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Friday, September 25, 2009
Final Word: NFC South

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com


Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


Five nuggets of knowledge about this weekend’s games:

Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI
Matt Ryan and the Falcons can prove they're an elite team by knocking off the Patriots in New England.
Big game: It’s only Week 3, but the Atlanta Falcons are playing their biggest game in five years Sunday at New England. I call it the biggest game the Falcons have played since they went to the NFC Championship Game in 2004, not because it’s a homecoming for Matt Ryan and Thomas Dimitroff. I say it because it’s a chance for the Falcons to show the world they’re an elite team. There’s no better way to do that than going into New England and winning.

Road warriors: My initial plan was to write that the Bucs actually have a chance Sunday. My thinking was that the Giants have had to play two tough games and could be a little drained coming to the Florida heat. But that all changed when I looked and saw the Giants are 16-3 in their last 19 road games and most of those 16 wins have come against teams that are markedly better than the Bucs.

Looking ahead: Not to get ahead of things, but the Saints could be facing a huge Week Four game against the Jets. If the Saints can get by Buffalo on Sunday, they’ll be 3-0 and have two road wins against good teams. There’s a pretty good chance the Saints will be either 4-0 or 3-1 in the first quarter of the season. That kind of start didn’t seem like a possibility back in the preseason when we all thought defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant would be suspended for the first four games.

Secondary opinion: A lot of people talk about Atlanta’s secondary and say Tom Brady’s going to carve it up Sunday. That could happen, but I think this secondary is getting a bad rap. Yes, it’s very true there is not a single stud in this secondary. But that also was the case last year and the Falcons made it to the playoffs. They did that because they hid their defensive weaknesses with the pass rush. That pass rush is better than it was a year ago, now that John Abraham is getting some help from Kroy Biermann. That’s why I’ll argue that Atlanta’s secondary, while still a concern, is better than it was a year ago.

Prep time: The Panthers have an extra day to get ready because they don’t play Dallas until Monday night. That’s a good thing because it gives John Fox an extra day to coach. He switched defensive coordinators in the offseason and the defense hasn’t looked very good in the first two weeks. Fox’s teams always have been built around defense and I’m guessing the coach has been spending a little extra time in defensive meetings this week.