Matt Ryan has made the Falcons a contender

Matt RyanStop hesitating and say it: The Atlanta Falcons are a playoff contender. Their 6-3 record isn’t a fluke. They’re that good.

Yes, three of their victories are against the Lions, Chiefs and Raiders. They’ve also gone into Lambeau and beaten the Packers, topped the Kyle Orton-led Bears and in their latest victory, crushed the Saints 34-20 on Sunday. (The only reason the score was that close is because New Orleans scored on a fluke “Hail Mary” pass as time expired.)

Matt Ryan (16 of 23, 248 yards, 2 TDs) has lifted the Falcons to contender-status, but it’s not just him. Michael Turner was a fantastic free agent signing. Jerious Norwood can take one to the house every time he touches the ball. Roddy White has developed into a true No. 1 receiver. Michael Jenkins is finally living up to his first round status. And the defense has been much, much better than people expected.

Speaking of the defense, they intercepted Drew Brees three times on Sunday and returned one of those picks for a touchdown. First-year head coach Mike Smith has completely turned Atlanta’s defense around and the players have bought into his philosophy of playing physical.

As for the Saints, little is going right for them. Injuries have started to mount and at 4-5, they’re two-three games behind every team in a stacked NFC South. Frustration is starting to boil over, too, as cameras caught Drew Brees screaming at Jeremy Shockey on the sidelines on Sunday. Not that Brees was out of line – Shockey looks like he’s already given up. He’s not as involved in the offense as he thought he would be and it looks like he’s not even running full routes any more. There’s no question that Billy Miller is the Saints’ best tight end right now.

These are two teams heading in vastly different directions.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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