It is no secret that Atlanta is one of the most underwhelming cities in terms of sports championships. The Hawks have never made the NBA Finals while calling Atlanta home (the franchise won it all in 1958 while playing in St. Louis). The Braves had a dominant stretch in the ’90s, but only brought home one World Series Title. The Falcons also have never won a championship, and are known for the biggest collapse in Super Bowl History. The history of hockey in Atlanta is so embarrassing it is not worth talking about.
The only title that has found its home in Atlanta over the past 20 years came from Atlanta United in their second year of existence. This was a massive accomplishment for the city; however, it hit a little different compared to a hypothetical championship won by a team like the Falcons.
Atlanta sports fans have long endured the stigma of rooting for a city that always found a way to choke. Don’t get me wrong; it was super cool to see Arthur Blank raise the MLS Cup in front of 70,000 cheering fans. But it wasn’t the same as how I would imagine a championship celebration for the Braves, Falcons, or Hawks.
This brings me to the question posed in the title of this article: Which of the “big 3” teams will bring our city its next championship? This is a debate that I have continuously had with my friends for the past few years.
I was not alive for the historic 1995 Braves World Series but instead grew up watching the likes of Chipper Jones, Joe Johnson, and Michael Turner try to bring it home. The constant losing somehow inspired optimism for the years to come and an even greater desire for a title that the city of Atlanta can brag on.
Below I will make a case for each team and why they are primed for a championship run.
Let’s start with the only team in-season right now – the Braves. As previously mentioned, the Bravos are the sole franchise of the big 3 to have won a championship while playing in Atlanta. However, that ’95 ring can sometimes be overshadowed by the disappointment that surrounded it.
After the 2014 season, the Braves decided to tear it all down and start from scratch. We had to say goodbye to fan favorites such as Jason Heyward and Craig Kimbrel. When the smoke cleared, only Freddie Freeman and Julio Tehran remained as centerpieces for the future.
So why will the Braves win before the Hawks or the Falcons? The front office set the team up to first be competitive during the 2019 or 2020 seasons. The original front office, under the leadership of John Coppolella, came up with a vision of stockpiling elite, young arms that could then partly be used as trade pieces for proven talent. This would take time, and many years of borderline unwatchable baseball followed.
The only number fans had to look forward to was 2019. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending upon how you see it, news suddenly hit that Coppy would be stepping down as GM after committing a series of infractions, resulting in his permanent ban from baseball.
In steps Alex Anthopoulos – a veteran general manager who was the visionary behind the successful Blue Jays run of the early 2010s. Anthopoulos surprisingly inherited a team that was ready to compete for and win the NL East in 2018.
Fans everywhere were hoping for a big offseason after the 2018 campaign, especially after AA reminded everyone of all of the Financial Flexibility the Braves had. So far the Braves have looked okay after a quiet offseason, but a considerable weakness in the bullpen remains.
However, I am optimistic that the Braves will soon win its second championship in Atlanta. We have one of the best farm systems in baseball, even after the arrival of Austin Riley and young arms such as Mike Soroka. Drew Waters and Christain Pache appear to be close behind, turning the fantasy of an Acuña, Pache, Waters outfield into a genuine possibility sooner than some might think.
And the Braves do have lots of money to spend, at least payroll wise. It becomes a question of whether Liberty Media wants to invest money into being a real World Series contender. I do not think that the Braves will win the Fall Classic this year, but I do believe that we could soon return to the team of the ’90s as early as next year. This time, let’s hope that the Braves can win more than just one championship.
The Hawks used to be the most consistently mediocre team. From 2008-2017, they made the playoffs every year, but never really made a run at The Finals, except for the 2014-2015 squad that won sixty games. Still, that magical season ended in a sweep to Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Hawks are about to start year three of the rebuild, and the second year under the leadership of head coach Loyd Pierce. There is a lot to be excited about going into next season. The Hawks return the young, exciting duo of Trae Young and John Collins, along with other young talents like Kevin Huerter, Omari Spellman, Alex Len, and DeAndre Bembry.
They also have the #8 and #10 overall picks in the upcoming draft. Yeah, lottery night was a little disappointing, but you will never hear me complain about having two top-10 draft picks. The Hawks could either keep their picks, package them in some way to trade up in the draft, or even trade down. Whatever the Hawks decide to do with their picks, I trust that General Manager Travis Schlenk will make the best possible decision.
I don’t expect the Hawks to be big players in this year’s upcoming free agency. Instead, I believe the front office will opt to sign some cheap pieces that will help further develop the young talent while keeping the books clean for next year’s free agent class – when they will have room for two max contracts.
If the Hawk’s draft picks work out, and the duo of Young and Collins continues to develop into the stars that we saw last year, the Hawks could be back in the playoffs as early as next year. It would not surprise me to see Atlanta sign a big-time free agent shortly, making them a contender for The Finals in 2-3 years.
Of the three teams that call Atlanta home, The Falcons are the closest to winning this year.
The Falcons offense is loaded, headlined by Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Devonta Freeman. However, Matt Ryan is starting to get up in age, and owner Arthur Blank and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff understand the Super Bowl window is closing.
If the Falcons’ young defensive core can stay healthy, the sky is the limit for this team. We saw flashes of greatness during the 2016 and 2017 campaigns, but both ended in heartbreak. Unfortunately, fans learned first hand how quickly things can change in the NFL when nearly half of their core suffered from severe injuries and the team fell to 7-9.
Now we are at a point of “if we don’t win now, will we ever win?” talk. I do believe that, to an extent, this is true. It is tough to find an elite QB who is as consistent as Matt Ryan (yeah, I said elite), and who knows how many more MVP-caliber years he has left in the tank.
The front office made a visible effort to keep Ryan on his feet by completely renovating the offensive line during the 2019 offseason. If Matt Ryan has time to throw, he is one of the best QBs in the league. Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary should provide that protection, and I have full confidence the offense will be back near the top of the league when things start counting again in Septemeber.
The bigger question comes on the defensive side. There is plenty of talent there for Atlanta, led by the likes of Deon Jones and Keanu Neal. However, 2018 showed there are also major depth concerns behind the Falcons star power.
If the young studs can stay healthy, the defense could be a recking force of its own. The most significant question mark on this side comes in the trenches: Can Vic Beasley return to his 2016 form when he led the league in sacks? Can Takkarist McKinley finally turn the corner and prove worthy of his first-round selection? Can Adrian Clayborn find renewed life in his return to Atlanta?
Many fans were hoping that the team would address the need for pass rush in free agency or the draft. The Falcons instead decided to take a page from the Braves playbook and opted to bank on inside talent. It’s a bold move with this bunch; we will see if it pays off. If it does not, Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff will be on the hot seat.
The Falcons have all the ability in the world to contend for the Super Bowl this year and the next few years that follows. After Matt Ryan is out of the picture; however, things become a lot more unclear. Franchise QBs don’t grow on trees, so if the Falcons want to be the next team to win a championship in Atlanta, they better get to work.
Gun to my head: I have to pick the next team to win a championship in Atlanta – it would be the Falcons. I have faith in my QB to get the job done by the end of his career. It is just a matter of the defense stepping up. The Falcons are the most win-now ready team, but it would not surprise me if the Hawks or Braves end up being the team to first win a championship. Both teams are positioned excellently for the future.
The blind, often ill-advised, optimism that I mentioned earlier is still there. I do think that Atlanta will have at least one championship within the next five years. At the end of the day, I will support my teams and city no matter what – championship or no championship. It would just be a lot easier if I had a championship parade or two to attend.