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How the Falcons and Colts can still make the NFL playoffs. No, seriously

Stranger things have happened!

NFL: New York Giants at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The season isn’t always defined by what happens in the first half of it. Most of the time, teams dig themselves in too large of a hole to climb out of when a losing streak hits at the start of a season, but every once in awhile a talented team gets it together to go on a run.

Last year, the New Orleans Saints won the NFC South and were literally inches away from the NFC Championship after starting the season 0-2. In 2016, the Seattle Seahawks started off 3-3 before they finished the season 10-5-1 with the 3rd seed in the NFC.

Teams that have a couple talented players on the top end of their roster, especially at quarterback, have a chance to go on a run after stumbling out of the gate. Here are two teams with the potential to do that this year.

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons have had one of the better offenses in the NFL this year behind Matt Ryan’s statistical resurgence as a passer. Ryan is currently tied for fourth in the NFL in adjusted yards per attempt with Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees.

While the Falcons’ 3-4 record and plethora of injuries is certainly disappointing given their aspirations for the season, they’ve been competitive in every game outside of their 41-17 loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Atlanta had a six-point loss on the road to open the season against the Philadelphia Eagles, a 43-37 overtime loss against the New Orleans Saints, and a last-second 37-36 loss against the Cincinnati Bengals. These were games that were literally one play away from going in Atlanta’s favor — if some of the randomness of one-score games can swing in their favor over the next few weeks they can find themselves back in the playoff race.

The division they play in makes this a bit difficult. The other three NFC South teams won their games in Week 7, leaving Atlanta at the bottom of the division. Still, they’re only a game and a half out from the sixth seed in the NFC playoff race as things stand.

An offense led Ryan, Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Calvin Ridley is capable of scoring on anybody, even if Julio Jones himself isn’t doing the scoring. The defense hasn’t played well at all this year outside of the opening game in Philadelphia, but they did take baby steps in their Monday night game against the Giants when they became the first team to hold Saquon Barkley under 100 total yards this season.

If Deion Jones is in good shape when he gets back, they just might have enough pieces on defense to make a push for the playoffs.

Indianapolis Colts

Any team with a franchise quarterback has a chance to make the playoffs in the AFC South. The Colts are just 2-5 right now, but that doesn’t mean they should be left out potential AFC playoff predictions.

The AFC South is in a state of disarray. The Jaguars are in the midst of a quarterback crisis, the Texans can’t keep their quarterback own safe, and the Titans are a team without an identity on offense.

Like the Falcons, the Colts have kept things close with their opponents all season. Despite having a 2-5 record, Indianapolis has a +4 point differential. That’s good for second in the AFC South behind the Texans, who have a point differential of +11.

The biggest thing the Colts have their corner is Andrew Luck getting better from his shoulder injury that caused him to miss the entire 2017 season. Against the Buffalo Bills (they actually do have a respectable defense), Luck threw for 156 yards and four touchdowns on 23 attempts. Visually, his play has looked pretty good this season, and he finally had the big statistical game to happen.

Indianapolis’ offensive line has also played well this year. The Colts lead the league in sack percentage and have done a pretty good job of keeping Luck clean. Quenton Nelson has been a strong addition to their offensive line after being the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft. They’re starting to develop the consistency on offense to develop into potential AFC playoff teams.

The Colts’ defense has been better than expected this year. Second-round pick Darius Leonard has added an element of speed and explosion that they didn’t have a year and Margus Hunt has had a break out season with four sacks in six games played.

The wins haven’t been piling up for the Colts yet, but the team is starting to take form in Chris Ballard’s second season as the general manager. They aren’t like the Colts teams of recent past — they can play physical, hard-nosed football and now they have their quarterback back and healthy being a positive contributor for this squad.