There are a number of NFL teams whose fanbase could lay claim to the number one spot in the fictional ‘Pain Rankings’. The Cleveland Browns are an obvious example, one miserable season follows the next just as night follows day. Or how about the Detroit Lions, another team never to make a Super Bowl appearance and wearily familiar with being the whipping boys of the NFC North. A generation of New York Jets fans hasn’t had a whole lot to celebrate in recent years. And as for the Washington Football Club, while it’s true they have captured the Lombardi trophy in the past, they are little short of a hot mess these days.
All worthy contenders for the crown of most misery-inducing football club, as I’m sure you will agree. However, I would like to propose that there is no team in the NFL which subjects its fans to such agonizing disappointment as the Atlanta Falcons.
Talent Rich, Results Poor
Despite being gifted with genuinely talented players in crucial positions, the Falcons manage to squander those gifts with the careless abandon of a spoiled toddler at Christmas. Quarterback Matt Ryan may have the worried demeanor of a substitute teacher about to start work at an inner-city high school, but he is possessed of a rifle of an arm and an icy coolness under pressure. Wide receiver Julio Jones carries his 6 foot 3 inch, 220 pound-frame with the grace and poise of a ballet dancer. A ballet dancer who could punch your lights out and then leap over your garden fence from a standing start. This year the Falcons have also bolstered a traditionally shaky defence with players of the quality of Dante Fowler, operating in tandem with Pro-Bowler Grady Jarrett. Even their Korean place-kicker Younghoe Koo is pretty good.
So why can’t they manage to string a couple of wins together?
So far, this season has walked the fine line between tragedy and comedy for Atlanta. A shoot-out with the high-flying Seahawks in week 1 was no disgrace, as Russell Wilson is in blazing hot form this year. But managing to somehow lose by 40-39 against the Cowboys – after holding a 20 point advantage at one stage – was an example of the Falcons at their most Falcony. That onside kick from the Cowboys! Watching various Falcon players avoiding the ball with the wary caution of a man who has encountered a rattlesnake in his front room just about summed up the game. Week 3 was a match-up versus the mediocre Chicago Bears, and this time the Dirty Birdz somehow managed to turn a 26-10 lead at the start of the fourth quarter into a 30-26 defeat. There is literally no lead large enough for a Falcons fan to be able to watch them play without experiencing that queasy sensation of impending doom.
Don’t Mention the Super Bowl…
Speaking of which, there is no way to avoid mention of that memorable Super Bowl appearance in 2017 which plumbed the depths for the embattled fans of the Falcons. The score-line of 28-3 – the amount by which Atlanta led over the Patriots before eventually succumbing to a 34-28 overtime loss – has become shorthand for choking in NFL circles. To this day Patriot fans merrily wave banners emblazoned with those numbers whenever the Falcons pay a visit to New England.
The Falcons are not blessed with an easy schedule in 2020. They started the season as third-favourites to win the NFC South, a division featuring the New Orleans Saints and old foe Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccs. Even the Carolina Panthers are putting up more of a fight than expected pre-season, beating the Chargers and giving the Vegas Raiders a run for their money. Atlanta are now listed at
14/1 to top the division, odds that seem slightly ungenerous based on what we have seen from them to date.
Next up are the Green Bay Packers, thriving under a rejuvenated Aaron Rodgers and 7 point favourites to shoot down the Birdz.
But that’s the frustrating thing about being a Falcons fan – and yes, I count myself among that number.
It’s the hope that kills you. We all know that Atlanta will more than likely be beaten down by the Cheeseheads from Wisconsin, and yet that glimmer of hope just will not die. Monday Night Football and a national audience awaits, and Falcons fans wait for kick-off with that familiar mix of optimism and dread, just daring to believe that these Battered Birds might finally take flight.
*All odds correct at time of writing.