Why the Atlanta Falcons are Super Bowl contenders


The Atlanta Falcons are one of six undefeated teams in the NFL. How good are the Falcons? Here's a closer look:

Super Bowl contender: First off, it's way too early to start talking Super Bowl for any team. Since this is the topic of discussion four games into the season, all the undefeateds are Super Bowl contenders right now. But let's see where they stand at the midpoint of the season, which would be a better gauge. The Falcons look very impressive on both sides of the ball. They have the best receiver in the game in Julio Jones, the NFL's leading scorer in Devonta Freeman (seven rushing touchdowns for 42 points), the league's top red-zone offense (12 of 15 for 80 percent), and a plus-6 turnover ratio (eight takeaways, two giveaways). Matt Ryan hasn't even played his best ball and Roddy White hasn't been heavily involved in the offense, yet the Falcons are still undefeated.

Reason to be excited: The offensive line is coming together better than expected. Entering Atlanta's Week 4 meeting with the Houston Texans, the line had surrendered just 13 pressures, tops in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. The run blocking was tremendous at times against J.J. Watt and the Texans, allowing Freeman to run through gaping holes. The addition of veteran guards Andy Levitre and Chris Chester, along with the emergence of Mike Person at center, has given the line unexpected stability. Left tackle Jake Matthews is playing like a sixth overall pick, while Ryan Schraeder is using his hands better at right tackle. If the line continues to play with consistency and keeps Ryan upright, watch out.

Reason to be concerned: As inspired as the defense has played to start the season, there have been some noticeable hiccups. Missed tackles showed up in a big way both against the Dallas Cowboys' running game and against Odell Beckham Jr. and the New York Giants. It's part of the reason the Falcons have surrendered 19 plays of 20-plus yards, including seven plays of 30-plus. Leading tackler Justin Durant suffered an elbow sprain against the Texans and is under further evaluation this week. If Durant is sidelined for any amount of time, it will hurt the defense. Meanwhile, free safety Ricardo Allen is recovering from an MCL sprain in his left knee, which leaves undrafted rookie Robenson Therezie as the starter for now. Therezie wasn't tested much against the Texans, but you can bet he will be down the line. Injuries in general are something the Falcons should be concerned about because a handful of players have been banged up already, including rookie running back Tevin Coleman (ribs), wide receiver/return special Devin Hester (turf toe), tight end Jacob Tamme (concussion) and Allen.

What the schedule tells us: Remember, the Falcons entered the season with the league's weakest schedule based on the combined 2014 winning percentage of their opponents (.410). They've already beaten two teams with double-digit victories last season in the Cowboys and Eagles, although the Cowboys were without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. They'll face five teams with a combined record of 6-13 prior to the Week 10 bye, including four one-win teams in New Orleans, Tennessee, Tampa Bay and San Francisco. They don't face undefeated division foe Carolina until December, leaving plenty of time for the Falcons to rack up some victories. With the hot start and home games against the likes of Indianapolis and Minnesota, there's reason to believe the Falcons should reach double-digit wins. But will they win the division with the Panthers also 4-0? According to the ESPN's Football Power Index, the Falcons have a 97.1 percent to make the playoffs -- something they haven't done since the 2012 season -- and a 79.3 percent chance to win the division.