Which 2015 NFL Team is Most Like the 2015 Clippers?


You may have heard, but the NFL season has started — the New England Patriots thumped the Pittsburgh Steelers on opening night and the first official Sunday of the year was filled with games that said a lot and very little at the same time, as any opening weekend is; the next day the Atlanta Falcons narrowly defeated the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings embarrassed themselves as the San Francisco got their first post-Jim Harbaugh win.

So to somehow connect the Clippers with the NFL, I pose a question that may have been asked in the past: which NFL team is the football equivalent to the Los Angeles Clippers? To figure out, we have to look through some qualifiers to make sure the matchup comes out as perfect as possible (had this article been done two years ago, the racist-owner comp would’ve led me directly to the Washington Redskins, regardless of their rich, Super Bowl-filled past).

A Long, Bad Past

To be any kind of equivalent to the Clippers, you must have a past filled with upset, turmoil, and plain ol’ bad on-court/field product, so we can rule out teams who are known for conquering the NFL Super Bowl, like the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, etc. Those teams match up more with someone like the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, and San Antonio Spurs.

The Turnaround into Relevance

After being bad for SOOOOO long, the 2009 NBA Draft was the beginning of a turn toward relevance thanks to drafting Blake Griffin first overall. A few years later, Griffin would be paired with top point guard Chris Paul, as well as an emergence into adequacy by 2008 second-round pick DeAndre Jordan; from there, you’ve the foundation of the Clippers team many believe can win it all come June 2016.

Some Superstar Talent

As highlighted above, you can’t be the Clippers without having some “best in the league” kind of talent, which is spread across the NFL. The Clippers don’t have a consensus top-3 player in Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis (NFL equivalent = Aaron Rodgers, Rob Gronkowski, J.J. Watt), but they’ve two top-10 players in Chris Paul, arguably the top point guard in basketball (and if not no.1, no.2 behind Stephen Curry), and Blake Griffin, who’s the best non-Anthony Davis power forward in basketball. So to be the Clippers, it’s a must you’ve standouts.

When It Ends, It Always Ends Bad

“Clippers gone Clipper” is a phrase anybody who has covered, followed, or watched from a fan point of view has heard far too many times; things just don’t go well for this franchise when it should. Lamar Odom and his potential in the early 2000s? Stint ended with the forward being suspended for marijuana use. The Elton Brand era? Ended with a torn Achilles and rumor of ill-doings by then-owner Donald Sterling in regards to negotiation with Brand in his free agency. Recently, you’ve the uncharacteristic stretch by Chris Paul in Game 5 versus the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2014; and the most memorable debacle, dropping a 3-1 lead in the semis against the Houston Rockets.

With that said, here’s the verdict:

the 2015 Atlanta Falcons = the 2015-16 Clippers

Nov 16, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) and quarterback Matt Ryan (2) react in the third quarter. The Falcons defeated the Panthers 19-17 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Dating back to my arrival in Atlanta in the 1990s, the team’s timeline be chronicled through eras dating up until now: the unexpected Chris Chandler era in the last 90s which topped off with a beating at the hands of the John Elway-led Denver Broncos in the 1999 Super Bowl, the Mike Vick era, which ended in embarrassing fashion behind dog charges in 2007, the lone season without Vick post-arrest, and what we see now, the Matt Ryan era, which began in 2008.

The Clippers’ timeline? There’s nothing to compare to the Chris Chandler era as the Clippers failed to make the playoffs heading into the new millennium after doing so in ’96-97. The Vick era comparison? While not as popular, explosive, and enigmatic, the early-2000s Clippers, led by Elton Brand was expected to be the one to lift the team over the top; Brand suffered an Achilles tear in 2007 and didn’t re-sign with the team in 2008, leaving them in the dumps again. Then Blake Griffin came in 2009 and the template was set for success from there on.

In regards to the now, there’s no question whether either team will pan out offensively — Atlanta has Matt Ryan and Julio Jones; the Clippers, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. The real question is in the talent outside of the stars and whether either team can field an elite defense, a trait often key in winning Super Bowls and NBA championships.

In regards to the qualifiers, the Atlanta Falcons history past the late 90s is a dreadful one like the Clippers, with only six playoff appearances between 1966 and 1996; the turnaround, already spoken of: Brand era ~ Vick era, and the modern eras of Ryan/Julio = Paul/Griffin; the superstar talent is spoken of in this previous; and for things always ending bad, it’s synonymous to the city of Atlanta for sports things to end in heartbreaking fashion.

Some 1-to-1 comparisons to further force this comparison:

  • Though they arrived to their respective franchises a year apart, Matt Ryan, the no.3 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, and Blake Griffin, the no.1 overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, are the pieces that kickstarted the turn into relevancy.
  • Remember when Roddy White looked incompetent during the Mike Vick era, then later shifted into a top wide receiver under Matt Ryan? That’s (slightly) DeAndre Jordan, who’s gone from a center who absolutely couldn’t stay on the field in the fourth quarter to one of the best big-man defenders and rebounders in basketball.
  • This is where things get tricky. Giving their positions, Chris Paul is more Matt Ryan, as point guards are often compared to quarterbacks and there hasn’t been a better offense-leader in football since prime Steve Nash. But because Blake is Matt, Paul is Julio Jones, both of whom the Clippers and Falcons gave up a LOT to trade for.
  • “If the Clippers’ wing defense pans out…” is the ATL equivalent to “If the Falcons’ offensive line can keep Matt protected…”
  • Like Doc Rivers in 2013, Atlanta Falcons first-year head coach Dan Quinn is being tasked with turning around a defense that was putrid last season. Like Doc Rivers, Quinn is known as a defensive coach, with Rivers and the top Celtics defense winning it all in 2008, and Quinn and the top Seahawks defensive winning it all in 2013. Shifting defense often means changing culture, and in two years Doc has done so; now, Quinn is attempting to do the same in Atlanta.

Hopefully, the Clippers’ and Falcons’ seasons don’t end as the world always predicts them to: in embarrassing fashion just short of the championship goal.

Let us know below who you think the Clippers’ 2015 NFL equivalent is for the 2015-16 season.

Dec 29, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) moves the ball down the court followed by Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) against the Utah Jazz during the first quarter at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports