Some people are fans of the Atlanta Falcons. But many, many more people are NOT fans of the Atlanta Falcons. This 2022 Defector NFL team preview is for those in the latter group. Read all the previews so far here.
Your team: Atlanta Falcons.
Bad football is the only thing that Southerners will ever apologize for.
Your 2021 record: 7-10, which doesn’t do these particular Falcons justice. Football Outsiders pored over the stats and concluded that they were the “worst seven-win team in history.” Their point differential of -146 was the fifth-worst in the entire league. The four teams below them averaged four wins. The two teams above them also averaged four wins. They had one of the worst red zone offenses in football, and only two teams in the NFL allowed more points. Their seven victories meant precisely jack and shit.
So now you understand what kind of entity we’re really dealing with here. All my life, I’ve said to myself, “I’d love it if I never had to think about the Atlanta Falcons,” and lo and behold that wish has finally come true. This team was emptier than Brian Kemp’s soul. They let Taylor Heinicke beat them at home, at the gun, on a flare pass to a running back that ended up going for a 30-yard touchdown. They let the Panthers hang over 200 yards rushing on them, with Sam Darnold getting 66 of those yards. And those were the GOOD losses. Every other loss they suffered was by double digits. No team had fewer sacks than this one last year, and the second worst pass rushing outfit in the league (Philly) had 11 more sacks. Their best running back was a wideout. Their best wideout took a mysterious personal leave midseason before getting suspended for the entire 2022 season for gambling on football. Their stadium caught on fire. I can’t think of a better way to send this man out:
I’ll never forget you, Guy Who Wasn’t Michael Vick. Think of all the memories you gave not only to Atlanta, but to all football fans. There was that time you blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl, and then there was … well, that’s kinda all there was now, wasn’t there? SO PRECIOUS.
Your coach: Arthur Smith. I don’t say this out of vanity, but I am much better-looking than Arthur Smith. I am gorgeous. Arthur Smith looks like something that needs to be biopsied. Is he a good coach? Probably not.
Your quarterback: Marcus Mariota, here to serve as the bridge quarterback to rookie Desmond Ridder or to—and this is more accurate—a different QB that the Falcons will reach for in a future draft once they discover that Ridder is a bust. I’m convinced that the Falcons signed Mariota just to make Matt Ryan’s legacy look better by comparison, and it just might work. Last we saw of Mariota, he was in Vegas filling in for Derek Carr and doing just good enough of a job there to make you forget that Marcus Mariota is utterly incapable of throwing for more than 180 yards a game. You’ll get 180 efficient yards, but you won’t get anything resembling an actual offense. That’s a pity, because this team’s defense is even worse than the Confederacy’s was.
Mariota is the new starting quarterback after a sequence of offseason maneuvering by the Falcons that I’ll characterize as “Hawks-esque.” They were among the handful of teams to wine and dine Deshaun Watson after a Texas grand jury declined to bring charges against him. The Saints were another team in the running for Watson’s services, so you can imagine Falcons fans during that time period: eating whole horse barbecue and fretting, OH MY STARS WHAT IF THOSE DADGUM SAINTS GIT OUR MAN?! And then Watson decided to snub both teams and signed with Cleveland instead. Layers upon layers of embarrassment.
The Falcons’ courting of Watson pissed off Matt Ryan to the extent that he never wanted to play for them again (oh no), so the team was all but forced to send him to the Colts for a meager third round pick, and then to immediately sign Mariota to paper over all the fuckups. That’s right: Marcus Mariota is the new turtle your dad bought you because he killed the old one while you were away at summer camp.
What’s new that sucks: Mariota will be operating behind the fifth-worst offensive line in football by PFF’s standards, but look at all the weapons he’s got on hand to skip the ball to! With the No. 8 pick in April’s draft, they took wideout Drake London out of USC, who’s a touch slow and who had his 2021 season cut short with a broken ankle. Science tells us that breaking your ankle actually makes you faster. They replaced semi-productive wideout Russell Gage with the two-headed monster of Geronimo Allison and Vegas import Bryan Edwards. They also signed tight end Anthony Firkser to play in a lot of 12 personnel formations opposite Kyle Pitts. None of this will matter because Mariota can’t throw the ball farther than eight yards, and because star wideout Calvin Ridley—the one guy who really could make this offense dangerous—won’t see the field at all until the fall of 2023. Ridley’s suspension is proof that anyone who bets on the Falcons will lose money eventually.
