A guide for responding to Falcons critics

Atlanta Falcons fans celebrate after the Falcons defeated the Dallas Cowboys 19-13, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012 in Atlanta. The Falcons remained the only undefeated team in the NFL, and their 8-0 start was the best in franchise history. (AP Photo/Rich Addicks)
AP Photo/Rich Addicks

If you’re an Atlanta Falcons fan, you already know this, but we just can’t be happy about our 8-0 start.

It’s just simply not allowed.

Every fan of every other team wants us to know our team choked in the playoffs the last three seasons, as if we didn’t already know. You can’t be excited about the team’s undefeated record … well, you can, but if you dare post something on social media expressing your glee for the stellar start — to a degree Falcons fans have never seen — the comments from northern transplants and everywhere else fill up your news feed in a matter of minutes.

So I’m going to help you out on this one. Here are some things you can say the next time one of your friends has something to say about the Falcons.

(MORE: Pagano fights disease while Colts start strong)

They’ll go nowhere … they’re barely beating bad teams

I have news for y’all — nearly every team that wins the Super Bowl plays several ugly games during the regular season. It’s a long campaign, and the good teams always have a target on their backs. It’s the NFL; every roster has 53 world-class professionals, and parity has given even the worst teams a real chance to beat anyone on any given Sunday.

So, yes, the Falcons struggled against the Oakland Raiders, and they didn’t look great against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night. But a year ago, the world-champion New York Giants went 9-7 with two losses to the Washington Redskins (who went 5-11 overall), a loss to the Seattle Seahawks (7-9) and had a four-game losing streak from mid-November until early-December.

They turned out alright.

They’re the same Falcons as last year when they choked

There’s no way to know whether this is a true or false statement until the Falcons get into the playoffs and have a chance to redeem themselves. But through eight games, it’s clear that improvements have been made on both sides of the ball, and they look like a better team from a simple eye test.

For one, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has employed a defense that is much more confident and seems to be getting stronger every week. It isn’t an easy defense to master — players are playing a lot of different positions, and he isn’t afraid to drop a lineman like Kroy Biermann back into a safety position, which is as weird as it sounds. But it’s working, and if you caught the Falcons’ victory over the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football back in Week 2, you saw the benefits of the new defensive staff. They rattled and confused Peyton Manning, forcing the league’s best passer to throw three interceptions in his first eight attempts of the night. Outside of that game, Manning has only thrown a total of three interceptions all season. So, yes, there is a lot of hope with this unit.

Then there’s the offense, which leads me to…

We’ve seen it before — Matt Ryan is good until the playoffs

It’s an easy shot for someone to take, because we’re a long way from the postseason and we’ll likely forget who said what, three months from now. Take a deeper look at the numbers — he’s ahead of his own curve. At 5-3 through eight weeks a year ago, Ryan wasn’t really an MVP candidate. This season, he is. He’s completing 69 percent of his passes this year, compared to 61 percent a year ago. He’s on pace to throw for 650 more yards than he did in 2011.

Here’s what should scare opponents the most — Ryan has finally proven his arm is as strong and accurate as any quarterback in the league. What has been the biggest knock on him in the first few seasons of his career has been proven false, and it’s keeping defenses a lot more honest than they had to be in past years.

Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has shown very little reserve in the way he runs his offense, and it’s giving the Falcons a Saints-like identity. They can complete a deep pass and get down the field quickly in any situation, and it’s even easier with the emergence of wide receiver Julio Jones, who is almost impossible to defend when the ball goes up. Both he and Roddy White are on pace to have better numbers than they racked up in 2011, and tight end Tony Gonzalez has also seen more open space to make plays because defenses have to spread the field and prepare for anything. In short, this is why the Falcons went out of their way to draft a receiver like Jones, and it’s paying off.

The Falcons are playing a weak schedule!

Yep, it’s true. The Falcons haven’t played a host of talented teams along the way. Not much can be said about this one. But is that really their fault? NFL teams don’t get to create any portion of their schedule, and each year, they play one division from the other conference. This season, it’s the pitiful AFC West that was placed on the Falcons’ schedule.

Atlanta took care of business, beating all four teams in that division to cruise to an early 6-0 start, with victories over Carolina and Washington mixed in. You know who hasn’t executed against the AFC West? The New Orleans Saints, who have gone 1-2 against them so far. And you can see the difference in fortunes between the Falcons and Saints.

Five of the Falcons’ final eight games are against NFC South foes, none of which has a winning record. The other games are against the Giants, Cardinals and Lions. There’s a chance only the Giants will make the playoffs among the teams the Falcons will play down the stretch. But like I said earlier, in this league, teams face adversity every week. So you can’t say they won’t be tested, because every week is a test.

If you hear any other snarky comments about the Falcons, you can direct your friends to this page. I’ll respond to them all.

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