With all that has happened since, we tend to forget that the Atlanta Falcons were one game from winning their (admittedly lousy) division last season, and had they won that game — they lost to Carolina 34-3 — they’d surely have won the resulting Round 1 matchup with Arizona, which was down to its third-string quarterback. The point being: Even though they weren’t very good, the 2014 Falcons didn’t miss by all that much.
Their 2015 schedule is a not-very-good team’s dream. It includes only four games against 2014 playoff qualifiers, four against teams coming off winning seasons. It includes five games against teams holding top five picks in next week’s draft.
It involves no trip to London. Indeed, the road half of it reads like an SEC East itinerary: Beyond the NFC South home-and-homes, the Falcons will play in Nashville and Jacksonville. There’s only one flight (to San Francisco) longer than two hours.
The 2014 Falcons finished 6-10 with two giveaways — Detroit at Wembley and Cleveland here. If new man Dan Quinn simply stays out of the way in endgame settings, might the Falcons win one or two (or three or four) more?
The NFC South looks winnable. (Heck, Carolina won it last season despite being 3-7-1 on Dec. 6.) Tampa Bay has the draft’s first overall pick. New Orleans has lost Jimmy Graham and seems in retreat mode. It didn’t take much to finish first in this division last season; it probably won’t take much more next time.
I’m not saying the Falcons look great. (For one thing, we don’t know how they’re going to spend the draft’s eighth overall pick. For another, we’re not sure who’s doing what in Flowery Branch.) But this schedule offers hope. Game 1 comes against Philadelphia on Monday night in the Dome — a curious choice, given that neither team made the playoffs last season — and the Eagles just changed quarterbacks and signed Tim Tebow to boot. That’s a winnable game.
Truth to tell, there aren’t many non-winnable games to be found. (Maybe Dallas in Arlington, and that’s a maybe.) Much had to go wrong for this franchise to slip from the 13-3 of 2012 to the 10-22 of the past two seasons. Things might be starting to go right.