Our NFL Thursday miniseries on each franchise’s “best” teams continues today with the examination of the Atlanta Falcons, a 1968 expansion team. With just a .437 winning percentage, the team’s 14 postseason appearances aren’t a lot for that stretch of time (53 seasons). The Falcons have lost two Super Bowls—each one in opposite fashion, truth be told, as revealed below—but at least all five of the teams on this list won their respective division titles. That’s not bad at all …
No. 5: 2010 Atlanta Falcons
This team went 13-3 to secure the top seed in the NFC playoffs after winning the South Division. Strangely, the Falcons were just sixth in the SRS rankings overall, however, after finishing No. 5 on offense and No. 5 on defense. Thanks to seven close wins, this was more like an 11-win squad. As a result, the eventual champion Green Bay Packers came into town for the postseason and blew Atlanta out of the water, 48-21. It was not a happy ending for the Falcons, obviously.
Three former first-round picks topped the team in Approximate Value (AV): defensive end John Abraham (16), quarterback Matt Ryan (16), and wide receiver Roddy White (16). Running back Michael Turner (13) was also pretty good. But against the Packers, well … it went wrong fast. Nursing a 7-point lead in the second quarter, the Falcons gave up 35 straight points to Green Bay, as the offense committed four turnovers (three by Ryan)—including this one, which hurt.
No. 4: 2012 Atlanta Falcons
Just two years later, the Falcons posted another 13-3 record to clinch the NFC South and the top seed in the postseason. Again, though, the team was just seventh in the SRS ratings, with the No. 7 offense and the No. 5 defense. Same reason: seven close wins. In the playoffs this time, however, Atlanta won its opener at home against the Seattle Seahawks, barely, by a 30-28 score. Then, the visiting San Francisco 49ers came in and beat the Falcons down, 28-24. Once again, it hurt.
Ryan (18 AV) and White (14) were joined by WR Julio Jones (13) atop the team’s value rankings, while overall eight members of the offense finished in double-digit AV. Against the Seahawks, though, Atlanta took a 20-point lead into the fourth quarter, lost it, and then won the game late with a field goal. Facing the Niners, the Falcons’ luck ran out: San Francisco outscored the home team, 14-0, in the second half to secure a trip the Super Bowl, while Atlanta burned.
No. 3: 1980 Atlanta Falcons
Just the second playoff team in organizational history, these Falcons posted a 12-4 record to win the old NFC West Division—don’t ask. Atlanta finished No. 3 in the SRS, after putting together the No. 5 offense and the No. 5 defense. After earning a bye in the first round of the playoffs, the Falcons had to host the Dallas Cowboys—and Atlanta built a 14-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. Guess what? Franchise trends start early, as the Falcons lost, 30-27. Ouch.
Ten players notched at least 10 AV, including fullback William Andrews (16), offensive tackle Mike Kenn (15), and QB Steve Bartkowski (14). The balance was there, as both offense and defense had five players each in that group of ten. So, what happened against the Cowboys? Well … the Atlanta defense just gave up 20 points in the fourth quarter somehow, as Dallas just used its experience to put the squeeze on Bartkowski & Co. over the final handful of minutes. Brutal loss.
No. 2: 2016 Atlanta Falcons
This team suffered the worst humiliation ever, of course, but it also spawned this blog. Go figure. The Falcons finished 11-5 to win the NFC South with the No. 1 offense—and the No. 27 defense. Yep; remember that. They were No. 2 in the SRS, but a lot of warts were hiding in plain sight. Atlanta jumped all over the Seahawks in the division round (36-20), before pounding the Packers in the NFC Championship (44-21). Then, the Falcons led the Super Bowl, 28-3, before … yeah.
Four offensive guys led the way: Ryan (21 AV), center Alex Mack (17), Jones (16), and RB Devonta Freeman (15). Only one player—LB Vic Beasley (12)—finished with more than 7 AV on the Atlanta defense. The warts were hidden in blowouts against Seattle and Green Bay, however. We probably know why the New England Patriots were able to mount their Super Bowl comeback, but it also was some really dumb playcalling on the Falcons’ sideline, too, that cost the team an NFL title.
No. 1: 1998 Atlanta Falcons
The greatest team in Falcons history posted a 14-2 record to win the NFC West Division and advance to the team’s first Super Bowl. With a No. 4 ranking in the SRS, this Atlanta team employed the No. 4 offense and the No. 4 defense for perfect symmetry. Hosting the 49ers in the divisional round, the Falcons held on for a 20-18 victory before traveling to Minnesota and upsetting the heavily favored Vikings in overtime, 30-27. But the Super Bowl was a letdown, of course.
This team was loaded with talent on both sides of the ball: RB Jamal Anderson (19 AV), cornerback Ray Buchanan (16), QB Chris Chandler (14), WR Tony Martin (13), and LB Jessie Tuggle (13) led the way. Against S.F., Atlanta took a 14-0 lead early and hung on. Against the Vikings, the Falcons scored the last 10 points of regulation to force overtime (with a little luck). Against the defending champion Denver Broncos, though, nothing went right for Atlanta. Sound familiar?