Eight days after Atlanta United filled Mercedes-Benz Stadium and touched off the good kind of soccer riot, the Falcons will play their final home game of the season. Against the Cardinals, one of two teams in all pro football with a lesser record than the Falcons. Thus will a wang dang doodle be followed by a wake.
It has come to this: An NFL game is the mother of all champagne hangovers.
United fans stood and chanted and waved colorful flags over the course of their game. They may need to wire the same seats before Sunday, because nothing less than a low voltage charge may get the Falcons audience to leap as one to its feet.
No, we haven’t quite reached that stage of despair where wearing paper bags over one’s head is an appropriate statement, not just one year removed from a playoff victory. But Falcons people may want to start asking for paper over plastic on their next trip for bread and milk, just to stock up for the future.
With three games left in this season – to be remembered as the one in which the Browns passed the Falcons by – the bullet points have all changed. Now it is about draft position, not playoff position. What a difficult and painful transition in a season meant to be spent shooting for a hometown Super Bowl.
Now the Falcons find themselves in this week’s marquee event in the race to the bottom. There is no other matchup representing fewer combined victories than Arizona-Atlanta. It is a showcase of disappointment, the NFL version of the Idaho Potato Bowl.
The Falcons are among six NFL teams currently with four wins or less – the others being the Raiders, 49ers, Jets, Bills, Jaguars. They aren’t greatly positioned to improve their draft position, because surely some victories must be hiding somewhere among the remaining games. Because the Falcons alone among the Sorry Six have no teams left on the docket with a current winning record.
While weakness of schedule is an important tiebreaker – and the Falcons rank high in that, hooray – losing out to the Cardinals, Carolina and Tampa Bay is just too bleak a picture to paint. An eight-game losing streak to close out 2018 is nothing a healthy person could cheer for.
Who can summon the necessary negative energy to suggest that the Falcons should lose out in the mere hope of maybe moving up a couple spots in the draft? Just the normal amount of losing – normal for this season – could be enough to get them a top-five pick. They’ve drafted that high 11 times previously, coming up with the kind of assortment that suggests it’s all a crapshoot anyway.
There are Hall of Famers: Claude Humphrey (1968) and Deion Sanders (1989). There is a should-be Hall of Famer: Tommy Nobis (1966). There are hotshot quarterbacks: Steve Bartkowski (1975), Michael Vick (2001), Matt Ryan (2008). And then there is Aundray Bruce, taken first in 1988 and becoming most famous for all the wrong things (once accused of threatening a pizza delivery guy with a pellet gun).
Drafting high hasn’t gotten them a championship thus far. Who’s to say anything about that will change in the next 50 years?
Even should the Falcons discover some as-yet untapped reserve of pride and win out, they are still assured of a season that’s still plenty bad enough to draft someone quite talented. Hey, there will be ample wide receivers left by whatever pick is theirs.
This is no time to talk tanking. That’s the Hawks’ job. They play in a league where that kind of warped thinking pays real dividends.
To tank would mean losing this Sunday at home to the Cardinals, which, especially in contrast to such joy inside the Benz just a week ago, is just too sad to even contemplate.
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