A weekly examination of the Patriots’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:
Preseason: 6 | Last Week: 7 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002
The 3-0 Patriots have bounced between the 5-7 range through the first three weeks of the season. Most notable this week is that Sunday night's opponent, the 1-2 Atlanta Falcons, took a dip from No. 5 last week to No. 14.
So let's get deeper into this matchup.
I watched the Falcons' 27-23 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday and I don't think there is any question that their offense -- led by quarterback Matt Ryan and with receivers Julio Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas and tight end Tony Gonzalez -- is better than any the Patriots have faced to this point. That's not exactly a newsflash when the first three opponents were the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Two stats stand out that highlight the challenge ahead for New England:
The Falcons have outscored opponents 31-0 in the first quarter: There isn't a better team in the NFL when it comes to fast starts. The Falcons' issue has been maintaining it and closing out games. We'll see if the Patriots can weather the potential early storm.
Home success for the Falcons: Some teams are just that much different at home, and the Falcons are one of them, having won 12 of their last 13 games at the Georgia Dome. It can be one of the toughest places to win in the NFL.
Overall, the Falcons' offense can control a game, and based on what I saw from their defense, which was unable to come up with the stop on the Dolphins' game-winning, fourth-quarter drive, that's probably what it's going to take for them to hand the Patriots their first loss.
Few would be surprised if that's the way it unfolds, so when it comes to isolating this specific matchup, the split between Nos. 5 and 14 isn't as wide to me as it might appear on the surface.