Super Bowls are difficult to win.
Ask the Buffalo Bills, who lost four straight in the early ‘90s. Ask the 2007 New England Patriots, who were undefeated before losing the big game to the New York Giants. In a similar way, ask any team other than the Giants that the Patriots have faced in the championship game since Tom Brady and Bill Belichick joined the organization.
Of course, the most recent example of a team that fell to New England is the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons infamously blew a 25-point lead against the Patriots thanks to a second-half collapse on both sides of the ball, walking away empty-handed after coming tantalizingly close to winning the franchise’s first championship.
Now, there’s one question facing Atlanta: will it have the chance to exorcise its demons by returning to the Super Bowl next year? Will they follow in the footsteps of those Bills teams or the ’07 Patriots and keep coming back, or will they more closely follow the blueprint laid out by their NFC South companions, the Carolina Panthers, and fade away?
They probably won’t be as bad as the Panthers were this year, but it just doesn’t seem particularly likely that the Falcons will return to the game’s biggest stage next season.
It’s so hard to maintain consistency year-to-year in the NFL, which makes New England’s dynasty over the past 15 years even more impressive. With a season of just 16 games, there’s so much room for random trends to drastically affect a team’s season. A three-game stretch of bad luck or an ill-timed injury could completely derail whatever positive progress a team is making. If the ball takes just one bad bounce, it could be enough to completely change the outcome of a season.
For example, the Falcons went 4-4 in games decided by seven points or less this season. By definition, those one-score games can be flipped entirely by a single play. There may be something to be said about “knowing how to win” or “stepping up in the moment”, but there’s still a certain level of luck necessary to win those games. If just a few things went differently, they could have taken a step forward, won six games and competed for with Dallas for the NFC’s No. 1 seed. Just as easily, they could have gone 2-6 and possibly missed the postseason entirely. Winning the Super Bowl means that these games, among other things, have to go their way.
Besides, it’s not like Atlanta is the model of consistency going into next season. The offensive coordinator that helped create one of the league’s all-time best offenses left to take the head coaching position in San Francisco, and will be replaced by Alabama assistant Steve Sarkisian, a wild card if there ever was one. News also broke on Wednesday that the Falcons are replacing their defensive coordinator. Great teams normally lose coordinators at a high rate, but it’s never particularly helpful to lose two coordinators in one offeseason.
Finally, there’s the issue of all the talent to deal with in the NFC. The Cowboys and Packers both look to be just as great next year, the Seahawks are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and the Giants, Eagles, Cardinals, Lions, Vikings, Panthers and Buccaneers also present at least the possibility of being a threat next season. There are simply too many possible stumbling blocks for Atlanta to return to another Super Bowl.
The Falcons put together a memorable season and shouldn’t fall off a cliff next season, but they probably won’t be making back-to-back Super Bowl appearances.
Edited by David Bradford
Featured image by Inside Sports, courtesy of Vimeo