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Senior NFL Columnist

Power Rankings: Finding faith in the Falcons, big flaws in Ravens

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The NFC playoffs are weeks away, yet you've already buried the Atlanta Falcons. Just admit it. Their past playoff failures under this current regime coupled with their horrible loss to the Carolina Panthers Sunday have you convinced that they aren't as good as their record.

They play close games, too, you say -- which means they can't be good.

All over the league, the shovels were in hands late Sunday and early Monday as people readied to bury the Falcons.

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Dead. Done. Might be worst No. 1 seed ever.

But here's what's great about the NFL: Another week can change that thinking in a hurry.

What if the Falcons handle the New York Giants easily this week in Atlanta? Will that change your thinking?

It's hard to earn the No. 1 seed in a conference, and the Falcons are close. If they beat the Giants on Sunday and the 49ers lose to the Patriots in New England, they will have it. But even then, the doubters will remain.

That's because none of us is sure of how good the Falcons -- who are now fourth here in the CBSSports.com Power Rankings -- are as a football team. Was Sunday's loss to the Panthers a normal letdown game before a big one at home with the Giants? It was sandwiched between the Saints and the Giants, even if the Falcons had additional time off after beating the Saints on a Thursday.

Over the past four games, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has four touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He has to get it going again. The Falcons need to get back to being explosive on offense.

The defense has a lot of injuries and is built to play with a lead. It is not a big, strong unit, but one that relies more on speed.

If Atlanta gets the top seed in the NFC, which it almost certainly will barring a total collapse, the Falcons would need to win two homes games to get to a Super Bowl. But that seems like a long time away now, especially considering what happened in Carolina on Sunday.

But burying them? That thinking could change by 4:15 p.m. Sunday if they beat the Giants.

RANK TEAM MOVE (LW)

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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