Why people have a hard time believing that the Falcons are the best team in the NFC

ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 11: Quarterback Matt Ryan  and Roddy White  of the Atlanta Falcons react after White's touchdown reception in the final seconds against the Baltimore Ravens at Georgia Dome on November 11, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The 2010 Atlanta Falcons can thank the 2009 New Orleans Saints for why people aren’t completely sold on their status as best team in the NFC, even though they currently own the best record in the conference.

Fans like it when one team blows its opponents out every week. The Saints led the league and/or NFC last year in passing yards, passing yards per game, rushing yards, rushing yards per game and points scored. It was easy to make claims that they were the best in the NFC (if not the league) when they were routing teams 38-7.

Points and big win margins make people feel all warm inside. But the Falcons don’t win big. In fact, three of their games came down to the final seconds and countless others came down to the fourth quarter before they were able to secure victory.

The Falcons aren’t the 2009 Saints. They don’t put up absurd offensive numbers and their only win by more than 10 points came in a 41-7 rout of the hapless Cardinals in Week 2. They lost to the Big Ben-less Steelers in the opening week of the season and were crushed by the Michael Vick-less Eagles in Week 6. They also were incredibly fortunate to beat the Saints in Week 3 after Garrett Hartley missed a field goal in overtime that would have won the game, as well as when Roddy White stripped Nate Clements when the cornerback was heading for the end zone after picking off Matt Ryan in the closing minutes of a Week 4 game against the 49ers. (In both cases, the Falcons took the gifts and drove down the field to win both games.)

But how many times do you hear someone ask, “Who have they beaten?” Well, the Falcons have already beaten playoff contenders like the Saints (on the road), Bucs, Ravens, Rams (on the road) and Packers, as well as everyone’s underdog of the year, the Browns (also on the road). They didn’t blow any of those teams out and they’re certainly not the most talented squad in the league, but they know how to win.

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NFL has 14 players suspended to start season, but MLB has steroids!

August 16, 2010: New York Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes (10) with a smile after missing a catch in the end zone during the NFL preseason game between the New York Giants and the New York Jets at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Giants beat the Jets, 31-16.

One of the biggest double standards in all of sports is how the NFL gets a free pass when it comes to criticizing players for off-field problems, yet because baseball had the steroid era MLB players might as well be the devil reincarnate.

Fourteen players will start the 2010 NFL season suspended:

Ben Roethlisberger – wasn’t charged, but accused of sexual assault twice in one year

Cary Williams – domestic dispute

Quinn Ojinnaka – arrested and charged with battery, accused of throwing his wife down the stairs of their house and throwing her out

Aqib Talib – punched a cab driver, charged with resisting arrest without violence and simple battery

Jonathan Babineaux – substance abuse

Robert James – PEDs

Santonio Holmes – violated substance abuse policy

Shawn Nelson – failed drug test (supposedly marijuana)

LenDale White – failed drug test (supposedly marijuana)

Vincent Jackson – two DUIs

Leroy Hill – arrested on marijuana-possession charge

Johnny Jolly – felony drug charge

Brian Cushing – PEDs

Gerald McRath – PEDs

Let’s see, we’ve got battery, sexual assault, failed drug tests, PEDs and one punched cab driver. And yet somehow, Pacman Jones’ name didn’t make the list.

When an NFL player is suspended, one of the first things that fans ask is, “How long will he be out for?”

When a MLB player is caught using steroids, it’s: “He disrespected the game! Cut off his f**king hands! Prepare him for sacrifice to the baseball Gods!”

Mark McGwire tried to get a job earlier this year as the Cardinals’ hitting coach and you would have sworn that he set a school on fire that happened to be next to a church, which also burned down. Yet Santonio Holmes is being viewed as the ultimate late round sleeper in fantasy football drafts because he’s going to be out for the first four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

Look, I realize that steroids can have a profound effect on scared records, wins and whether or not players have an unnatural advantage over another player.

But I’m sorry, steroids take a back seat to domestic violence, battery and sexual abuse. Wrong is wrong and cheating the game of baseball is definitely grounds for being scrutinized for the rest of your life but come on – NFL players are breaking the law and it’s not even Page 7B news anymore.

The double standard between how NFL and MLB players are viewed is appalling.

