FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes a look at the power rankings after Week 8 as well as the Falcons' thoughts on Adrian Peterson.
Week 9 power rankings:
After taking the week off, the Falcons still rose slightly in a couple of power rankings. They will likely make a bigger jump if they manage to knock off the 5-2 Redskins on the road this weekend. Also, be sure to check out Matt Tabeek’s Wildly Important Power Rankings.
"How about a week off for the most banged-up team in pro football? Many of the Falcons' key parts are currently on IR, yet there are those (Mohamed Sanu, Matt Bryant and Grady Jarrett, to name a few) who just needed a bye to get healthier for Atlanta's meeting in Washington with the upstart Redskins.
Side note: Who would want to face this Falcons attack come playoff time? Not it!"
"They come off their bye with a tough game against the Redskins. That will be a big challenge for their offense."
"Third-down defense could really haunt the Falcons this season if they don't get it corrected immediately. They are allowing opponents to convert 54.1 percent of third downs, which ranks second to last in the league; in the Falcons' 41-17 loss to the Steelers in Week 5, Pittsburgh converted 75 percent. In two of the Falcons' three wins, they've held opponents under 46 percent on third down."
"The Falcons started rolling before the bye week and could still be dangerous in the second half."
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
ESPN: Redskins' Adrian Peterson still a 'beast' in Falcons' eyes
For all of the talk heading into the Falcons matchup with the New York Giants about rookie running back Saquon Barkley, the back they are about to face has been even better this season.
Adrian Peterson has turned in a vintage performance for the Redskins thus far in 2018. He has carried the ball 127 times for 587 yards, fifth-most in the NFL, and four touchdowns. For comparison's sake, Barkley is seventh on the list with 519 yards this season.
There's no doubt that Peterson is among the best running backs in the league when he's playing the way he's capable, and he's played that way a lot this season. ESPN's Vaughn McClure talked to a few Falcons players and coaches about Peterson, and the respect is certainly there.
"No. Not at all. He's a beast," Brooks Reed told McClure when asked if he was surprised by Peterson's play. "He's just one of those special players that come around once in a while. I know he's a really tough guy. He's very resilient -- work ethic off the charts. He's come back from a bunch of injuries and outperformed expectations every time. I think he's still got a lot of gas in the tank, for sure."
To read the rest of McClure's piece on Peterson, click here.
AJC: Sunday didn't help Falcons' playoff odds, but Ryan gives them edge
Atlanta returns to action this weekend, and it needs to carry the momentum it gained heading into its bye week to keep up in the NFC playoff race.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' loss while the Falcons were off moved Atlanta into third place in the NFC South, but the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints both looked strong in their wins on Sunday.
As Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes: Sunday's outcomes didn't do Atlanta any favors in the playoff picture, but the Falcons will have a chance down the stretch because of Matt Ryan.
"I mentioned this the other day and, after watching Sunday's NFL games, it's worth repeating: The Falcons have an edge because Matt Ryan is their quarterback," Cunningham writes. "In the NFC, only Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees are on or above his level. Russell Wilson might still be. Cam Newton was sharp against Baltimore on Sunday but the question, as always, is can he sustain it?"
To read the rest of Cunningham's piece on what Ryan means moving forward, click here.
AJC: Garland ready for his return to the starting offensive line
After Brandon Fusco suffered a season-ending injury in the Falcons' win against the New York Giants, Ben Garland will once again start along Atlanta's offensive line. Garland was a starter for the Falcons in last season's playoffs, opposite Wes Schweitzer, who has been called upon as a starter after Andy Levitre's season-ending injury in Week 2.
"I'm confident playing right, left and including center, tight end or fullback," Garland told _The AJC’s_ D. Orlando Ledbetter. "Put me anywhere, I'm ready to go."