TheDirtyWordII Posted January 2, 2013 Share Posted January 2, 2013 The ball has dropped on the 2012 NFL season. 20 NFL franchises are figuring out what to do in 2013 to be in the position the 12 remaining franchises currently find themselves. And while you could make an argument that each of the 12 remaining teams are 0-0, the fact of the matter is that no team has at much at stake as the Falcons.Let’s simply focus on the NFC for a moment. Of the 6 teams remaining; 4 are rolling with first or second year QB’s, and all 4 of those teams are rolling with first year starters. For those teams, for their fans – the future is bright. Optimism runs abound. If 2012 doesn’t yield a SuperBowl title or even playoff victory – no worries. They got at least a decade moving forward to feel good about. RGIII? Russell Wilson? Colin Kaepernick? It’s a rejuvenating feeling to find yourself with a franchise QB when you haven’t had one in a while. For the Falcons, that moment came in 2008. An 11-5 dream season concluded with a playoff loss, the first of three. But you would have been hard-pressed to find a dissatisfied soul amongst the Falcon fan base. For these 4 teams, they’re playing with the houses money. They’ve pocketed their buy-ins and more and the chips they have left on the table are gravy. That other NFC team? A Packer team led by perhaps the best QB in football…a Packer team with a ring less than 24 months old. And while the AFC is not as clear cut in terms of ‘happy to be there’ teams (IND/CIN) versus teams with legit SuperBowl aspirations (NE/DEN), none carry the weight the Falcons will.It goes to show the franchise lifecycle of NFL franchises. It’s short. It involves quick turnarounds. Rapid ascents and descents. Teams whose SuperBowl aspirations disintegrate into 4-12 seasons (PHI) and teams who go from drafting 1st or 2nd, to playing in January 8 months later (IND/WAS). But for the Falcons, the sands of time stopped on January 8, 2012. When the Falcons lace up their cleats two Sundays from now, the Falcons sands of time will move again – one way or the other. For 373 days, they’ve been stopped in a holding pattern of sorts. To their credit, they could have moved in the wrong direction these last 4 months…but another playoff disaster won’t result in the Falcons staying in that holding pattern. At some point, you are who you are. We saw it this weekend with Tony Romo. For the Cowboys, their playoffs (along with WAS) started last Sunday night. Win and you’re in…lose and go home. Romo proceeded to throw 3 INT’s and complete 54% of his passes against the 30th ranked pass defense in the NFL. At some point, the pattern, the trend becomes the truth. Jason Garret can chirp all he wants about Romo still being ‘the guy’…but eventually what you are is what you are. Sometimes what you are isn’t fair. Romo didn’t lose the game for the Cowboys, but he didn’t do enough to win it. Neither did the rest of the Cowboys. Romo will get the lions share of the blame for the inability of the Cowboys to get to January, but it was a complete team breakdown that cost the Cowboys the division. And so it goes for the Falcons. All year, the Falcons have been shortchanged by the media and casual NFL observer. As a team with the best record in the NFL, you generally don’t see them ranked 5th in the overhyped and relied on Power Rankings throughout the course of the season. But that’s what having a singular moment of truth ultimately entails. To a certain degree, the Falcons are fortunate. There are not many teams in the NFL who can truly set such high an expectation. If you win 3 out of every 4 regular season games over a 3 year period, you simply have to have SuperBowl expectations. And falling short of that means failure. And while for 11 other teams, anything short of a SuperBowl win will also mean failure – it simply won’t be as stark a reality for those teams as it would be for the Falcons. They stand at the precipice of their ultimate fate. Would a playoff win, but a loss in the NFC Championship Game soften the blow? Meh…2 #1 seedings in 3 years without a SuperBowl appearance would be tough to stomach. Even Romo secured an elusive playoff win once upon a time. For the Falcons, there may not be a better opportunity. No team in the NFC looks like a juggernaut. Even the Packers looked vulnerable in 2012, a distinction that could not be applied to them over the previous season and a half. And while many seem to dismiss the Falcons victory over the Broncos earlier in the season…it’s quite possible that Peyton Manning never looked worse than he did Week 2 in 2012. Will they be the AFC SuperBowl representative? Who is to say, but let’s be clear about one thing. The Falcons can beat any team…there is not one that remains that the Falcons can not beat. In the hypothetical scenario of ‘if they played this team 10 times’…the Falcons are no worse than 5 IMO against any team. Whether they do…well that’s another matter and why January is the time for NFL to build and construct its legends.Matt Ryan finally looks primed to do that. The Falcons finally look primed to exorcise some of their playoff demons. This is not a team that managed its way to success relying on being the team that committed the fewest mistakes. This is not a team that struggled to shake the doldrums of a previous seasons playoff failings. This is not a team reluctant to place the weight of the franchise upon the shoulders of their franchise QB. To be sure, the Falcons have warts. But they are not alone. 11 other teams have their own issues and while the playing field appears as level at the outset of the playoffs as any year in recent history, the Falcons will at least seal their fate on their playing field.But an early an unexpected loss would be a catastrophic blow for this franchise. It would be an identity defining and cementing moment. It would point to an issue of make-up, mindset and approach – a fatal character flaw tough to identify and pinpoint versus personnel. It would mean another season being treated as the NFC’s good luck charm and success step-child with pompous talking heads feeling vindicated in their lack of faith in this franchise. The fact of the matter is this. We knew what we signed up for. We knew this was the deal since last January. It’s no longer about winning hand after hand, accumulating a nice chip stack and outlasting your opponent(s) by waiting for the 'right hand'. For the Falcons, they are pushing their chip stack to the middle of the table. They've reached their point of no return. It truly and literally is 'Super Bowl or Bust'. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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