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Inside Tori's Notebook: Coming to terms with what I thought the Falcons would be vs. what they are

The Falcons had the potential to be a team with double-digit wins this season. Instead, they'll have to win-out the rest of the way to get there. That's not impossible but it is improbable. 

Inside Tori's Notebook is a weekly series where Tori McElhaney re-opens her game notebook to look back at her notes, questions and observations from the Falcons most recent game. Tori breaks down her thoughts and gives her analysis on what happened and why it's notable.


COMING TO TERMS -- In case you missed the news: I have a new notebook. I bought it last week. It's cute and has hundreds of new pages in it. For the purpose of this specific installment of "Inside Tori's Notebook," though, I didn't want to highlight anything I wrote in the new notebook from Sunday's 29-25 loss to Tampa Bay.

Truth be told, I didn't really care to go back and break down that game again. I didn't feel the need to revisit it via my own notes, either. I just didn't think I needed to. I didn't think there was anything else to learn from it.

What I found myself doing instead was looking through my shelves for my training camp notebook. It's not as cute as my new one but there was a specific page in that old notebook I needed.

In the early days of training camp, I had to make my record predictions for the season ahead for a story we were working on.

I'll be honest: I greatly despise preseason record predictions. I see no need in trying to predict wins and losses in a league that sees teams at the bottom of the league beat teams at the top every other week. But I know fans and readers love them. So, I did one, and I tried really hard to back it up with facts more than feelings as best I could.

That's why there's a page in my old notebook with a full breakdown of the Falcons 2023 schedule and where I saw wins (and losses) coming from.

In August, I saw the Falcons putting together a season of double-digit wins. I had Atlanta as NFC South champions. I had the Falcons in the playoffs. What they did from there was anyone's guess, but I saw them there.

That's not where I see them now. Perhaps this only strengthens my argument that preseason predictions are not worth the salt used to season them. But here's the thing: I didn't think giving the Falcons 10-plus wins then was a prediction with a lot of spice.

The Falcons had the easiest strength of schedule in 2023 of any team in the NFL. The NFC South was a mess at that time. Let's be honest, it still is as three teams are tied for a first-place standing with a 6-7 record. I could see runs of wins in that schedule.

Going back through my notes, here are the wins I saw: Carolina (twice), Green Bay, Texans, Commanders, Cardinals, Titans, Colts, Bears, split with the Saints and a split with the Bucs.

I had the Falcons losing to the Lions, Jaguars, Vikings (they still had a healthy Kirk Cousins at the time), Jets (they still had Aaron Rodgers at the time) and one loss a piece to the Saints and Bucs. So, a fair 11-6 record. After two consecutive seasons at 7-10, you'd take 11-6. Heck, you'd expect it with the way this team was constructed. I did, too, even though I am a firm hater in expectations re: end-of-season records.

With four games left in the season, the Falcons can't get to 11 wins. They can get to 10, but even that sounds like an uphill battle after barely beating the Jets two weeks ago and losing to the Bucs this Sunday. They'd have to win-out. Meanwhile, where the NFC South crown goes to when the season ends is anyone's idea. Probably safe to say it's not going to Carolina, but I digress...

This most recent loss has me coming to terms with the fact the Falcons are not where I thought they would be at this point in the season. Sure, they still have a playoff shot in front of them. However, if they lose to either the Panthers (this coming Sunday) or the Saints (to end the regular season), I think that shot is shattered. At this point in the season, the Falcons could have been in the position to further cement their playoff chances. Instead, they're left rolling in the muck of "missed opportunities."

The Falcons can still get there. Hope is not completely lost and crazier things have happened. They can still fight their way out of the quagmire, but it won't be easy. And even if they do, the NFC South is the butt of a lot of jokes compared to other divisions across the league.

At this point in the season, I expected the Falcons to be a team that's position in the postseason was respected at least for the fact they had the wins to back it up, even if the division wins didn't carry a heavy weight.

I'm coming to terms with the fact that's not the case for Atlanta in 2023.

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during Week 14.

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