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Power Rankings: For the record, Falcons are for real


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Power Rankings: For the record, Falcons are for real

By Pete Prisco

CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Tell Pete your opinion!

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Updated Nov. 11

For weeks we've been waiting for the right time to say it, hesitant because it just didn't seem right to say the Atlanta Falcons were a real playoff threat. Is it because we expected them to take the young-team fall we anticipated from a group that came into the season in rebuilding mode?

That hasn't happened, so it's time to let it rip:

The Falcons are a real playoff threat.

There's no denying it any more. The way they handled the New Orleans Saints on Sunday is the all the proof we need.

The Atlanta defense was the last remaining question for this team, but shutting down Drew Brees the way it did says that unit has improved enough to call it a playoff defense.

The story of the Falcons is the best of this season in a league full of great ones. It's so shocking that many inside the building are even surprised, even if they won't admit it.

This was to be a rebuilding season with an eye on 2010 as the playoff year. It was a three-year plan to turn the Falcons around. First-year coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff won't admit it now, but they had to be realistic and a three-year plan to turn the Falcons around made sense.

Now that timetable is off. This team is good.

They can run it. They can throw it with Matt Ryan and the defense is growing up under a rising coaching star, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.

If the Falcons make the playoffs and Smith isn't the coach of the year, then the award should be eliminated.

The Falcons started out in the CBSSports.com Power Rankings at No. 31, which means one away from last. Now they're in the top 10. That's hard to believe.

After the Michael Vick fiasco, the Bobby Petrino mess and the feeling of disconnect from Atlanta fans, the Falcons are a great story. The best thing for their chances to win the division is that Tampa Bay and Carolina -- the two teams ahead of them in the NFC South -- both have to come to Atlanta.

The amazing thing about the Atlanta start is that most thought the two lines would be problem areas. The coaching staff said they were the worry spots before the season. They've been the opposite of that.

The offensive line plays with a nasty streak, making up for some athletic limitations, and the defensive line has overachieved, especially inside. Defensive end John Abraham is having a huge season rushing the passer, but the rest of the defense isn't exactly star-studded.

Atlanta also starts four rookies if you count the nickel back (Chevis Jackson), the third receiver (Henry Douglas) and injured left tackle Sam Baker, who is expected back in a few weeks. The best of the first-year players is Ryan. Without him, this wouldn't be happening. He's the best rookie quarterback since Peyton Manning.

He sees the field. He plays with a swagger. He works his butt off doing the little things. He's cut from the Manning-Tom Brady cloth.

The Falcons did the right thing starting him on opening day, thinking that this would be a building year for the future. But Ryan's play has accelerated the timetable.

So go ahead and say it: The Falcons are for real.

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Great read... Matt Ryan is indeed the effing truth... I am still eating the best tasting crow of my life for hating the pick initially... HE LIVES IN ATLANTA...

On another note, every article seems to have HORRIBLE misspellings of our players... Wouldn't a freaking 5 minute roster check to make sure names are spelled right be pretty simple? There has to be like no level of editing for any of these articles.

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Another article from FOX sports

Falcons thriving after extreme makeoverby ADAM BEST, Fan-Sided Blogs, Special to FOXSports.com

It's fitting that Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank is the co-founder of Home Depot, because following last season his team was in desperate need of a renovation.

After the Michael Vick era got KO'd by his four-legged fight club, it looked like the franchise would be left with a black eye and no quarterback, or not much of one anyway. Since the Dirty Birds had just traded Matt Schaub, they were stuck with Joey Harrington.

There was also Bobby Petrino, the wandering-eyed head coach who once appeared on Joey Greco's "Cheaters." The relationship went about as well as could be expected. Petrino nearly triggered several mutinies, then resigned after promising not to, but only by letter. This caused another embarrassing national spectacle, which culminated with vet Lawyer Milloy crossing out Petrino's name, replacing it with "coward" and then showing the doctored letter to basically, oh, the entire world like a true lover scorned.

All that added up to an offense that went nowhere, a defense more philanthropic than its owner and a 4-12 record. At the end of last season most of us were convinced that ATL was really an acronym for "Addicted to Losing."

But Blank didn't become a billionaire by standing idly by and watching losses mount.

He moved then general manager Rich McKay to the business side and brought in Thomas Dimitroff, part of the New England Patriots' brain trust, to replace him. He didn't just bring Dimitroff in either -- he gave him the keys to his ride and got the **** out (Jerry Jones should be taking notes!).

Dimitroff kicked off his tenure by drafting Boston College's Matt Ryan with the third overall pick and inking former San Diego Chargers back-up Michael Turner. Dimitroff also imported first-time-at-any-level head coach Mike Smith from the Jacksonville Jaguars. These moves were highly scrutinized. Ryan was viewed by many pundits as the de facto No. 1 quarterback in the 2008 draft, more Alex Smith than Peyton Manning. Meanwhile, some critics suggested that Turner only thrived because he faced garbage time defenses during spot duty. As for Smith, his hire definitely raised some eyebrows. The score at halftime of the 2008 season? Dimitroff 3, Critics 0.

This past Sunday, Dimitroff's three major offseason acquisitions keyed the Falcons' biggest win in recent history.

Against the New Orleans Saints, Ryan battled the league's hottest QB in Drew Brees and won. Matty Ice's cool, calm, collected brand of nearly mistake-free football has not only allowed Roddy White to flourish, but its also paved the way for the running game.

Speaking of paving the way, fullback Ovie "The Drill" Mughelli -- we gotta show fullbacks some love every once in a while, right? -- opened holes for the Burner all day long. The unheralded-but-gritty offensive line also came through. Turner finished with 96 yards and a touchdown, but it was his partner, Jerious Norwood, who finished off the Saints. Norwood broke the Saints' back when he turned a Ryan dink pass into a 67-yard touchdown, high-stepping the last 30 yards. For a second there, I thought Deion Sanders was back in Atlanta.

While we're on the topic of the former Falcons' star defensive back, a couple of current Dirty Bird d-backs went all Prime Time themselves. Recent addition Dominique Foxworth showed off his ball skills, most notably on a play where he broke up a sure Marques Colston TD. Second-year stud Chris Houston picked off Brees in the end zone in the fourth quarter and started doing the one-and-only Deion Dance. Not to be outdone, rookie corner Chevis Jackson sealed the game when he picked off Brees in the red zone and took it to the house Sanders style. Dude might have started high-stepping from the 40. All of this was made possible in part because of the pass-rushing prowess of John Abraham. Whether he was lined up left, right, or at the concession stand, he was putting pressure on Brees.

Nine games into the season and the Falcons have already won two more games then they did all of last year. They're not Super Bowl contenders as of yet, but the team owned by the Home Depot guy has gone from being a bunch of tools to retooled in record time.

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