Fans can endure losing seasons, particularly when they're used to them. If there's something to cling to—the growth of a top prospect, a three-year plan or just encouraging play—you can even enjoy them.
That changes when expectations come into play. For fans of teams like the Giants, Falcons, Buccaneers and Dolphins, there was at least the hope that playoff spots were there for the taking. Now that most of those teams are out of the race or on the fringes of it, fans have to reckon with their expectations, overcome some cognitive dissonance and try to figure out what they want to root for. That's a messy process for even the most stoic football fan.
It has also led us to an odd place. As the Falcons gear up for the Buccaneers this weekend, I've seen the discussion morph into a series of sometimes contradictory points.
- The Falcons are lousy, they have no heart and they're killing us by not showing up on Sundays...but I don't want them to win because it would damage their draft position. I support the Falcons' brain trust and know they've made mistakes...but you can't criticize them for the way this season has gone.
- Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith need to acknowledge that this season has gone poorly...but when they do I don't like the way they choose to do it. Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith have done a great job building this team...but it's clear the Falcons don't have the depth and talent to succeed this year. Injuries can't be used as an excuse...but man, things would be different right now with Julio Jones!
- Matt Ryan doesn't have what it takes to be an elite quarterback and he's taking up too much cap space...but the line is terrible and the weapons around him aren't good enough.
- The Falcons don't retain talent like the Packers do, the talent they do retain isn't good enough, when guys leave they don't get starting jobs elsewhere, Mike Smith won't play young guys, Thomas Dimitroff hasn't found any young players worth a damn, why are we signing veterans when we could be drafting young players, Thomas Dimitroff isn't any good at drafting.