FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The next four games will determine the Falcons' fate in 2017, but with a tough matchup against the Saints looming on Thursday night, the team cannot afford to look past their next opponent.
Today's Early Bird Report includes a look at various Week 14 power rankings, thoughts on the environment at the Falcons' home turf and injury news out of New Orleans.
FALCONS HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY
Week 14 power rankings: Falcons right around top 10 after home loss
After dropping a home game against the Vikings, the Falcons didn't drop too far many power rankings. Atlanta sat just inside of the top 10 entering Week 13, and it now sits just outside of the top 10 heading into Thursday night. A win against the Saints would certainly push them higher. For our own Wildly Important NFL Power Rankings, click here.
"Not much of a drop for the Falcons, despite the home loss. That was a Super Bowl contender that upended Atlanta on Sunday -- and the Falcons had a chance in the fourth quarter, but they couldn't finish. The pass rush continues to flash for Dan Quinn's team, so often getting close to Case Keenum ... but just a biiiiiiiiiiit too late. Going to the other side of the ball: For all the Matt Ryan-to-Julio Jones gushing, this connection's had many a middling game this season, with a couple of huge performances getting all the headlines. Jones has put up just three 100-yard performances -- and only scored in two games. Sunday? Two catches for 24 yards (despite being open several times). No scores from No. 11, either."
"They face a must-win game this week at home against the Saints. Lose, and they are in big trouble."
"Vic Beasley accounted for 46 percent of the Falcons' sacks last season, so they got him a little help in the draft. First-round pick Takkarist McKinley has 5.0 sacks, the second-most on the team -- even more than Beasley (4.0)."
"Matt Ryan and Julio Jones went right back to cooling off. It's must-win for the NFC champs now."
*AJC: *Falcons' home too quiet, Quinn says fans should stop 'using coasters'
Mercedes-Benz Stadium has first-class amenities and is viewed as one of the most unique and technologically advanced venues in the world. According to Jeff Schultz of *The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, *the only thing the Falcons' new stadium is missing is a home field advantage.
During his Tuesday press conference, Falcons coach Dan Quinn expressed his desire for fans to get the stadium "turned up on Thursday." Whether it's the exciting new things to see and do around the stadium or the typical late-arriving crowd in Atlanta, Schultz says something is missing in the atmosphere.
"It's not Quinn's job to be the Director of Fan Pep. He's the coach," Schultz writes. "But the fact the team's top football executive felt compelled to say something speaks volumes about the situation.
"I've seen this before when a sports team moves into a new facility. Fans spend more time in awe of their surroundings, out of their seats and exploring the new eye candy than they did before. The game becomes secondary."
Here are some more stories on the Falcons:
NEWS ON THE FALCONS' OPPONENT: New Orleans Saints
*The Times-Picayune: *Saints' Mark Ingram, Andrus Peat do not practice Tuesday
Two offensive starters sat out the Saints' walk-through practice on Tuesday, according to Herbie Teope of The Times-Picayune*. *Running back Mark Ingram and offensive guard Andrus Peat did not practice with the team, which Teope says is concerning on a short week. Two players who did return to practice, albiet in a limited capacity, were cornerback Marshon Lattimore and free safety Marcus Williams.
*Sun Herald: *Saints should be wary of 'third-and-long' Falcons
While not officially an elimination game of any sort for the Falcons, Brian Allee-Walsh of the *Sun Herald, *believes the Saints should be worried about playing an opponent whose backs appear to be against the wall.
"[Matt] Ryan and his passel of playmakers might find the sledding a little tougher this season since the Saints have rediscovered the meaning of team defense," Allee-Walsh writes. "And the Falcons speedy defense must find some way to neutralize "Boom & Zoom'' who have combined for 200 yards from scrimmage in five consecutive games."
Here is some more news on the Saints:
- *Times-Picayune: *Saints love Brandon Coleman for his 'selfless' style of play
- *Washington Post: *Alvin Kamara is helping lead a running back evolution
BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFC SOUTH
*The Charlotte Observer: *Funchess showing why Panthers made him top receiver
The Panthers' decision to trade top wideout Kelvin Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills just before the trade deadline left many around the league scratching their head. According to *The Charlotte Observer's *Joseph Person, Devin Funchess has done enough to justify the team's faith in him as a top receiver.
"He hasn't hit the ceiling yet, which is a good thing," Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula told Person. "There were a couple plays we were really close on the last couple of weeks with him."
Here is some other news from around the division:
- *Tampa Bay Times: *Tampa Bay's most pressing offseason need
- *USA TODAY: *Bucs' Justin Evans among top rookie leaders in NFL
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