Guess you still have to crawl before you walk.
It took the current regime of the Atlanta Falcons five years to win a playoff game. Head coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan have yet to suffer through a losing season in five years together. But until the team rolled, got rolled and then rallied to beat the Seattle Seahawks this past January, the franchise hadn't won a postseason game since 2004.
Still, despite owning home-field advantage in the NFC two of the last three seasons, these Falcons have yet to reach the Super Bowl, a feat the organization has managed only once in its existence (XXXIII). But this is an organization, with general manager Thomas Dimitroff at the helm, which has been quite consistent.
Hence, the Atlanta Falcons will make it four straight trips to the playoffs…
If: New running back Steven Jackson becomes more of a factor than Michael Turner was in 2012. The one-time St. Louis Rams workhorse has run for 1,000-plus yards each of the last eight years. But these are different times for the Falcons, who prefer to attack through the air (no pun intended) with Ryan, wideouts Roddy White and Julio Jones and ageless tight end Tony Gonzalez. It's worth noting that only three teams in the league last season ran for fewer yards than Atlanta.
And: At the very least, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's unit remains opportunistic. Last season, the Falcons were amongst the league leaders with 31 takeaways. The Pro Bowl safety tandem of Thomas DeCoud (6) and William Moore (4) accounted for 10 of the team's 20 interceptions and 12 of those 31 takeaways. Meanwhile, ball-hawking cornerback Asante Samuel picked off five passes in his first season with the club.
But: Atlanta's inability to stop the run last season eventually proved to be the team's downfall. The Falcons ranked 21st in rushing defense in 2012 and in their two playoff games, both the Seahawks (Divisional Playoffs) and 49ers (NFC Championship Game) were able to overcome big deficits by staying their course with their ground attacks.
Smith's club totaled only 29 sacks a year ago, 10.0 of those by now-former Falcons' defensive end John Abraham. If and when the team finds a solution, it may take more than one addition to make the pass rush potent.
So what do you think? In the brief existence of the NFC South (2002-12), there's never been a division winner to repeat. Will these Falcons be the first? Even if they aren't, can they hold off the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and get back to the postseason party?
Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country, can be heard on Yahoo! Sports Radio and many other networks and was blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.
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