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Michael Cunningham: Falcons aren't good, but good enough for playoff hunt in NFC

Michael Cunningham, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Football

I watched the Falcons get shut out by the Patriots at the Benz Dome four days after they were routed in Dallas. Stick a fork in ‘em, I figured.

Then I saw a bunch of NFL teams who purportedly are good lose to supposedly inferior opponents over the weekend. And I wondered: Maybe the Falcons really aren’t finished?

I’m not saying the Falcons (4-6) are a good football team. Let me repeat that. I am not suggesting the Falcons are good. They just lost to the Cowboys and Patriots by a combined score of 68-3. They have a minus-110 point differential on the season.

Football Outsiders said the Falcons are the worst 4-6 of all time, per its opponent- and situation-adjusted efficiency metric. But the Falcons are 4-6. That record puts them squarely in the race for one of the NFC’s three wild-card berths with seven games to go.

The Falcons are at the bottom of the NFC South standings, but only one game behind the Saints for the NFC’s final bid. They simultaneously are one of the NFL’s worst teams and a fringe playoff contender in the NFC. As Falcons coach Arthur Smith put it a day after the 25-0 loss to New England:

“We clearly have not played well enough the last two weeks, but it’s not like it’s all lost.”

 

How’s that for an inspiring rallying cry? It’s heard across the NFL in most seasons. It’s coming from a lot of cities this season.

There are maybe five legitimately good teams and up to six truly terrible teams. Then there’s a bunch of teams grouped somewhere in the middle. They are hoping that some breaks to go their way so they can slip into the playoffs.

The Falcons are nowhere close to being part of the good group. It’s more likely they are one of the bad teams. But the Falcons can always get better. And the state of the NFC means that improving to just OK can be enough for the Falcons to challenge for a playoff spot.

That’s why Smith was right to say that not all is lost for the Falcons. That was before the Saints and Panthers both lost over the weekend to help the Falcons’ chances. The Falcons won’t catch the Buccaneers (7-3) in the NFC South. The Falcons can stay in the wild-card race by beating the Jags.

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