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Question of the Week: What are reasonable expectations for the Falcons in 2024? 

After an offseason filled with key changes, our writers assemble to discuss what the expectations should be for Atlanta for the upcoming season. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – After three straight 7-10 finishes, the Atlanta Falcons enacted a number of key changes this offseason, including replacing their head coach and signing a new starting quarterback.

Not since the 2008 season have the Falcons started the year with a new face at both pivotal spots, but things turned out pretty well the last time around. However, while another year like 2008 would be welcome in Atlanta, the expectations for this squad feel very different than the one led by Mike Smith and a rookie Matt Ryan.

The Falcons don't intend to take any steps backwards, despite the changes. Falcons CEO Rich McKay gave one of the defining quotes of the offseason at the end-of-year press conference with Arthur Blank in January, explaining the organization's mindset about what this team can do.

"This is a unique situation for me because in many of these, you hear the phrase 'direction.' 'Oh, we have to change direction.' That's a classic phrase in a situation like this," McKay said. "I think we like the direction of the team and the franchise, but I think we need results, and we need results sooner rather than later."

There are plenty of reasons to be excited about what the Falcons can accomplish this fall, but also a few questions that remain to be answered. So, what exactly should be the defined expectation for Atlanta in 2024? Let's discuss.


Tori McElhaney: Outrun the South.

Can't say this is my own thought or tagline. I would never take credit for someone else's work, and this comes straight from head coach Raheem Morris' brain, not my own.

In his very first team meeting to begin OTAs back in April, Morris said this phrase. He was setting the table for what the team can expect from the coaching staff and leadership overall. However, that wasn't the only expectation he set. There's this one, too.

Outrun the South is the rallying cry by which the Falcons should fight for in 2024. At this point in time, with all the changes and all the additions, there is no reason the Falcons shouldn't sit atop the NFC South. Obviously, the Bucs, Panthers and – most definitely – Saints will have something to say about that. Considering the on-paper breakdown of these four divisional opponents, though? If the Falcons are not at the top with the roster they have at this current moment, I'd argue something catastrophic had to happen for anyone to think differently heading into the 2024 season.

Now, I know what you're thinking: 'Tori, aren't you worried about the other opponents on the schedule?'

Of course. This year isn't a cake walk with the likes of the Chiefs, Eagles and, yes, the Cowboys set to make their appearances this season. However, I will say this until I am blue in the face: The Falcons have to get their business done in the division.

And if they do? All bets are off, just take a look at the 2023 Bucs for example.

Let's be honest, too: If the last three years covering the NFC South has taught me anything, it's that no matter how you prepare for the season ahead, it's always going to be different.

Will McFadden: Win their division.

Sure, this is just a different way to phrase the same goal Tori outlined above, but, hey, I can't come up with earworm-ey sayings as well as Raheem Morris can. The point still remains, however: Winning the NFC South should be priority No. 1 for everyone in the organization.

It's an entirely achievable goal as well. Last season, a 9-8 record proved good enough to win the division. In 2022, an 8-9 record got the Buccaneers into the postseason. Past performance is not a great indicator of future success, I know, but this is a division title that is well within Atlanta's reach.

To capture it, the Falcons will need to be in mid-season form before the first month even draws to a close. No coach is likely to ever publicly say that a specific stretch of the schedule will define the season, but it's hard not to circle Weeks 4-10 for Atlanta. In that span, the Falcons will face the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers twice and the Carolina Panthers once. That's five of their six division games before Week 11!

There are some obvious positives to that – the team should be relatively healthy, for instance – but it also means that a new staff and a new quarterback need to clicking sooner rather than later.

Given the amount of successful football that Morris and Kirk Cousins, among others, have been a part of in their respective careers, I am optimistic they will have the right cadence in place to be ready for that stretch. If they can take care of business, it will go a long way towards winning the NFC South for the first time since 2016.

And, as Morris likes to say, once you get into the playoffs anything can happen.

Terrin Waack: A winning record.

This seems like the bare minimum. It very well may be. Regardless, the Falcons need to meet that benchmark.

Atlanta hasn't seen a winning record since 2017, when the team went 10-6, made the playoffs and lost in the divisional round to the Philadelphia Eagles, who ultimately went on to win the Super Bowl that year.

That's six consecutive seasons of losing records in Atlanta, the most since team owner Arthur Blank acquired the team in 2002. Otherwise, the Falcons had a max of two losing records in a row (2006-07 and 2013-14). Even when considering breakeven records, the count only goes up to three (same years, but add on 2005 and 2015 to the ranges, respectively).

A winning record may not get the Falcons to the postseason. In fact, five teams with winning records last season didn't earn bids. They were the Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints, and they all had a 9-8 record at season's end that fell short of the playoff pack.

A winning record, however, is the first necessary step in the right direction. The Falcons should obviously aim higher. Like Tori wrote: outrun the south. Then, go on and win it all. Of course, that's always the goal.

Ready for another Waack analogy? A championship is a full sundae. The cherry on top represents the Super Bowl. The other toppings – syrup, sprinkles, etc. – signify the playoffs. The ice cream base then equals the regular season. The Falcons can't have their fixings without their base.

So, they need to win in order to eat.

Amna Subhan: A playoff appearance.

Whether that's as NFC South champions or as a wild-card team, this team has what it takes for postseason play — nothing less.

While the Falcons have the easiest schedule on paper this season they'll need to work out any kinks pretty early to get past the regular season. The division title came down to the final game of the regular season last year, but this season it could get decided earlier than that.

Atlanta plays all but one of its division games by Week 10, after that four of the last seven games are against AFC opponents making it harder to if they're trying to squeeze into a wild-card spot. If the Falcons play their cards right they could control their destiny in the latter half of the season

However, there are things that will need to be settled at the beginning of the season with a new offensive and defensive system, a new head coach and a new starting quarterback in Kirk Cousins coming off an Achilles injury. Still, with a roster of skill players that includes Drake London, Bijan Robinson and Kyle Pitts — who are all a year older and more developed — they have the talent to get there.

The last time the Falcons made a playoff appearance was seven seasons ago. It's time they get back there, and it's not unreasonable to believe they should.

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