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Early Bird Report: Nate Burleson likes Falcons over Panthers

The top Falcons headlines from around the country 

Not many people expected the Falcons to start the season 0-4, and it's taken some crazy moments to land them there. The next four-game stretch is very important for Atlanta and it begins with a familiar face.

Just like the Falcons, not many predicted the Panthers to be 2-2 through four weeks. This Carolina team is improving on defense and features balanced offensive play, even without Christian McCaffrey. Still, in the eyes of former NFL receiver and current co-host of "Good Morning Football" Nate Burleson, the Falcons have too much talent to continue their slump.

"NFL Research sent around this nugget earlier this week: The Atlanta Falcons (26.5) joined the 2012 New Orleans Saints (27.5) as the only teams in NFL history to start 0-4 despite scoring at least 25 points per game across those four games," Burleson writes. "Man, that's brutal for an offense with so much talent. With the Carolina Panthers surprisingly scoring 26.0 points per game since losing their star running back Christian McCaffrey, this contest looks like a nail-biter. Spoiler alert: The Falcons win this one and avoid an 0-5 start."

Scouting reports on players thrust into bigger roles

Former NFL general manager and current analyst Charley Casserly provided scouting reports of 11 players who could have bigger roles in Week 5 than they normally do. Among those 11 is Falcons safety Sharrod Neasman, who filled in during the team's loss to Green Bay after Damontae Kazee suffered a torn Achilles. If Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen aren't able to play on Sunday, Neasman figures to see a large share of the snaps.

"Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said Tuesday that safeties Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal were "trending in the right spot." Allen (elbow) has missed the previous two games, and Neal (hamstring) was sidelined in Week 4," Casserly writes. "If those two aren't on the field, and with the season-ending injury to Kazee, the next man up is Sharrod Neasman , who's smart and tough but not exceptional in any area. Logging 40 defensive snaps at free safety against Green Bay, Neasman played very deep and wasn't involved in many plays as a result, recording just two tackles, including one for a loss. He does show good instincts in zone coverage, but there are still questions surrounding his long speed and ability to close on receivers. If he plays Week 5 against Carolina, I expect the Panthers to test him with deep throws off play-action and crossing routes."

Pete Prisco's NFL Week 5 picks

Staring down an 0-5 start, the Falcons need to play their best game of the season on Sunday. senior writer Pete Prisco believes that's exactly what Atlanta will do against Carolina. He predicts a 30-23 victory for the home team.

"The Falcons season is on the line here after the 0-4 start," Prisco writes. "They are so banged up on defense that it's hard to imagine them beating anybody. But I think they play like their season is on the line and pull out a division game to get their first victory. The offense clicks."

Injuries an explanation for Falcons' start

Atlanta has dealt with a rash of injuries to start the season, similar to what fans have seen around the league. With no offseason, preseason games and an expedited training camp, players did not have their typical time to prepare for the rigors of an NFL season.

ESPN's Vaughn McClure spoke with former Chicago Bears head trainer Tim Bream about the high number of soft-tissue injuries thus far this season, and he felt there was a correlation between the time spent at team facilities and the injuries occurring.

"Asked if he believes the lack of an offseason possibly contributed, Bream said, 'I think that's a good hypothesis, no question, because of lack of training time and the type of functional and neuromuscular training -- as well as the value of nutrition associated with being at the facility -- that needs to occur for an elite NFL athlete to prepare for their responsibilities on the field,'" McClure writes.

The Falcons' Wednesday injury report provided some indication that the team is getting healthier. Julio Jones was one of two players held out of practice, and a number of starters got back to working in a limited fashion. With Atlanta still searching for its first win of the season, the Falcons will want to have as many of their players healthy this weekend against the Carolina Panthers.

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