FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- After Monday night, only three NFC teams have a 2-0 record. The Falcons, Panthers and Lions have each won their first two games, but with the Falcons and Lions playing each other on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET, one team is certain to lose for the first time in 2017. Unless, of course, they tie.
Today's Early Bird Report includes some very high praise for Julio Jones from a Hall-of-Famer as well as a look at the Lions' 24-10 victory against the New York Giants on Monday night.
FALCONS HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY
Forbes.com: Falcons make biggest jump in 2017 NFL valuations
Forbes has its latest list of NFL valuations, and the Falcons have made the biggest increase in value. Listed as the 15th-most valuable NFL franchises, the Falcons are deemed to be worth $2.475 billion. With the opening of the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, as well as the monetary commitments for sponsorships at the stadium, the franchise has increased 16 percent in value from last year. That increase is the most among all 32 NFL teams. In Forbes’ 2016 NFL valuations, the Falcons were 19th and valued at $2.125 billion.
Fox Sports: Shannon Sharpe delivers exceptionally high praise for Julio
There's no argument that Julio Jones is among the very best wide receivers in the NFL, if not THE best. After Jones recorded his 36th career 100-yard receiving game in the Falcons' victory over the Packers, Hall-of-Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe was effusive in his praise for the all-pro receiver.
"Julio Jones is on another level," Sharpe said on his show, “Undisputed.” "I mean, there's some great receivers, Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. – you've got some really great receivers – but this No. 11 down in Atlanta, he's an alien. I mean, it's not even fair."
The Washington Post: Falcons are making an early case that they remain NFC's best team
As was made clear in yesterday’s Early Bird Report, many people came away impressed with the Falcons' performance on Sunday night. Include Mark Maske of *The Washington Post* among that group. While he begins his piece by saying that drawing conclusions after Week 2 is a "perilous exercise," he believes the Falcons have made the case that they are the best team in a conference that has very few teams without major problems.
Only the Falcons, Panthers and Lions are 2-0 in the NFC, and Atlanta has looked like the best of that group. With an offense that still looks very potent and a defense that is quickly emerging as a unit to be reckoned with, the Falcons appear to be the most complete team in the conference so far.
NEWS ON THE FALCONS' OPPONENT: Detroit Lions
Detroit Free Press: Now 2-0, is it time to start believing in the Lions?
For years the Detroit Lions have been fighting to join the ranks of the respected in the NFL. After a 24-10 road victory against the New York Giants on Monday night, the Lions are 2-0 and *Detroit Free Press *writer Shawn Windsor wonders if it’s actually time to start believing in this team. The natural reaction for both Giants and Lions fans after Monday's game was to assume New York got outplayed by a lesser opponent, Windsor writes, but that's not what actually happened. The Lions defense put together a solid performance, sacking Eli Manning five times and controlling the line of scrimmage. With a pair of touchdown passes from Matthew Stafford and a big 88-yard punt return in the fourth quarter by Jamal Agnew, the Lions came out on top.
ESPN.com: Rookie LB Jarrad Davis, Lions' first-rounder, in concussion protocol
After tackling Giants running back Paul Perkins in the fourth quarter, Lions first-round draft pick Jarrad Davis left the field with trainers. The rookie linebacker was not made available to reporters after the game because he was in the league’s concussion protocol, according to ESPN's Michael Rothstein. In the victory, Davis had six tackles and his first career sack.
BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFC SOUTH
The Charlotte Observer: Panthers have to fix their offense without Greg Olsen – but it can be done
The loss of Pro-Bowl tight end Greg Olsen to a broken foot is a massive blow for the Panthers offense, but The Charlotte Observer’s Scott Fowler believes the unit can improve without him. Carolina scored just nine points in its victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, marking the first time in 20 years the Panthers won with such a low point total, and the offense hasn't looked sharp through the first two weeks.
Fowler thinks spreading the ball around is something that will help the offense become a bit more dangerous. Cam Newton was named league MVP in 2015, the same season in which No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin suffered a season-ending knee injury before the games even began. Without his favorite security blanket, Fowler says Newton may be forced to move the ball around and increase the productivity of the offense as a result.
Associated Press: Improved Buccaneers defense making a name for itself
In their season-opener, the Buccaneers turned in an impressive performance during their 29-7 rout of the Chicago Bears. Tampa Bay's defense forced four turnovers in the victory, including a pick-six by Robert McClain, and held Chicago to just 20 yards on the ground. Fred Goodall of The Associated Press believes it's time the Buccaneers defense receives some of the praise normally reserved for Jameis Winston and the offense.
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