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Early Bird Report 11/24: Experts like Falcons over Bucs; guide to NFL wild-card race

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- After enjoying a nice Thanksgiving feast, the Falcons are back to work in preparation of an upcoming NFC South showdown with the Buccaneers. Only the second division game of the season for Atlanta, the Falcons' fate rests in their own hands and everything remains on the table.

Today's Early Bird Report includes expert picks for Week 12, a guide to the NFL wild-card race as well as what's behind the Saints' incredible defensive turnaround.



Week 12 expert picks: Falcons return home as favorites

After a big win on the road against the Seahawks, the Falcons should be getting respect from the experts at home against the Buccaneers, right? Well, not so fast. The expert pickers at CBS Sports are split between the NFC South rivals, with four picking Atlanta and four picking Tampa Bay. Senior CBS Sports writer Pete Prisco is among those who like the Falcons this weekend, picking them to emerge with a 27-13 victory.

"The Falcons impressed in winning at Seattle and now have three straight at home, starting with the Bucs," Prisco writes. "The Falcons lost to the Bucs at home last year, but this is a different Tampa Bay team, even after winning two straight. Atlanta wins their third straight here."

FiveThirtyEight's prediction model is much higher on the Falcons’ chances, giving them a win probability of 78 percent over the Buccaneers, which is among the highest probabilities for the weekend. Over at ESPN, it’s a clean sweep for the Falcons, who are picked to win by all 10 of the NFL experts.

The Ringer: Your guide to the 2017 NFL wild-card race

The playoff race is heating up across the NFL, and the Falcons are right in the thick of it – currently holding the NFC's second wild card spot. Now that we are entering the final stretch of the 2017 season, Kevin Clark of The Ringer laid out every team’s remaining road to the playoffs and his thoughts on whether or not they could secure a spot in the postseason. As far as Atlanta is concerned, Clark thinks the Falcons will continue playing after Week 17.

"Another important fact: They've regained their offensive footing," Clark writes. "They will not recover all of their 2016 production — that featured the best offense in the league and one of the most efficient units in NFL history. But for the period from Week 8 to now, Pro Football Focus rates Matt Ryan as the second-best passer in the NFL, behind Tom Brady. The Falcons aren't going to be able to go four-wide and destroy teams' souls like they did under Kyle Shanahan, but there should be at least a baseline of quality in that offense, and it looks like Matt Ryan to Julio Jones."

Here are a couple more storylines on the Falcons from Thanksgiving week:


*Tampa Bay Times: *Gerald McCoy says team has not turned the corner yet

The Buccaneers entered the season as a dark-horse pick for many people in the NFC South. Through the first 10 games, they've yet to live up to those expectations. Although they've won two games in a row, star defensive tackle told the *Tampa Bay Times' *Greg Auman that the Buccaneers have yet to turn the corner.

"We haven't turned a corner yet," McCoy said Wednesday, per Auman. "It's just two wins. We turn a corner if we win out — that's turning the corner. Two wins is taking a couple steps toward the corner. … That's how we feel. There is a lot of work to be done."

Here is some more news on Tampa Bay heading into the weekend:

BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFC SOUTH What's behind epic turnarounds of Rams' offense, Saints' defense

One of the most stunning developments this season has been the rapid improvement of New Orleans' defense. Long seen as the Saints' fatal flaw, the defense is vastly improved this year thanks to an influx of new talent. ESPN's Mike Triplett broke down how the Saints turned things around so quickly.

*The Charlotte Observer: *Panthers' Olsen a step or two away from playing vs. Jets

The Panthers' offense is beginning to find a rhythm and put their players in the best position to succeed. Now, they are close to getting their top receiving threat back. Tight end Greg Olsen has been on injured reserve since Week 2, but he has practiced fully in back-to-back days and appears in line to play against the Jets, according to Jourdan Rodrigue of *The Charlotte Observer**. *

"Yeah, the response obviously to putting this much volume on it two days in a row is the concern," said Olsen on Thursday afternoon, per Rodrigue.

"But we've had no indications that it's going to be a problem. So as far as I'm concerned right now, just trying to get my legs under me a bit, get that football movement stuff going a little bit. But yeah, I'm doing well."

Here are some more stories from around the division:


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