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Falcons are determined to make NFC a three-team race

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 27: Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) celebrates a touchdown with quarterback Matt Ryan (2) during an NFL football game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Atlanta Falcons on November 27, 2016, at Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA. The Atlanta Falcons defeated the Arizona Cardinals 38-19. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire)
Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire

The Dallas Cowboys have taken the NFC and the rest of the NFL by storm. After losing their first game of the regular season, the Cowboys have won 10 straight games and currently have the best record in the league.

The Seattle Seahawks are a perennial playoff team and are on track to be in contention again this season. But while those two teams have captured the fancy of the NFL or at least the NFC, there is one team that is flying under the national radar.

The Atlanta Falcons have exploded on the NFL scene displaying a diverse high-powered offense, and a defense that is beginning to find its way. The Falcons are leading the NFC South by a game over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and are tied for fourth in the NFC behind those two teams as well as the New York Giants.

But the Falcons will go as far as their offense takes them. The Falcons lead the league in points per game, yards per play and are third in yards per game.

“Man, they just go and run their offense with purpose,” said Kansas City safety Eric Berry on a conference call with the Atlanta media. The Falcons take on the Chiefs Sunday in the Georgia Dome. “They’re not just out there running plays. They have a specific plan, and they know they’re a good offense, and they run their plays as if they’re a good offense. They’re very confident in what they do, and that’s player to player, and that’s overall as well. And they compete very well.”

It all starts with quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan leads the NFC in quarterback rating, second in the conference in third-down passing and third in touchdown passes and passing yards.

Receiver Julio Jones leads the NFC in receiving yards and is tied for fourth in receptions. Now, with the speedy Taylor Gabriel providing some help opposite Jones, the Atlanta passing game has gotten better. Gabriel had four catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns in the team’s 38-19 win against Arizona. For the year, Gabriel has 378 yards on 21 catches and four touchdowns.

Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are both explosive backs who can catch the ball out of the backfield, which makes the Falcons’ offense tough to defend. The Falcons have scored less than 30 points once in the last five games.

“Explosive, in all phases,” said Kansas City coach Andy Reid. “They’re doing a nice job.”

The defense has always been the Falcons’ Achilles’ heel. While the unit is not making people forget about the 1985 Chicago Bears, the Falcons’ unit is making plays. Second-year pass rusher Vic Beasley has 9.5 sacks.

The schedule is setting up for the Falcons to make a run as well. Following the Chiefs, the Falcons will take on the Los Angeles Rams (4-7) and then the San Francisco 49ers (1-10) before ending the regular season with NFC South games at Carolina (4-7) and at home against the Saints (5-6).

A win on Sunday puts pressure on the Buccaneers, who have road games in San Diego and Dallas and still have to face the Saints twice.

The Cowboys are the fun team to talk about led by rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott. Dallas can clinch a playoff berth with a Tampa Bay or a Washington loss this week.

Not much is being talked about Atlanta because we’ve seen them fail in the past. Atlanta started last season 6-1 and did not make the playoffs.

Having gone through that has set them up for this season. With much of the same cast, this team is mentally and offensively prepared for a December/January run this year.

“I think you have to account for a lot of guys when you play us,” Ryan said in an AJC.com article. “That’s the fun part of playing quarterback when you have a lot of really good players at a lot of positions. I think it makes it difficult for a defense to key in to certain spots.”

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