Eager anticipation is seldom the play when it comes to Atlanta sports. Optimism does not come naturally here. But given an opening, perhaps we should try on this strange, new sensation just for kicks.
Think about the possibilities these next few months, and I dare you not to get just a little bit hopeful about what’s to come. The reasons to watch, and the excuses to care about the games played nearby are stacking up to an impressive height. This is all as temporary as a Jenga tower, so enjoy now.
There’s just a rather amazing confluence of competence going on in our various stadiums and ballparks right now.
Consider the several teams that have positioned themselves as contenders, which we’ll do here in the order of the likeliest to actually win a championship.
Atlanta United: Everything about soccer is different, even the language it uses to define accomplishment. It is not enough to say that Atlanta United is on track to finish with the best regular-season record in MLS. It must be more heroic than that. So, it is that Atlanta United is positioned to win the Supporters’ Shield. An actual very nice looking silver shield, one that would look good above any mantle.
With 10 games left between here and the end of the long regular season in October, the shield is within Atlanta United’s grasp. The gamers and the millennials who fill Mercedes-Benz Stadium should love that image.
Atlanta has proved itself a soccer haven. Only a championship will fully repay its devotion. One warning. Only three of the past 10 Supporters’ Shield winners have gone on to win the MLS Cup, the Super Bowl trophy of this league.
Debating about whether winning a MLS title is parade-worthy would be a fun argument.
Georgia Bulldogs: There is little excitement built into the individual elements of this team’s schedule, especially out of conference. Austin Peay. Middle Tennessee. UMass. And the one rivalry game against Georgia Tech. All at home. Sorry, no refunds.
With but two preseason Top 25 teams on the docket, there may be long stretches of low-stress afternoons for those following this team. Maalox sales plummet throughout the state.
But the payoff for a team positioned to finish top four at the end will be worth staying awake for. We don’t play for the Bulldogs. We don’t have to take them one at a time. Looking forward to December and January is perfectly acceptable.
Falcons: According to Vegas Insider, just four NFC teams have better odds than the Falcons to reach the Atlanta Super Bowl. Those would be Minnesota and Philadelphia (10-1), the L.A. Rams (12-1) and Green Bay (14-1). The Falcons were listed at 14-1. I’d argue their odds are better than spending the next four months at a blackjack table.
The investments made in keeping this team together have reminded us that football remains at least as important to owner Arthur Blank as soccer.
Right from the top, the Falcons will grab their audience with a Thursday night opener against the Super Bowl-champion Eagles. And, if all the right parts stay reasonably sound, they should stay must-see for just about the duration. The bar is set high, higher even than when the Falcons entered the Super Bowl season of 2016.
Braves: Whatever happens from here, they’ve done their share to keep this summer interesting and provide a solid bridge to the fall. Frankly, I wouldn’t have thought they would remain relevant this long. Nor would I have guessed back in the spring that watching the youngest Braves faction would be this compelling. (OK, I’m at that age where I distrust anything new).
Seeing how this team has beaten the likes of Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer in a week’s time would suggest it is not apt to wilt like a lily in the sun. Seven of the season’s final 10 games are against Philadelphia. I can’t believe that they’ll be meaningless.
(Yes, originally I overlooked one. Sorry. Atlanta Dream):
They’ve won 11 of their last 12 and have clinched a playoff spot. They’re first in the East, and hold the second-best record in the WNBA.
The top two teams in the league get playoff byes all the way to the semifinals. Thus there remains much to play for between now and the start of the postseason later this month.
Oh, and they’ve proven themselves most watchable for all those who are dazzled by offensive pyrotechnics - having just gone for 109 points (a franchise record) against Las Vegas).
There’s almost no way you can’t. What looms is a most - if not the most - watchable few months of kicking, hitting, passing, cheering and fretting.