ATLANTA GA - JANUARY 15: A general view of the opening kickoff by the Atlanta Falcons to the Green Bay Packers during their 2011 NFC divisional playoff game at Georgia Dome on January 15 2011 in Atlanta Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The Falcons have only had rare and mild success in their 45-year history, but that's all about to change.
Join me for a moment in a world where the pending NFL lockout doesn't exist. There, doesn't that feel better? I have more good news. This is a great time to be an Atlanta Falcons fan. We are on the precipice of what I believe will be the greatest decade in Falcons football history. True, the Falcons don't have a storied legacy (only six playoff wins in their 45-year history) meaning a Virgil Green-type leap won't be necessary to clear the bar. But this team, with the front office and players in place, will ensure this Falcons teams will go down as one of the best teams of the 2010s. Or the Tens. Or whatever we'll end up calling this decade.
First let's see what the Falcons need to do to set a team record for wins in a decade. We'll exclude the 1960s since Atlanta didn't have an NFL team until 1966. We'll jump ahead to the 1970s. That decade they won 61 games including one playoff game. The 1980s was a step backward with only 57 victories and no playoff wins. The 1990s saw 75 victories including three playoff wins and a Super Bowl appearance. In the 2000s - the aughts? the 20-hundreds? - the Falcons rolled up 77 wins, a franchise-best for a decade and won two playoff games. That's the bar. 77 wins in a decade.
Already the Falcons have started the Tens (I decided to go with the Tens over the 2010s) with 13 wins. This means they need to win 65 more games in nine years - and average of 7.2 games per season - to set a new franchise record. This seems very reasonable. Since the new regime of Dimitroff/Smith/Ryan arrived the Falcons have averaged 11 wins a season. I'm not saying they'll average 11 wins for the entire decade but 11 teams have averaged over 11 wins in a decade since 1970 so it's not out of the question.
If we're setting our sights high, the record for most wins in a decade is 126 set by the New England Patriots in the aughts (2000s). That mark leaves the Falcons needing 114 more wins or 12.7 per season. In order to break that mark they are going to need to win several playoff games and have six or seven seasons with deep playoff runs. Not likely? Ask Patriots fans if they it was likely after their 5-11 season in 2000.
Let's turn our focus to what the Falcons have to do to back up my opening statement: Average 7.2 wins per season for nine years. This should be a cakewalk. Twenty-two different teams did better than that this past decade including the St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins who both overcame one-win seasons during that stretch. The Falcons will have some missteps and a 6-10 season will happen (every NFL team had at least one 10-loss season over the last 10 years) but averaging just over seven wins a season should not be a problem for this team.
Somewhere between the Patriots record and setting a team-record lies the middle ground, a 100-win decade. Only 22 teams since 1960 have accomplished this feat (23 if you count the Jaguars in the 1990s when they won 53 games in their first five seasons). With a 13-win season already in their back pocket, Atlanta needs to average 9.7 wins the rest of the aughts. This is a bit tougher as only six teams hit that mark last decade (Pats, Colts, Eagles, Steelers, Ravens).
There's a lot of talk about how the national media disrespects the Falcons and this is the decade they can start to change the perception. The time is now and this is the best time to be a fan of the Atlanta Falcons. Whether you've followed them since their 1966 inception or have come aboard somewhere in the meantime, the Golden Age of Falcons football is upon us.
Unless of course, the 2011 season is canceled. Then forget everything I just wrote.