The Super Bowl hangover isn't a myth. It's real. History and the eyeball test in the salary cap era tell you it is the truth: Losing on the game's biggest stage can have repercussions that last long after Super Sunday.
Since 2000, half of the Super Bowl losers failed to even make the postseason in the following campaign. Just two got back to the conference title game -- none returned to the Super Bowl.
The most recent hangover victim? Carolina. The Panthers went from an NFL-best 15-1 in 2015 to 6-10 and dead last in the NFC South last fall. Cam Newton followed up his league MVP campaign with the worst statistical season of his professional life.
So, given this preamble, it's easy to foresee Atlanta suffering a Super Bowl hangover of epic proportions, right? After all, this team blew a 25-point, second-half lead in Super Bowl LI, handing the Patriots their fifth Lombardi Trophy. Can you imagine the figurative pounding headache that comes from that kind of choke job?
But here's the thing: I believe in the 2017 Falcons. I think Atlanta's only gotten better this offseason. I think February's unthinkable heartbreak is going to fuel this prideful bunch. I think the experience has only made these Falcons stronger.
I can easily see Atlanta getting right back to the Super Bowl in Minneapolis next February.
These Falcons, under general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn, are spectacularly built. The roster oozes talent, starting on the offensive side of the ball.
Matt Ryan is a star and now has an MVP trophy to prove it. Having just turned 32, Ryan's squarely in his prime, fresh off a season where he put up some crazy numbers, including a 69.9 percent completion rate, a 9.3 yards-per-attempt figure and a 117.1 quarterback rating. Now, Ryan did lose his offensive coordinator when Kyle Shanahan took the head-coaching gig in San Francisco. That's a blow, no doubt. But I loved the Steve Sarkisian hiring. And Ryan still has quite a set of toys at his disposal.
Julio Jones might be the best receiver in the game today. The guy's an absolute beast who can single-handedly take over a game. (Just ask the Packers.) And Atlanta boasts strong pass-catching depth beyond Jones. Mohamed Sanu's a quintessential professional, while Taylor Gabriel's a speed merchant last seen embarrassing Pats stud Malcolm Butler. Tight end Austin Hooper showed plenty of promise in his rookie season, bringing some more speed up the seam.
Up front, Atlanta's stout. Led by center Alex Mack, the Falcons' O-line paved the way for the No. 5 rushing offense in football last season. Of course, credit is due to Atlanta's electric 1-2 punch in the backfield. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 1,599 yards rushing, 883 yards receiving and 24 total touchdowns during the 2016 regular season. Coming off his second consecutive 1,000-yard, 11-touchdown season, Freeman understandably wants to get paid. That shouldn't be a problem. Dimitroff recently came on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," and expressed a strong desire to get a new deal done before the start of the 2017 campaign.
Speaking of Dimitroff, he cleaned up this offseason, once again bringing in valuable defensive pieces. First, the Falcons scooped up Dontari Poe, an athletic DT originally drafted in the first round by Dimitroff's right-hand man, Scott Pioli. When properly motivated, Poe is a 346-pound problem for opposing offenses. And with Poe on a one-year, $8 million prove-it deal, you can bet he'll be motivated. In the draft, Dimitroff traded up to land edge rusher Takk McKinley at No. 26 overall. Brilliant. Put Poe and McKinley out there with reigning NFL sack king Vic Beasley, and this defensive front looks quite imposing. On the second level, the Falcons boasts a fine sophomore duo in linebackers Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell. Another defender who enjoyed a fantastic rookie season in 2016? Hard-hitting safety Keanu Neal, a player I just love watching. The Falcons also get back cornerback Desmond Trufant, who made the Pro Bowl in 2015 but was knocked out of last season in November with a shoulder injury.
Last year's defense possessed a "wonderful naiveté and swagger," according to Dimitroff. Well, now the unit is more experienced and more talented.
This team is ready to rock in 2017, poised to open up the gorgeous new Mercedes-Benz Stadium with authority. Super Bowl hangover? Not this year. The owner knows it.
"Every team in the NFL wants to win the last game, including us," Arthur Blank told me this week on SiriusXM Radio. "And with that commanding lead, we expected to win. We didn't. There are probably a lot of reasons for it. But we have a young team. We have great talent. We have a great head coach, coordinators and staff. I love our draft again this year and free agency, and we are well positioned.
He's absolutely right. About everything. And he also just doesn't see a letdown in this team's DNA.
"As an organization and a fan base, people should be very proud of having the right people at the top of our world: Dan Quinn as our head coach and Matt Ryan as our quarterback and the leader of our players," Blank said "These guys are highly competitive, very resilient, not downer type of guys. They aren't guys sulking at all. They find a positive agitation in it. That's how they approached it Day 1 post-Super Bowl. They both faced what they needed to face. They watched the video, spent the time, thought about it, talked about it, and thought about it many, many more times.
"I've been really impressed how Dan has managed them. Nobody is looking back. Everyone is looking forward. I know that sounds cliché, but I feel that energy here. It's impressive. And you all (media and fans) will get to see that moving into the preseason and the season."
The NFC is fascinating this year. You can make a playoff case for a large number of teams. And as my colleague Conor Orr points out, all four NFC South squads have realistic postseason hopes.
But I think Atlanta is too good and too focused to fall off a cliff. The Falcons deserve to be considered the favorites in the NFC. And Arthur Blank wouldn't have it any other way.
"I love where our team is," Blank told me. "You can't be overconfident. The league is designed for parity. Having said that, I think we have, as other teams have, separated ourselves from the pack, if you will. I think we will be competitive for years to come."
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