World Series or bust.
We could have expected that sort of pronouncement out of a kid like Bryce Harper. But Davey Johnson, the Washington Nationals' 70-year-old manager, should have known better. Even before the Braves beat the Nationals 2-1 Tuesday night to stretch their NL East lead to 14½ games, Johnson all but conceded the division championship.
"It's looking more like 'bust,'" Johnson said.
The Los Angeles Lakers endured a similar fate. After trading for Dwight Howard and signing Steve Nash, the Lakers were proclaimed the favorites to dethrone the Miami Heat. Instead, they failed to make the playoffs.
Recently, Deion Sanders made the same pronouncement about the Atlanta Falcons in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
"These guys are pretty much in a situation where it's Super Bowl or not," Sanders said. "That's where they are. They have a quarterback that is stable. That's poised. He's a veteran. He received what he earned and I'm happy for him. I think for this team, it's Super Bowl or bust, and I think they can get there."
On the surface, that might seem true. They came within one play of going to the Super Bowl last year. They made offseason moves to strengthen their biggest weaknesses -- inconsistent running game and a suspect defense. They talked tight end Tony Gonzalez into coming back for one more season. They added running back Steven Jackson and defensive end Osi Umenyiora through free agency. They spent their first two draft picks on cornerbacks, Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford.
But to think anything less than reaching the Super Bowl would be a failure is nonsense. Too many things have to go right for a team to win a championship. The Super Bowl champions, the Baltimore Ravens, came within a play of getting knocked out in the second round.
The Georgia Bulldogs and Mark Richt are in a similar predicament. Anything less than winning the SEC championship would be deemed a failure by some. Like the Falcons, Georgia came within one play of playing for the ultimate championship.
It was the second straight year that the Bulldogs lost in the SEC championship game. So they would have to win the East Division again just to avoid the appearance of taking a step backward.
Again, that's nonsense. We have seen that winning division titles in the SEC can be a quirky thing. Alabama didn't win it two years ago, but won the national championship. The Tide wouldn't have won the West Division last year if Texas A&M had made one more play against Florida or LSU.
Each team is different. Each season is unique. Sure, if the Falcons fall back to being a .500 team or Georgia loses four games, then their respective seasons would be unequivocal busts.
So what, then, would constitute successful seasons? It's too hard to say until we see how the season plays out. If the Falcons lose quarterback Matt Ryan to an injury, then simply having a winning season would be a significant achievement.
Even if they avoid major injuries, there's the not-so-little matter of the competition getting better. Seattle is improving. San Francisco will be strong again. Green Bay still has Aaron Rodgers, and now has Eddie Lacy to provide a power running game. New Orleans has its coach Sean Payton back after a one-year suspension.
Georgia has a little more margin for error in that regard. Backup quarterback Hutson Mason would start for most teams in college football. And the Dogs have depth at running back and receiver. But no team is immune to the impact of injuries. In the college game, it's the schedule that provides so little margin for error. One loss, especially late in the year, can wreck a season.
Coming close to winning it all, or at least playing for it all, raised expectations for this season. But last year is history. It's a new season. Just ask Davey Johnson.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org