Bradley’s Buzz: The Falcons are bound and determined to drive us crazy

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) reacts after the Falcons lose against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 29-25 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023.
Miguel Martinez/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) reacts after the Falcons lose against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 29-25 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023. Miguel Martinez/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Of the Falcons’ 13 games, they’ve been favored in nine. They’ve lost five of the nine, which suggests they shouldn’t be favored so often. It also suggests that those who levy odds on sports don’t know what to make of this bunch. If those cold-eyed folks are stumped, there’s little hope for the rest of us.

A week after winning on a day they gained 194 yards, the Falcons lost despite more than doubling that total. See a trend? No? That’s because, where this team is concerned, trends don’t exist. The season to date: Two wins, two losses, one win, one loss, three losses, two wins, one loss.

By losing at home Sunday, the Falcons handed back some of the capital banked in starting 3-0 in division play. Some, but not all. If you’re a betting person – if you are, reread our first paragraph – you might still like their chances to win the NFC South. Their opponents over the next four weeks are an aggregate 19-33.

Then again, three of those games are on the road.

Then again, these are the 2023 Falcons, so who knows anything?

About here, you might be saying, “Aren’t you being a tad hard on these guys? It’s been a while since any Falcons team was any good.” And that’s true. This club hasn’t broken .500 since 2017. But not winning has its perks. The Falcons have picked in the upper half of Round 1 five drafts running. They’ve had a top 10 choice three times under this administration, which finally freed itself from cap purgatory.

In a division that saw its 2022 winner go 8-9 and boasts nobody above 6-7 now, the Falcons cannot claim a lack of talent. They’re good enough to win the NFC South. And if they can’t win the NFL’s worst division with – apologies for mentioning this for the millionth time – this ridiculously soft schedule, when might they?

As for Desmond Ridder, the prism through which this season must be viewed: He threw another interception Sunday, almost a pick-six; he lost another fumble and was lucky it was only a safety; he missed an open Bijan Robinson at the goal line. That said …

Ridder’s passer rating Sunday was 90.3, his best among three post-benching starts. He threw for 347 yards, a career high. He led yet another fourth-quarter comeback. He came within three yards of a game-winning completion as time expired.

Is he the quarterback of the Falcons’ future? That’s still unclear. Should he be good enough to win a division where the competition includes two retreads (Baker Mayfield, Derek Carr) and an overwhelmed rookie (Bryce Young)? Probably.

The Falcons, Buccaneers and Saints are 6-7 with four games to go. The longest winning streak any of the three has managed is two games. The best out-of-divison opponents on the three teams’ remaining schedules are the Colts (7-6), the Packers (6-6) and Rams (6-7). We expected a mess. We’ve gotten a mess.

By my count, the Falcons have four Bad Losses – Washington, Minnesota, Arizona and now TB – over the past eight games. Generally speaking, four Bad Losses make for one Lousy Season. But being in a terrible division means you’re never out of anything, unless you’re the pitiable Panthers, and guess who the Falcons face next?

Someone’s going to win – or at least not lose – the NFC South. That team will get to host a playoff game. As we speak, the visting opponent come January would be Philadelphia, which not long ago seemed the NFL’s best team. Stop me if you’ve heard this already, but the NFL is a crazy place.

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