With this roster, the Falcons really should win a Super Bowl

At team-building, Dan Quinn’s Falcons barely have put a foot wrong. In June 2015 – DQ arrived from Seattle four months earlier – Pro Football Focus ranked their roster the NFL’s second-worst. Last summer, the same website rated the same-but-much-different Falcons as the NFL’s best.

After what appears to have been another in series of excellent drafts, there’s even more reason to be high on this team. It could well grace Super Bowl LIII, which will be staged downtown. On breadth of talent, it’s tough to find a better collection anywhere. Just ticking off 20 names …

Offense: Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Alex Mack, Devonta Freeman, Mohamed Sanu, Tevin Coleman, Ryan Schraeder, Jake Matthews and now Calvin Ridley. Defense: Vic Beasley Jr., Deion Jones, Grady Jarrett, Keanu Neal, Takkarist McKinley, Desmond Trufant, DeVondre Campbell, Duke Riley and now Isaiah Oliver. Kickers: Matt Bryant and Matt Bosher. Of those, 13 were acquired since February 2015. The triumvirate of DQ, Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli has done great work.

At picking players, the Falcons – the franchise that gave us Aundray Bruce at No. 1 overall, Bruce (Slim) Pickens at No. 3 and Jammi German over Hines Ward – have become aces. I’m always willing and usually able to nit-pick anything, but I find no real error over the past four drafts. Even Jalen Collins, he of the many failed drug tests, started in a Super Bowl.

If you watch the Falcons warm up, you think, “That’s a great-looking squad.” If you’ve lately watched them play, you wonder why this great-looking bunch keeps kicking field goals. That’s the thing about the NFL: The most talented roster doesn’t always become the best team.

Granted, the Falcons of Quinn came excruciatingly close. Still, if you look back on the totality of his tenure, here’s what you see – a team that started 6-1 and missed the playoffs; a team that led the Super Bowl by 25 points with 17-1/2 minutes remaining and suffered the most infamous loss in NFL history, and a team that could have reached the Super Bowl without facing a truly established quarterback but tripped at the second hurdle.

Quinn’s first three seasons have yielded a regular-season record of 29-19 and two playoff appearances. Then we ask: With the roster Quinn has assembled, what should his record have been? The 2015 Falcons collapsed against a soft schedule; the 2016 team went 11-5 against a wicked schedule but couldn’t hold 25-point lead; the 2017 crew never won more than three in a row, made the playoffs on the season’s final Sunday and were eliminated by a backup quarterback whose team managed one touchdown.

The gap between the NFL’s most talented team and an average one isn’t much. Last year’s Falcons lost to Buffalo with Tyrod Taylor, to Miami with Jay Cutler, to Minnesota with Case Keenum and to Philadelphia with Nick Foles. Last year’s team, like the Super Bowl team, got off lightly with injuries. (For all the great things about Matt Ryan, the greatest is that he has missed two starts – both in 2009 – in a decade. He’s as flexible as Nijinsky, and here I mean the Russian dancer, not the racehorse.)

In college football, Vanderbilt is never going to beat Alabama. In the NFL, almost anyone can beat almost anyone else. (Last year’s score: Bama 59, Vandy 0.) The NFL isn’t as much about talent – though no untalented team has ever won anything of note – as about preparation and execution. Players need to make plays, sure, but someone must put them in position to make plays. On fourth-and-goal in Philly, the NFL’s best QB/WR tandem was handed an unworkable play.

The NFL is about coaching. There’s a reason Bill Belichick has reached three of the past four Super Bowls and eight of the past 17. The guess is that the Patriots have been the NFL’s most gifted team maybe five times over those 17 seasons. (And remember, Tom Brady was a just-promoted backup when all this began.) Belichick’s team isn’t invincible – it likewise lost to the same Nick Foles – but rarely can we say it underachieves. There’s a standard of performance that transcends players, Brady excepted, coordinators and GMs.

To be fair, there’s only one Belichick. To be fair, Quinn has had only three years to work, and if Kyle Shanahan had run the ball a couple of times more, DQ would have lifted the Lombardi Trophy in Year 2. That said, last season’s team bore only slight resemblance to its predecessor. The players were the same – the offensive coordinator was not – but the 2017 Falcons never were a great team. With a bit less luck in Chicago, Detroit and Tampa, they might have been a losing team.

The belief remains that Quinn is the right man for the Falcons. He has been terrific as football czar, a job at which he had no experience. He has made Flowery Branch a happy place to work. Nearly every other NFL franchise would swap rosters with his. He has taken the Falcons to the Super Bowl. He has done everything except win the Super Bowl. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that needs to happen soon. He has built his roster. Time to make it a champion.