2010 NFL Question Marks: Atlanta Falcons

FLOWERY BRANCH, GA - JULY 30: Chevis Jackson , Dunta Robinson  and Brent Grimes  of the Atlanta Falcons celebrate after a defensive turnover during opening day of training camp on July 30, 2010 at the Falcons Training Complex in Flowery Branch, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Merry training camp season, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the Falcons, who still have some holdover questions from last year in their secondary.

When you look up and down the Falcons’ current depth chart, you don’t see a lot of weaknesses. Their offensive core of Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez is outstanding and while their offensive line is comprised of five no-names (save for maybe former first rounder Sam Baker), they’re solid as a collective unit (even underrated to some extent).

Atlanta’s biggest question marks come on the defensive side of the ball, although they’re not as prevalent as some may think. John Abraham saw his sack total drop from 16.5 in 2008 to only 5.5 in 2009, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t effective. He still provided the Falcons with a steady pass rush – he just didn’t get to the quarterback as frequently as he did in ’08.

That said, the Falcons definitely need him to pick up his game if they’re going to make a trip back to the postseason this year. The good news is that he’ll have help in the form of Jonathan Babineaux (the team’s most underrated defensive player and best interior pass-rusher) and Peria Jerry (assuming he’s healthy), as well as two ends in Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury that I firmly believe will turn heads this season. Plus, if former 8th overall pick Jamaal Anderson ever lives up to the potential he displayed during his final year at Arkansas, the Falcons could have the makings of a great defensive line.

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NFL Camp Notes: Favre, Maclin injured & Babineaux suspended

PHILADELPHIA - AUGUST 27:  Jeremy Maclin #18 of the Philadelphia Eagles runs the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars on August 27, 2009 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Favre has yet to tell Childress that he’s retiring
Despite reports that state he won’t return, Vikings’ head coach Brad Childress insisted on Tuesday that Brett Favre has not told him he’s retiring. Minnesota still considers the situation “fluid” and Viking players have told the media that nothing has changed in regards to Favre’s status with the team. A “family source” also tells the Biloxi Sun Herald that Brett has not decided whether to play this year. With over a month left before the season starts, it’s doubtful that Brett has made any concrete plans about whether or not to come back – even though many media outlets are reporting that he’s likely done.

Eagles’ Maclin suffers hyperextended knee injury
Second-year receiver Jeremy Maclin suffered a hyperextended left knee injury during practice today. According to some reports, he looked to be in serious pain on the field and his teammates even huddled for a prayer after practice. He’ll undergo an MRI on the knee to determine how much camp time he’ll miss. Hopefully the injury wasn’t serious and he’ll only miss a week or so.

Falcons’ Babineaux suspended one game
The Falcons won’t have their best interior pass-rusher when they take on the Steelers in Week 1, as defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux has been suspended one game for violating the league’s Personal Conduct Policy. (The suspension stems from Babineaux’s 2009 arrest for possession of marijuana.) Kudos to GM Thomas Dimitroff for having the wherewithal to know Babineaux was likely to be suspended and to select DT Corey Peters in the third round of April’s draft. Non-kudos to Babineaux for the arrest.

Haynesworth skips conditioning test again
Another day, another skipped conditioning test for Albert Haynesworth. Mike Shanahan says that Haynesworth’s knee is still bothering him and that when he’s ready to take the test again, “he’ll take it.” Shanahan is standing firm that Haynesworth is not allowed to practice until he passes the test (which some media members have reportedly attempted and passed over the last coupe of days).

Reason No. 4,049 why I don’t get some athletes

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Falcons’ defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux was arrested Thursday night for possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute. He was also nailed for having suspended tags and driving without a license.

This is devastating news for an Atlanta team that 1) is hosting the best team in the league on Sunday and 2) is already crippled by injuries to Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and three-fifths of their offensive line. Babineaux might not be a household name, but he’s been far and away the Falcons’ best defensive linemen this season and the only one that provides a consistent rush at the quarterback.

Babineaux is the same player that was arrested a couple years ago for allegedly killing his girlfriend’s dog (what’s with dog-killers in Atlanta?), Kilo. Given his most recent arrest, “Kilo” is an awfully ironic name for the dog.

With the Saints coming to town, one would think that Babineaux would be a little more focused – especially considering the Falcons’ playoff hopes are on life support. Instead, he’s out trolling the streets with expired tags, no license and enough pot on him for the cops to charge him with intent to sell.. I’m shocked the moron didn’t have a sign outside his window that read: I’M HAVE POT IN THE CAR.

I just don’t get it. And the sad part is, we’ve heard a similar song and dance before when it comes to athletes.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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