It has been said that in the South there are two seasons: football and spring football. That really only applies to the college game. However, the local NFL team has been generating some interest in recent years, mostly for positive reasons, and another season has arrived.
The Atlanta Falcons have posted consecutive winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. That’s noteworthy, and in the NFL, any winning season is to be commended. Hey, the defending Super Bowl champ Steelers missed the playoffs last year, too. Also, their QB showed in the offseason that foolish behavior isn’t confined to Atlanta.
In 2010, though, the Falcons will face renewed pressure. Fact: the team has not won a playoff game since controversial QB Michael Vick went to prison. He led the team to playoff victories in 2002 and 2004. Atlanta reached the postseason in 2008, but lost in the opening round to eventual NFC champ Arizona. It has been said that the team has not completely recovered from the Vick debacle. Debatable. But the one way to erase all such talk is to win a playoff game.
And owner Arthur Blank is not one to accept moral victories. Only improvement will do. One can be sure that Blank will want to see a postseason appearance in 2010. The one way the Falcons can attract fan and media attention in college football country is to be exceptional. Just another “winning season” won’t do it.
Can it happen? Sure. Atlanta finished 9-7 last season, two victories behind the wild-card playoff teams. There were injuries to key players, and kicker Jason Elam was erratic. So some better fortune in those areas could add up to more victories in 2010.
But the team will also have to keep raising the bar. QB Matt Ryan is already among the league’s best, but in the NFL, that position is the first key to success. The defense also will have to be solid to keep every game from becoming a scoring match. Nobody wins championships that way.
So welcome to NFL football, Atlanta style: a season that begins in a sauna and continues in a dome. At least now, success is expected. It’s more fun that way.