This is an idea that has been rattling around my brain for a couple of weeks now, and only now am I really putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) on the subject.
I have been thinking about where this team’s future lies, and it makes me wonder that if this year’s Falcon team doesn’t go deep into the playoffs, and I’m talking like conference championship deep, then they might live to regret it.
I have come to this conclusion because from what I can tell, the league as a whole is down. There is really no great team that everybody points to as saying the path to the Super Bowl goes through them. The team that many have ranked at or near the top throughout the entire season, the Houston Texans doesn’t quite fit our classic definition of a great team. At least no one looks at the Texans and sees them as “scary good,” a team that you’d immediate cross the proverbial street to avoid if seen coming around the corner. How does that compare to some recent years? Back in 2009, you had the Colts and Saints both nearly run the table and go 16-0. The following year you had the Patriots scoring in droves, as well as the Steelers sporting a dominant defense. In 2011, it was again the Packers nearly pushing for perfection, and you now had the 49ers thrown into the mix as the top team with a dominant defense.
Now this year, teams like Houston, Chicago, and San Francisco do sport those caliber of defenses. But all three offensively are primarily running teams. If teams helmed by Matt Schaub, Jay Cutler, and/or Alex Smith respectively were playing in the Super Bowl, your first instinct is probably to put your money on the other team. All three quarterbacks have a long way to prove they can win the big games between now and February.
And offensively, the two lone standouts are the Patriots and Broncos. And while this year’s Patriot team is on pace to put up the most points it’s had since the 2007 season, it’s managing to also be on pace to give up more points than they did a year ago. With early season losses to Arizona and Seattle, and some other close shaves, this year’s Patriot team looks a lot more vulnerable than some recent years’ teams.
Maybe it’s because he’s on a different team, or because the Falcons beat them, or some other reason, but it’s hard to really buy the Peyton Manning-led Broncos as an elite team. They are a good team no doubt, but in comparison to past Colt teams and other teams in recent memory, they too look much more flawed.
Old reliables like the Steelers, Ravens, Saints, and Packers are also down in comparison to recent years. Baltimore and Pittsburgh, two teams that generally rely on their defenses to make deep runs in the playoffs, now sport old defenses that are nothing special. The Saints and Packers typically exploit high octane offenses to do their damage, but neither unit is really separating itself from the pack this year.
The point I’m slowly working my way towards is that we might look back on this season and see that everything was ripe for the taking. Without a clearly defined strong team that everyone has to go through to get to the Super Bowl, 2012 might represent the Falcons best chance.