FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes five reasons why the Falcons will make their third straight trip to the playoffs as well as some creativity from the Ravens' offense.
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NFL.com: Five reasons why the Falcons will make the playoffs
Falcons fans may at times feel slighted throughout the offseason as national media outlets tout teams like New Orleans, Philadelphia and Los Angeles as the class of the NFC. The Falcons are the only NFC team to make the postseason in each of the last two seasons, though, and they figure to make another strong playoff push in 2018.
NFL.com's Marc Sessler listed five reasons why the Falcons will return to the playoffs in 2018, and the reasons embody what we've come to know about the team.
Leading his list is the bullet point, "Matt Ryan remains a badass." Ryan's 2017 season may not have been as unstoppable as his 2016 MVP campaign, but he is still one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. Sessler also mentions the Falcons' backfield, which returns both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman and also added one of college football's most productive backs in Ito Smith. The last point about the offense centers around the receiving corps, which was also strengthened through the draft with the addition of Calvin Ridley.
One of the most promising aspects of the Falcons is their defense, which Sessler mentions surged down the stretch in 2017.
"Before landing in Atlanta, Dan Quinn oversaw a historically dominant, life-sucking defense in Seattle," Quinn writes. "Bringing that same scheme to Atlanta, the fourth-year Falcons coach has built a secondary stocked with young talent. Cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford both graded in the top 28 among players at their position, per Pro Football Focus. At safety, Ricardo Allen (ranked No. 40) remains a strong compliment to the hard-hitting, powerful Keanu Neal, who finished as PFF's fifth-ranked safety in his second NFL campaign.
"The secondary was a major force behind Atlanta's brilliant late-season defensive play. The Falcons gave up 30-plus points just once all year and allowed fewer points than all but seven teams. Their finest work came in the playoffs, holding the high-flying Sean McVay-led Rams to 13 points in the wild-card round before losing a nail-biter to the Eagles that saw the eventual Super Bowl champions dial up just 15 points."
The final reason Sessler presents is Quinn, who he refers to as "one of the game's brightest young coaches and a man revered by his players."
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ESPN: Lamar Jackson lining up at other positions for Ravens
There doesn't appear to be a quarterback controversy in Baltimore, because the Ravens appear to be content at playing both Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson – possibly at the same time.
According to ESPN's Jamison Hensley, the Ravens have had Flacco and Jackson on the field at the same time during offseason workouts. Jackson was drafted as a quarterback, but his athleticism could allow for some unique wrinkles to be added to the Ravens' offense, which was 27th in total offense last season.
"Gosh, I sure like him out there helping us," coach John Harbaugh told Hensley. "If you put two quarterbacks on the field at once, what options does it create for our offense? That's what we're trying to figure out."