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2020 NFL team previews: The Atlanta Falcons are trying to force their window to stay open

Atlanta is doing everything they can to stave off a rebuild, but by doing so they are only hurting themselves by wasting more of their stars prime years.

Philadelphia Eagles v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons seem to have too many recognizable names to ever be bad. Quarterback Matt Ryan is a former NFL MVP. Julio Jones is an all-time great wide receiver, and partner in crime Calvin Ridley may join him in those ranks one day. Todd Gurley is a former Offensive Player of the Year only a few years removed from playing in a Super Bowl. Keanu Neal has made a name for himself as a hard-hitting safety that reminds many of the days of old. Dante Fowler Jr. is a former third overall pick.

With all of those names on the team, it might be hard to imagine why the Falcons are this low on the list. Unfortunately, a lot of their players are either on the decline or just straight up overrated. This is a team with enough talent to steal a few games here and there, but not enough to really compete in a tough NFC South.

The NFL season is almost upon us! Over the next few weeks I will be previewing each of the 32 NFL teams, and ranking them 1-32 as to how likely I believe they are to win Super Bowl LV. This week we continue the list with teams on the fringe of the playoff conversation.

27. Carolina Panthers
26. Detroit Lions
25. Las Vegas Raiders
24. New York Giants
23. Miami Dolphins

22. Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

It has been three years since the Falcons lost Super Bowl LI after blowing a 25-point second half lead. They have entered each of the subsequent seasons with some hype. In 2017, they made the playoffs and played two awful games before exiting. In 2018 and 2019, they went 7-9, missing the playoffs due to poor play on defense.

The writing was on the wall that their window is closing, and they made a few questionable moves this offseason to attempt to jar it open. They inked Fowler to a three-year deal worth $15 million a year. Fowler has largely disappointed throughout his career thus far, though he did put together an 11.5-sack season in 2019. Atlanta is hoping Fowler will be their premier edge rusher this season, but that is a role he mostly failed in both Jacksonville and Los Angeles.

It’s the same story with their other big offseason addition. Gurley was an offensive weapon back in 2018 and was a crucial piece to the Los Angeles Rams’ Super Bowl run. Injuries and regression have taken their toll on him, though. While, statistically, he wasn’t too bad in 2019—he totaled over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 14 total touchdowns—he was clearly not the same player that he once was. The deal they signed with him is only for a year, so it is low risk, but do not expect him to stand out much in this offense.

Atlanta has a great passing offense, but it may be tasked with doing too much this season. Ryan can still play, though he is yet to reach the level he was at in 2016 again. Jones and Ridley have proven to be one of the best receiver duos in the league and certainly give Ryan two great targets. The team also added Hayden Hurst this season—a former first-round pick that largely disappointed with the Baltimore Ravens—and he can at least be a playable third option.

Unfortunately, there really is only so much you can get done through the air. The Falcons will need their defense to step up big time this year, and the roster is full of players that have either failed throughout their career or are young and unproven.

A.J. Terrell, their rookie first-round pick, may turn out to be crucial to any success they have this season. The big, physical corner will be tasked with replacing Desmond Trufant, their long-time defensive back who was on the decline in recent years. Expecting too much from a corner in his rookie season feels like a fool's errand, though Terrell does look like a player that can make a real impact immediately.

The Falcons window is closed. The quicker they realize that, the quicker they can end a rebuild once again. Hopefully they can get through a rebuild cycle before Ryan (35) and Jones (31) are too old to continue. The fact that their stars seem to be reaching the twilight of their careers may be their motivation behind some of the moves they made. A last-ditch effort to do anything they can to keep their window of contention open with this current group.