Let’s talk about the local teams here in Georgia. You know, the list of futility. When it comes to professional sports, this state stands alone in its failure to succeed. Is it possible that is about to change? There are three major sports teams in the Atlanta area. The Braves, the Falcons and the Hawks. The only one to win a world championship is the Braves in 1995. The Falcons have been to one Super Bowl and lost convincingly. The Hawks have never even made it to the finals since moving to Atlanta. However, right now all three show signs that the future might be better.
ATLANTA FALCONS-The Falcons are 6-3 at the halfway point in the season and atop the NFC South division with a two game cushion. Atlanta faces Philadelphia this Sunday with a couple of extra days of preparation coming off of a Thursday game last week. Then it’s the bye week and some rest.
GOOD NEWS-Atlanta leads all of the NFL in total offense and scoring offense. Quarterback Matt Ryan leads the entire NFL in passing. Ryan is making a case for MVP consideration at the halfway point. Wide Receiver Julio Jones leads the NFL in receiving yards. Running back Devonta Freeman is 9th in the league in rushing yards. Simply put, the Falcons are the best offense in the NFL so far this season. Ryan has an array of weapons at his disposal and is playing the best football of his career. This is clearly a championship caliber offense.
BAD NEWS-The defense is 29th in total defense and 28th in scoring defense. No team has ever won the Super Bowl with a defense ranked near the bottom of the league. Atlanta has a lot of young defenders including three rookies starting (Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell) and a key reserve rookie in Brandon Poole. It is possible that these young members of the defense may catch up to the game speed as the season progresses and the defense might be better by the playoffs. If not, it will be difficult for the Falcons to negotiate their way to the Super Bowl.
ATLANTA HAWKS-The Hawks are currently third in the Eastern Conference only one game behind Cleveland. Atlanta has restructured the roster somewhat after the departures of key personnel in Jeff Teague and Al Horford. Atlanta brought in big man Dwight Howard and finally has a true center. It is way too early to pass judgement on the Hawks just yet, but the early returns are favorable. Atlanta handed Cleveland their one loss on the season. It is hard to get real excited about a possible Hawks championship when fans have been down this road so many times only to find the bridge at the end washed away. Still, Atlanta appears to be one of the top teams in the NBA so far. “So you’re saying there’s a chance?”
ATLANTA BRAVES-And then there’s the Braves. I wrote a piece during spring training that with the roster they had the Braves would lose a hundred games and finish last in the Majors. I was wrong. The Braves only lost 93 games and finished 5th from last. But, that doesn’t tell the entire story. Atlanta was clearly rebuilding. Fans never enjoy a season like 2016 but the smart ones know it must happen to lay the foundation for a future contender. What looked like a three year task to begin with has proceeded at a surprising pace and the Braves are much closer to recovery than anyone, even the Braves, expected them to be at this point. It is still a stretch to think that this is a team that will contend for a championship in its first year in the new stadium but with a couple of good moves anything is possible.
All of that said, the three big franchises are at least in position to be competitive but I wouldn’t start believing the Georgia Curse is over just yet. I think the Falcons have the best chance to make a run at a title if the defense can continue to improve but even that’s probably a stretch at this point. At least fans can enjoy watching the regular season games again around here.