Running back Damien Williams comes in from Chicago. He and Cord Patterson will be tasked with running the ball, except if the Falcons ever get within sniffing range of the end zone. Then it’s nothing but fade routes to Pitts all day long. But that’s not the only prize Atlanta stole away from the Bears. Say hello to your newest senior personnel executive!
No, that’s not Pat McAfee. That’s disgraced former Bears GM Ryan Pace, who’s already laying the groundwork for moving up one spot in a future draft to select JaMarcus Russell Jr. But before that happens, the current Falcons front office signed defensive lineman Eddie Goldman (another former Bear!), who then retired two weeks later. They also signed cornerback Casey Heyward to play opposite third-year dynamo AJ Terrell. That last move was a decent one, and yet the best pro football team in this state still resides in Athens. No NFL team has more dead cap space than the Falcons, with Matt Ryan alone eating up over $40 million that’ll add nothing to this roster. If these Falcons have a future, it’s a distant one. This pleases me because …
What has always sucked: If I wanted cheap hot dogs while being bored for a couple hours, I’d rather go see Morbius in theaters than a Falcons game. The NFL is actively worse off whenever they succeed. Luckily for the NFL, they never do. Even when the Falcons are good, no one ever believes it. And why should they? When 28-3 happened, this franchise should have vaporized on the spot. Microscopic pieces of them should be floating in the air over Asia right now. Instead they still exist, and do so in an uncanny valley where every game they play feels like it’s airing on tape delay. If the Falcons ever want to win anything of note, they’re gonna have to relocate to the whitest part of the exurbs, hand out free game tickets at Cop City, and play in a stadium that has a cross burning at midfield all hours of the day. Like so:
So fuck the Falcons. Fuck Arthur Blank. Fuck Matt Ryan’s empty legacy. And FUCK Georgia. I cannot emphasize that enough. Your whole state is an embarrassment. I wish General Sherman had finished the job.
Ratto says: An aging Matt Ryan or an injury-magnet Marcus Mariota? What is the true value of being the second best team in a one-team division, or the third for that matter? The Falcons are a nondescript team in a nondescript division that will only become all the less descript once we achieve the Brady end times. The NFL was caught sleeping on SEC expansion, and now won’t be able to get Clemson and Florida State to replace the Falcons or Saints. On the other hand, Olamide Zaccheaus, and I’ll accept no substitutes, not even Qadree Ollison.
What might not suck: The best kind of bad NFL team can’t play defense but has enough goodies on offense to make every loss a 30-24 barnburner. This is one such awful team.
HEAR IT FROM FALCONS FANS!
The Braves won the World Series and then drove 70 mph through downtown with the trophy before jettisoning their most popular player, and they still have more people skills than the Falcons’ franchise.
I’m an atheist and I would rather go to church than a Falcons game. At least at church they have free donuts, and I already know God is never showing up.
They couldn’t build a Super Bowl roster if they had unlimited money and no salary cap restriction.
We have the worst roster in the league. We got rid of Ryan’s noodle arm then drafted a QB that scouts said has terrible accuracy.
The only big surprise about Ridley getting suspended for gambling was that he allegedly wasn’t betting against the Falcons.
Matt Ryan demanding a trade, after the Falcons looked into acquiring Watson, represents the first time in five years that he saw an opportunity and actually took advantage of it.
Megatron’s Butthole is quite nice inside.
Tom Brady looks around and decides beating on this shit division is worth unretiring for. Did you know he’s NEVER lost to the Falcons? Did you see that Super Bowl comeback? Fucking shoot me.
I hate how the cameras have to show our horrible fucking owner standing on the sidelines every home game because OMG SO INVOLVED. He looks like a shitty mob boss caricature out of a local pizza parlor commercial.
Our archrivals still host Super Bowls in their dome that is twice as old and survived the worst fucking natural disaster in American history.
The cap is an unmitigated disaster, we got a third-round pick for our franchise QB, and we have our top WR on indefinite suspension for gambling on NFL games while he was taking time off for mental health issues. Also, the next person that mentions 28-3 to me is losing a kidney.
I need to get a 28-3 tattoo as exposure therapy.
