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Nathan Berg: Atlanta Falcons' expectations should be Super Bowl or bust in 2018
Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) passes the ball during the first half of a NFL preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday, Aug. 25, in Jacksonville, Fla. - photo by AP photo

With the Atlanta Falcons’ third preseason game behind them, the starters will likely be out of action until Week 1 as the team turns its attention to Philadelphia on opening night. The two-week hiatus between now and the start of the regular season provides ample time to reflect on what this Falcons team is, and how far into the playoffs they should realistically be expected to go. 

When it comes right down to it, the Falcons have every opportunity to become the first team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl in their home stadium, and anything less should be considered a failed season for Atlanta.

The team — just two years removed from one of the best offensive seasons in the history of the NFL and now sporting a vastly improved defense — is certainly one of the most talented in the league. 

Offensively, recent results essentially speak for themselves. Matt Ryan to Julio Jones has been one of the most prolific connections in the NFL ever since Jones joined the team in 2011, while Devonta Freeman has been among football’s most consistent tailbacks. 

Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley at defensive end along with Grady Jarrett in the middle provide a formidable pass rush. Deion Jones is one of the top rising linebackers in the league, and the secondary is as deep as it has been in recent memory, with Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant manning cornerback spots and the duo of recently paid Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal at safety.

To put it simply, the Falcons are loaded. 

But with great talent comes great expectations, and the pressure has never been higher for the Falcons to produce results and ultimately win a championship. The window is open now, but it might not be for much longer. 

You don’t have to look further than Falcons head coach Dan Quinn’s last team, the Seattle Seahawks — which Quinn was the defensive coordinator of in 2013 and 2014 — to see how quickly a would-be dynasty can fall apart. 

After winning the Super Bowl in 2014 and then falling to the Patriots in the final seconds the following year, the Seahawks looked poised to be among the best teams in the league for years to come. But individual Seattle players grew disgruntled with their financial situations, leading to contract holdouts from key starters such as Kam Chancellor and more recently Earl Thomas. 

Now, just three years after nearly winning back-to-back championships, the Seahawks offensive line is decimated, marquis defensive players Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett are playing for other teams, and with Russell Wilson due for a pay-day next year, things are likely to only get worse for Seattle. 

Last season, the Seahawks finished 9-7 and missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2011. 

So things look good for the Falcons now, but it doesn’t take much for things to turn south in the NFL. And for that reason, it is crucial that Atlanta takes advantage of the talent on its roster while the group remains together. 

The players can preach “Brotherhood” all they want, but it only takes one person asking for a bigger contract to create a tremor that turns into an avalanche. How much will Deion Jones want to be paid once he’s off his rookie deal? What about Keanu Neal? After paying Devonta Freeman big money last year, will the Falcons have enough to keep Tevin Coleman on the roster? 

These are the questions Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff will have to start dealing with next season. But for this year, it’s full speed ahead. The Falcons need to win now, because a Super Bowl victory might not be on the table later.


Nathan Berg is a sports writer for The Times. He can be reached at nberg@gainesvilletimes.com or @NathanxBerg on Twitter.

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