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Early Bird Report: Why the Falcons-Saints rivalry is the best in the NFL

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today’s Early Bird Report includes Atlanta’s place in the power rankings as well as why the Falcons-Saints rivalry is the NFL’s best.

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Week 12 power rankings:

After losing back to back games, the Falcons have tumbled down the power rankings. Most sites have Atlanta in the late teens or in the early 20s, and the only way to change that is for the Falcons to start winning. Be sure to check out Matt Tabeek’s Wildly Important NFL Power Rankings as well.

NFL.com: No. 17 (Last week: No. 16)

“The Falcons gave it more than a good college try Sunday. The absence of linebacker Deion Jones in the middle was arguably the difference, as Atlanta had no answer for No. 21 in the Cowboys backfield, much like the Eagles the Sunday prior. Matt Ryan certainly came up clutch at the right time, engineering a six-play, 68-yard march that ate up only 2:10 to tie the game. Unfortunately, the Falcons' secondary came up small after keeping everyone not named Ezekiel Elliott under wraps most of the day. With Atlanta at 4-6, all is not lost, especially with the Panthers, Packers and Eagles losing. That debacle in Cleveland sure is starting to stick to the ribs, though.”

CBS Sports: No. 21 (LW: No. 18)

“Two straight losses has this team reeling as they head to New Orleans to play the Saints Thursday night.”

ESPN: No. 20 (LW: No. 18)

“Thankful for: Matt Ryan's health. The 33-year-old onetime MVP hasn't missed a game since the 2009 season -- his second year in the league -- when turf toe sidelined him for two contests. Ryan has averaged 965 offensive snaps per season in his career.”

MMQB: No. 17 (LW: No. 14)

 “The Falcons’ 1-4 start basically eliminated any margin for error. You can’t lose in Cleveland and then at home against the Cowboys after digging that kind of hole.”

Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:

Yahoo Sports: Saints vs. Falcons, the NFL’s best rivalry

The Falcons-Saints rivalry may not have the historical cache of some of the others in the NFL, but it’s undoubtedly one of the league’s most contentious and passionate. Embedded in the heart of college football country, this rivalry has a purely college feel to it, which, as Yahoo Sports’ Jay Busbee writes, makes it the best rivalry in the league.

“Yeah, we see you, Bears-Packers,” Busbee writes. “We know you’re trying, Raiders-Broncos. We applaud the effort, Cowboys-Redskins. But if your idea of a pro football rivalry is a bunch of guys in scarves and gloves bellowing at each other over tiny grills, or a crew of face-painted cosplayers with the tags still visible on their Spirit Halloween store costumes, it’s time for some education. Where most NFL rivalries have all the passion of a corporate scuffle – do you really have a stake in Coke vs. Pepsi or Apple vs. Google? – Falcons-Saints is pure, visceral, sweaty hatred, hotter than Tabasco in July, rage and jealousy and more rage, all set to a funky, thundering backbeat.”

To read the rest of Busbee’s piece on the unique Falcons-Saints rivalry, click here.

NFL.com: Hall of Fame reveals 25 semifinalists for Class of 2019

The 2019 Hall of Fame class is beginning to take shape. The voters have narrowed down this year’s class to 25 semifinalists, and a few players with Falcons ties have made the cut. Chief among them is former Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, who played in Atlanta from 2009-13. Former Falcons linebacker Clay Matthews, who is the uncle to current left tackle Jake Matthews, is also among the 25 semifinalists.

To see the entire list of semifinalists, click here.

ESPN: McShay’s top 32 for 2019 NFL Draft

There is still plenty of football left to play, but draft season continues to creep ever closer. It’s always draft season for ESPN’s Todd McShay, who recently released an updated version of his top 32 players for the 2019 NFL Draft. This is a defense-heavy draft class, and McShay’s top 32 reflects that, as the top seven players are all on the defensive side of the ball.

To see his full list of players, click here.

AJC: Falcons playoff chances better than zero

While it’s fair to say the Falcons’ playoff chances are nowhere near as good as they were just two weeks ago, as The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Matt Winkeljohn points out, they still have a small shot.

Per Winkeljohn, various projections give Atlanta between a 6 and 9 percent change at making the playoffs, which, as he says, is “better than zero.”

“A win in New Orleans would be big, alright, but pretty much as a step toward moving into one of the two NFC wildcard spots,” Winkeljohn writes. “The Falcons trail Carolina (6-4) for the first wildcard with a win over the Panthers in hand and a road game coming against them. They trail Minnesota (5-4-1) by a game and a half, but they have company between themselves and the Vikings.

“Without getting into who holds what tiebreakers, Atlanta also trails Seattle (5-5), Dallas (5-5) and Green Bay (4-5-1) with a road game coming against the Packers. The Lions (4-6) are even with the Falcons. The toughest game of the six remaining is on deck in New Orleans (9-1). After that, the Falcons will play Baltimore (5-5) at home, at Green Bay (4-5-1), home against the Cardinals (2-8), at Carolina (6-4) and at Tampa Bay (3-7).”

To read the rest of Winkeljohn’s piece on the Falcons’ playoff chances, click here.

AJC: Dissection of dead Falcons season includes offensive line

As the Falcons search for answers this season, all positions should be looked at. The AJC’s Michael Cunningham believes the offensive line should not be overlooked in that search. Atlanta has not been able to consistently win at the point of attack and on the line of scrimmage this season, Cunningham says, which is something that he believes is holding the Falcons back.

“You can’t fault the Falcons for eschewing linemen in recent drafts,” Cunningham writes. “The group was good in 2016 and ‘17 and they added Fusco for this season. The line might still be good if the Falcons are right about their core players, but they are in trouble if they miscalculated and this season is the start of the group’s decline.

“The Falcons might have made something out of this star-crossed season if their offense didn’t fall off at the same time their defense got better. They couldn’t keep up the scoring because, unlike the Saints, their offensive line play didn’t allow it.”

To read more of what Cunningham has to say, click here.

ESPN: Gunshot survivor now in Falcons’ brotherhood

Sometimes it’s important to step back and gain perspective. That’s what this past week was about for the Falcons, who participated in the NFL’s Salute to Service initiative. But Falcons tight end Austin Hooper was touched by a particular story long before last week. As ESPN’s Vaughn McClure detailed in a really touching story, Hooper has made a life-long fan in Louisiana native and former Saints supporter Kyron Greenup.

Greenup is paralyzed after a stray bullet from random shots fired in his neighborhood pierced his skull in 2014. Hooper heard of Greenup’s story and invited him to the Falcons-Saints game in Week 3, where he was named an honorary team captain.

"It was good that everyone rallied to make Kyron's day," Hooper told McClure. "If he can go through life the way he does, with such a positive attitude, what are our everyday problems? Little things that you go through, they're meaningless. Kyron's outlook is the way more people should be."

I highly recommend everyone check out McClure’s piece on this great story.

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