When talking about who might be the best team in football the discussion early on this season centered around the San Francisco 49ers and the Houston Texans. But that kind of talk now must include the Atlanta Falcons, who rallied late Sunday to remain one of three unbeaten teams at 4-0.
In a back-and-forth affair Atlanta got several key throws from QB Matt Ryan in the last two minutes to set up a game-winning field goal in beating Carolina 30-28.
The Falcons also got very fortunate a few minutes before that when Panthers QB Cam Newton, just after sneaking across the line of scrimmage for a first down that probably would have clinched the game for Carolina, fumbled backwards, and lost the first down. The Panthers had to punt, and downed the ball on the Atlanta one-yard line.
But one Ryan-to-Roddy White bomb later the Falcons were out of the hole and on their way to victory.
So after four weeks of this season Atlanta already owns a three-game lead in the NFC South over the 1-3 Bucs and Panthers.
The Falcons have also been kind to those who have included them among their weekly NFL picks, covering three of the first four point spreads they’ve faced this year.
Statistically speaking Atlanta’s numbers don’t impress; the Falcons rank 15th in the league in offense, 18th in rushing at just 98 YPG, 15th in defense and 29th vs the run, having allowed 146 YPG on the ground. But what are the facts behind these numbers?
Atlanta gave up 152 yards rushing opening weekend to Kansas City, 46 of those on one play. Turnovers set the Falcons up with a couple of short fields, and they took advantage.
Turnovers also helped Atlanta to a 20-0 lead over Denver in Week 2. The Falcons then gave up 118 yards on the ground to the Broncos, 31 on one play.
The same thing happened out in San Diego; Atlanta took advantage of four Chargers turnovers on its way to a 27-3 victory, but gave up 116 yards on the ground, 52 on one play.
And Sunday the Falcons allowed Carolina to rush for 199 yards, but 86 of those came by Newton.
Now, while quarterbacks running for nearly 100 yards is kind of fluke-ish, that might not bode well for Sunday, when the Atlanta defense will have to deal with Washington QB Robert Griffin III.
The Redskins with RG III are 2-2, upsetting the Saints opening weekend, blowing a lead and losing at St. Louis, giving up 478 yards of offense in losing at home to the Bengals, then getting a last-second FG to win at Tampa Bay Sunday 24-22.
In the early betting for Sunday’s game at the ‘Skins most NFL betting outlets are listing the Falcons as three-point chalk, with an OVER/UNDER of 50.