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The Atlanta Falcons’ Window Is Open

In what was the most painful loss in Atlanta sports history and maybe the most painful loss a team has suffered in all of American sports history, there is a silver lining for the Falcons.  The window is open.  Of course, any team needs things to break their way to compete for a Super Bowl.  This past season for the Falcons, it was the relative health of their offense.  In fact, they were the only team in the NFL to start the same five offensive lineman for every game.  Regardless, the Falcons are in position to compete once again for a Super Bowl in the coming years.

While offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is leaving, the core of the Falcons offense is under control for multiple seasons.  Reigning MVP Matt Ryan is under contract and likely to be extended this offseason.  Wide receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu signed new multi-year deals last offseason.  Center Alex Mack and right tackle Ryan Schraeder also signed long term deals in the 2016 offseason.  Left tackle Jake Matthews and running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are all on still on their rookie deals.  While the Falcons will be looking for a new offensive coordinator (candidates include Chip Kelly and current assistant OC Mike McDaniel), the on-field pieces are in place.

On the defensive side, the Falcons had seven starters who were starting for only their first or second season.  Rookie linebackers Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell and safety Keanu Neal headlined a terrific 2016 draft class.  Linebacker Vic Beasley, cornerback Jalen Collins, and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett all had good seasons in their second full year in the pros.  3rd year safety Ricardo Allen had a solid season in his second full year as a starter.  Other young players such as cornerback Brian Poole and defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman also played well in their rotational roles.  In the same way that the defense was built in Seattle, the Falcons are building with speed and physicality.  While many people thought players like Deion Jones and Vic Beasley were too small for the NFL, the former ended the year a nominee for Defensive Rookie of the Year and the latter led the NFL in sacks and forced fumbles.  After a rough start to the season on the defensive side, the Falcons saw vast improvement over the second half and performed well against the Seahawks and Packers in the playoffs.  Even in the Super Bowl against the Patriots, the Falcons performed extremely well for the first three quarters before the burden of being on the field for over 40 minutes took its toll.  The defense looks like it is discovering its identity and going into the third year of Quinn’s scheme with Quinn’s guys, the Falcons should expect a big step forward on that side of the ball.

The largest obstacle facing the Falcons in 2017 will be their schedule.  They will have home games against the NFC North winner Green Bay Packers and NFC East winner Dallas Cowboys.  They will have road games against the NFC West winning Seattle Seahawks and Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots.  While the Falcons will undoubtedly have one of the toughest schedules in the NFL, they were 3-2 against those teams in 2016, and their two losses were both one possession games against the Seahawks and Patriots.

Again, for any team to make the Super Bowl, they have to have several things break their way.  And in a league like the NFL, injuries are always a factor.  But if things break the Falcons way, they have a legitimate shot to be in this same position in 2017.