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Early Bird Report 11/17: Julio Jones' superhero origin story; Saints own top rookie class

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Although it's already Friday, the Falcons have a few more days left to prepare for their Monday night clash with the Seattle Seahawks. With a few players still recovering from injuries, the team will take every extra day it can.

Today's Early Bird Report includes a great origin story for the superhero known as Julio Jones as well as why the loss of Richard Sherman could have a severe impact on Seattle's Super Bowl hopes.



*Sports Illustrated: *The legend of Julio: How the Falcons WR became one of the NFL's very best

We've all come to know and appreciate the awe-inspiring talent that Julio Jones possesses. From the incredible 300-yard performance to the miraculous catches he makes look so routine, Jones has firmly established himself as one of the best wide receivers the NFL has ever seen. But how did he become the athlete he is today? That is the story *Sports Illustrated's *Ben Baskin tells in his in-depth piece on the legend of Julio Jones.

There's really no way to summarize Baskin's great storytelling in a paragraph or two, so I will simply suggest that you take a few minutes and read it for yourself.

Week 11 picks: Falcons not getting much love for Monday night

Last week, the Falcons were home underdogs against the Cowboys, at least in the eyes of the experts over at CBS Sports. This week, the Falcons are splitting picks with the Seahawks, each team receiving four apiece. As he has for most of the season, CBS Sports senior insider Pete Prisco likes the Falcons on the road on Monday night, picking Atlanta to win a tight 28-27 game.

"The Seahawks are banged up and will play this one without Richard Sherman, which really hurts," Prisco writes. "The Falcons seemed to find something last week on offense, and I think that carries over here. The Falcons had a big fourth quarter in last year's loss, so expect Matt Ryan to have another good day and win a shootout."

FiveThirtyEight isn’t as high on the Falcons’ chances. The site's projection model gives Seattle a 58 percent win probability at home against Atlanta. ESPN doesn’t like the road team in this matchup either, with only two of their nine expert pickers selecting the Falcons.


*The Washington Post: *Why losing Richard Sherman is a hit to Seattle's Super Bowl chances

A big deal was made about the loss of Earl Thomas for Seattle last season, and it was seen as something that deal a major blow to the Seahawks' postseason chances. According to Mike Renner of *The Washington Post**, *Sherman's injury could have the same affect this year. He lays out some numbers that indicate why Sherman is so important to Seattle's defense, but he summarizes it all thusly:

"Just as the results were bleak without Thomas a season ago, the prognosis doesn't look much better without Sherman," Renner writes. "Neither Jeremy Lane nor Byron Maxwell can come close to reproducing Sherman's effectiveness when targeted and his overall impact on the scheme. There's still more than enough pieces in place to field a championship-level unit, but counting on them to be a top-10 pass defense is no longer the safe bet it used to be."

BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFC SOUTH Panthers' Kurt Coleman fined $24K for hit on Freeman

Devonta Freeman has taken a few big hits in recent weeks. According to ESPN’s Vaugh McClure, Panthers safety Kurt Coleman was fined $24,309 for his hit on Freeman during Carolina's game against Atlanta a couple of weeks ago. Freeman headed to the sideline after suffering a knee injury on the same play, but he later returned to the field. Falcons coach Dan Quinn confirmed on Thursday that Freeman remains in the NFL's oncussion protocol after a hit he sustained in the team's win against the Cowboys. Kiper's Rookie Big Board: Saints' class is NFL's best

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper periodically reviews the NFL's rookie class and rates their performances. In the latest iteration of his big board, Kiper made one thing clear: The Saints have the best rookie class in the league. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who Kiper says is his pick to be Defensive Rookie of the Year, is the top rookie on his list. Two spots behind him at number three is running back Alvin Kamara; and two spots behind Kamara is offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk. Landing three players inside of Kiper's top five is a good start to claiming the top rookie class.


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