solid draft and free agency, fans can argue they are better than last year. The biggest signing, literally, was defensive tackle from the Kansas City Chiefs Dontari Poe. For the first half of Super Bowl 51, the Falcons defensive line abused the New England Patriots line. They helped record five sacks and nine tackles for loss. Odds are Poe will help anchor an already deep defensive line.

It is easy to be positive about a team whose only losses were a fullback and linebacker. With new fullback Soma Valnuka signed and plenty of depth at linebacker, the future only appears brighter heading into 2017.

Odds are they will win the division and only have teams like the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers to worry about in the playoffs.

A case against the Super Bowl losers.

The sky is falling.

Examine the 2016 Carolina Panthers and their unforeseen collapse. People forget, the Panther finished 6-10 last season as reigning NFC Champions. Analysts and fans believed they had one of the greatest single season offenses of all-time in 2015, but when production slowed, they couldn’t put together a productive 60 minutes.

Keeping a potential team regression in mind, the NFC South is no cupcake division.

The New Orleans Saints added Adrian Peterson to help Drew Brees. In Tampa Bay, Jameis Winston and his young squad are improving each year. Of all the teams in the NFC South, the Panther may be the biggest threat with a last place schedule since they finished fourth in the division.

Falcon fans can get hyped for this next season, but they needed Ryan to have an MVP season just to reach 11 wins. If he regresses the slightest, it leaves the door open for other division rivals to challenge them. Every division winner in the conference plays one another, making the hill a little steeper for the Falcons.

One game at a time.

The answer is simple. The team who embarrassed them in the Super Bowl has sayings like “do your job” for their players, but it cannot be stressed enough at the beginning of the season. The Falcons need to play one game at a time and not collapse if they get off to a rough start. Stay the course and improve week-to-week like they did last season. If they don’t, they will fade into irrelevancy like the Panther did last season.

Nothing is handed out in the NFL. If the Falcons want to make the playoffs, they need to take the opportunity to win each game rather than looking ahead for revenge in the Super Bowl.

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Lead Writer for the Atlanta Falcons. Former Managing and Sports Editor at The Suffolk Journal. Former Host of Clash of the Rams: The Sports Talk Show.