A nine-foot bronze statue depicting Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, right, and head coach Doug Pederson discussing the "Philly Special" trick play is seen at Lincoln Financial Field, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018, in Philadelphia. The statue, unveiled by Bud Light, highlights the famous play from the Philadelphia Eagles' 41-33 win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)              
Photo: C
Photo: C

Falcons soar into one of most anticipated seasons

Rarely have the Falcons entered a season with such lofty expectations and clearly a unit that is widely considered a Super Bowl contender in the rugged National Football Conference. 

The offense boasts of a quarterback in Matt Ryan, who’s in his prime at 33 and the former league MVP, and a young defense that if full of emerging talent. 

After two consecutive trips to the NFC playoffs and a run to the Super Bowl after the 2016 season, the Falcons, under head coach Dan Quinn, will find out right away where they stand after facing the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles to open the season Thursday night to open the NFL schedule.

In the mostly tortured history of the Falcons, the team has been to the playoffs in three consecutive years only once (2010-12).

Before the game, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff stood at the 35-yard line of Lincoln Financial Field with Eagles general manager Howie Roseman discussing the team’s respective approaches. 

First Falcons coach Dan Quinn came by and chatted with the general managers. A few minutes later, Eagles coach Doug Pederson checked in.

“I can’t wait to get the season started,” Dimitroff said afterward. “I’m glad the preseason stuff is over with.”

If the Falcons can make it back to the playoffs this season, they would tie the three-year playoff streak. With Super Bowl LIII set for Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Feb. 3, 2019, there would be some added post-season pressure on the team.

In the Super Bowl’s 52-year history, no team has ever played in the game in its home stadium.

The last time the Falcons were riding so high was in 2013, the season after playing in the NFC championship game.

Former Falcons coach Mike Smith guided the Falcons to the playoffs in 2010-12. The 2012 team was on the verge of going to the Super Bowl, but blew a 17-0 lead to Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers. 

The Falcons coaxed tight end Tony Gonzalez out of retirement to chase the Super Bowl title that eluded the franchise one more time. The plan back-fired as the re-built offensive line failed miserably and the team was beset with several season-ending injuries early in the season. They ended up going 4-12 and did not make the playoffs. 

Decades ago, two teams did reach Super Bowls that were played in their home markets, but not in their home stadiums. The 1979 Los Angeles Rams played in Super Bowl XIV at Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, Calif., and the 1984 San Francisco 49ers played in Super Bowl XIX at Stanford Stadium in Stanford, Calif. 

The Minnesota Vikings came within one win of playing in last season’s Super Bowl in their home venue, U.S. Bank Stadium, but they lost at Philadelphia in the NFC championship game. The Vikings were the first team to even reach a conference title game in the season its stadium hosted the Super Bowl.

The journey is underway.

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