It finally happened. The Braves won the World Series, and the Georgia Bulldogs actually managed to not blow it a second time against Bama. When Kelee Ringo intercepted Bryce Young’s pass with a minute left and ran it back, I started crying. And I mean, ugly crying. I FaceTimed my mom, and she was crying. It was joy I never thought I would get to experience as a Georgia grad and an Atlanta sports fan.
Why do I say this? Because all of this matters more than the Falcons. No one in Atlanta gives a fuck.
“I hope you have an existential crisis now that the Atlanta Braves won the World Series and the Georgia Bulldogs won the national title, within months of each other,” a friend messaged me. And he was right: After decades of being mentally scarred and emotionally fucked over by school, relationships, jobs, etc., somehow two of my favorite sports teams showed up like a military father back from deployment. And after years of depression, disappointment, and being let down, I felt nothing. No happiness, no joy, no elation, just nothing.
The Atlanta Falcons, of course, are the absent deadbeat Mom took out a restraining order against after he left for cigarettes and never came back. The highlight of this team in 2021 is that we were the first to be completely 100% vaccinated against COVID. The Falcons were outscored 68-3 in five days alone (loss at Dallas, 43-3, on a Sunday; loss at home to New England, 25-0, on a Thursday). We also had three different quarterbacks throw three separate interceptions on three straight drives. I wish this were a joke. This team also went more than 365 days without winning in Atlanta. Kyle Pitts’ first touchdown in America came in the Pro Bowl.
2021 was one of the most difficult years of my life. I lost family members, I lost friends, I struggled at my job, I lost about 30 or so pounds and dropped a waist size (but I’m pretty sure that’s because I was sick), and I couldn’t even process both the Braves and Bulldogs winning championships. The Falcons, on the other hand, were consistently bad. They were the only consistent thing in my life. Or, as someone else pointed out: Teams inside of I-285 suck, teams outside of I-285 are good.
It’s been five years. The Hawks could win the NBA title and United could win another MLS Cup/U.S. Open Cup, a professor from Georgia Tech could solve climate change AND cure all forms of cancer/HIV/AIDS, and Jimmy Carter could solve world hunger and poverty. But say you’re from Atlanta, and you’ll hear “28-3,” It’s been five years, and somehow the joke isn’t stale.
When the Baby Hawks upset the Sixers in Game 7 in 2021 I was in a bar (vaxed and waxed, thank you), and when the buzzer sounded I screamed loud enough to terrify the 20 other people in there. It was cathartic. Touched by the Hand of God. Dared to dream. Maybe being locked up Bo Burnham-style for 18 months had something to do with it, but it was raw, palpable joy that was completely unexpected. I will treasure the memory forever.
I look back knowing now that the Falcons will never provide that same joy as making a damn NBA Conference Finals did. Move this team to Saskatoon. Launch them into space with Jeff Bezos. Relegate them to the Fun Belt. I don’t care, just bury them.
I grew up in a quiet town in the middle of England in the late 90s/early 00s, and could have chosen to slavishly devote my life and wellbeing to any of the 31 other teams that are not the Atlanta Falcons. But the fact that I do is pretty much down to the fact that I really struggled to make friends as a kid.
One of the older kids on my road would sometimes invite me over to his house to play video games. During this time, he would also lock me in his garage or garden shed and leave me there for a while, or shoot me with his pellet gun. But when you don’t have a lot of friends, your tolerance for mistreatment goes up quite substantially. The video games we played were usually violent and revolved around the older kid performing some virtual war crime until he got bored and threw me the controller, but he also had one of the first editions of NFL Blitz, back when the NFL was less concerned about its brand image and gave the license to any company willing to make them a game. This game fucking ruled, and it featured a pretty good Falcons team. I couldn’t tell you much else about the game or why I was drawn to the Falcons over any of the other teams, but I played with them every time and kicked the ass of this kid repeatedly, until he’d either quit and change the game, or chase me out of his house threatening to bash my forehead into the base of my neck. My earliest memories of hope, triumph, and general respite from misery, were down to the Atlanta Falcons and I made a pact with myself that I would look out for them, as they had for me.
The fact that this has backfired not only spectacularly, but done so in an almost Shakespearean manner, is not lost on me. Sometimes, I think about that older kid when I’m watching the Falcons, and I wish he’d just left me in the shed and forgotten about me.
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