Early Bird Report 12/27: Falcons slip in power rankings; Panthers have shot at No. 2 seed

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – It comes down to Week 17 for the Falcons, who need to win at home against the Panthers to secure a spot in the postseason, but this opportunity is the result of the preparation the team has been putting in since the start of training camp. Beating the Panthers will require nothing less than a great week of practice for the Falcons.

Today's Early Bird Report includes a look at how the Falcons fared in the power rankings as well as the Panthers' unlikely path to the No. 2 seed.

Enjoy!

FALCONS HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY

Week 17 power rankings: Falcons slip after Loss to Saints

After slowly climbing back into the top 10 in the power rankings, the Falcons have mostly fallen out of that group following their loss on the road to the Saints. While power rankings serve as a fun conversation starter, they are meaningless. What's far more important is the final matchup against the Panthers. That No. 6 seed is the only spot Falcons fans should be worried about. For our own Wildly Important NFL Power Rankings, click here.

"That was not a day Falcons fans particularly want to remember. For all the Steve Sarkisian criticism this season -- and the offense did deliver another blah performance -- Matt Ryan doesn't look close to the quarterback he was in 2016. Even on completions, shallow crossers and out routes, he's throwing behind his intended targets or uncorking highballs. You simply can't place all the blame on the OC. Put the 2-for-13 mark on third downs on the whole offense. The 10 penalties didn't help, either, although there was complaining about the officiating in this game. Shocking."

"They just aren't generating enough offense and need to beat the Panthers this week to ensure they make the playoffs."

"The 2016 Panthers are the only Super Bowl loser in the past eight seasons to miss the playoffs the following year. Atlanta would need to lose to Carolina in Week 17 for that to be a possibility. A win would mean another shot at a Super Bowl run for the Falcons."

"The Falcons can still get into the playoffs without beating the Panthers, but winning at home would be a simpler scenario." 

Here are some more stories on the Falcons:

NEWS ON THE FALCONS' OPPONENT: Carolina Panthers

*The Charlotte Observer: *Panthers still have shot at No. 2 seed

While the Falcons are fighting for a spot in the playoffs, the Panthers are still hoping to snag a first-round bye. If an unlikely set of circumstances play out on Sunday – Saints lose to the Bucs; Vikings lose to the Bears; Rams lose to the 49ers – and the Panthers beat the Falcons, they will rise to the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. With nearly all of the relevant games being played at 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday, the Panthers are planning to play as if everything remains on the table.

"I want to win the football game," Rivera said Tuesday, according to *The Charlotte Observer's *Joseph Person. "I want to keep as much momentum going forward as possible."

Here is some other news on the Panthers:

BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFC SOUTH

*The Times-Picayune: *Saints bring back DT Tony McDaniel, his agent announces

Citing a tweet by his agent, Herbie Teope of *The Times-Picayune *reports that the Saints have signed defensive tackle Tony McDaniel. The veteran defensive tackle spent the preseason in New Orleans, playing in all four exhibition games for the Saints. In that time, he registered a total of six tackles. During his career, which began in 2006 as an undrafted free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars, McDaniel has appeared in 145 games with 48 starts. He's recorded 276 tackles, 19 passes defensed, 11.5 sacks, four fumble recoveries and a forced fumble in his career.

ESPN: Bucs coach Koetter says rumors of job security are 'of course' a distraction

Although Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter said Tuesday he hasn't had any discussions with team ownership about his future, he did concede that the constant rumors about his job security are a distraction, according to ESPN's Jenna Laine.

"Of course," Koetter said when asked if the rumors are a distraction, per Laine. "It's your life, it's your life. It's what you do. So just flip it around. Of course it is. But we all as players and coaches, we're paid to do a job, and you try to do it to the best of our ability. That's all you can do."

Here is more news from around the division:


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