Rankings that matter: Falcons are better than Saints

Michael Turner and Matt Ryan will lead the Falcons to the NFC South title, according to one expert.

Michael Turner and Matt Ryan will lead the Falcons to the NFC South title, according to one expert.

Preseason rankings are entertaining, generally have no meaning and mean even less in the NFL than they do in college football because the NFL actually has a playoff system.

But I just found one set of NFL rankings worth paying attention. Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, one of the nation’s most respected football writers, just ranked the NFL teams, Nos. 1 to 32. Something you will find noteworthy: He has the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints ranked only eighth — one spot behind the Falcons.

Because I’ve known Gosselin for years — though not for all 35 years he has been covering the league — I decided to give him a call, just to be certain all of his faculties were still intact. When you read Gosselin’s answers, I’m sure you’ll realize what most already know: He knows his stuff.

♦ Question: The Saints eighth?

Answer: “You can’t go status quo because every year more than half of the teams that qualify for the playoffs don’t qualify the following year. I think the number is something like 5.8 of the 12 [playoff teams] qualify the next year. Life changes in the NFL. Parity gives us that.”

♦ Question: Thoughts on the Falcons?

Answer: “Two years ago, the Falcons were on the doorstep of being a Super Bowl contender. Now they have Michael Turner back, healthy again, and Matt Ryan is a potential franchise quarterback. I really like what [Thomas] Dimitroff and [Mike] Smith have going. They’re a young team on the rise.”

♦ Question: With the Saints, are you just thinking in terms of Super Bowl hangover?

Answer: “It was just a miracle type season for them. I think they’re a really good team but almost everything went right. I covered both the NFC [championship] and the Super Bowl and I thought the better team lost twice. The Vikings basically beat themselves in the NFC game and [Peyton] Manning was taking the Colts in [for a potential tying score before an interception] in the Super Bowl. It’s hard for even great teams to come back after winning the Super Bowl, I saw it here in Dallas, and the Cowboys were a great team. The Saints are not a great team, but they won the Super Bowl.”

♦ Question: How far do you see the Falcons going?

Answer: “I think they’ll win the division and make the playoffs. After that, I don’t know. I just ranked the teams, but Indianapolis and Dallas are my top two so I have them going to the Super Bowl.”

♦ Question: And the Falcons will win the division because . . .

Answer: “It’s just the history of that division. I think in one stretch they had four different winners in four years. It’s such a topsy turvy division. I just like their young quarterback. I always used to think quarterbacks were 70 percent of the equation, but after watching the league last season I think now it’s 80 percent. Matt Ryan is going into his third year. The third year is when guys blossom. This is when Troy Aikman took off. The light bulb goes on. If you look at my rankings, my top 10 teams are pretty much all predicated on the quarterback.” (Note: Gosselin is correct on the NFC South’s unpredictability. The winners since 2001: Tampa-Carolina-Atlanta-Tampa-New Orleans-Tampa-Carolina-New Orleans.)

♦ Question: Who’s going to win it all?

Answer: “The Colts are the best team. They were the best team last year. They were 14-0 until they shut it down. They came within three minutes of winning the Super Bowl without the best defensive player in football, Bob Sanders, and a starting wide receiver, Anthony Gonzales. Now they’ve added [defensive end] Jerry Hughes [in the draft]. He’s perfect for them. They’re the best.”

So, are you convinced?

Here’s the link to Rick’s complete rankings, but I’m listing the top 10 below, with his comments.

1. Indianapolis: The Colts were the AFC’s best team a year ago despite getting nothing from their running game (No. 32 in NFL) and a disappointing 34 sacks from a pass rush that features two Pro Bowl edge rushers (Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis). Peyton Manning had to shoulder more of the burden than usual, and he responded. He used 2009 to develop two young wideouts into playmakers (Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon) and led seven fourth-quarter, come-from-behind victories. The Colts also overcame 65 games lost by starters because of injury to win the AFC.

2. Dallas: Only the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints had a more prolific offense than the Cowboys in 2009. The arrival of WR Dez Bryant gives the Cowboys the best offense in the NFL. QB Tony Romo, HB Marion Barber, WRs Miles Austin and Roy Williams and TE Jason Witten all have been to Pro Bowls, and first-round draft picks Bryant and HB Felix Jones have Pro Bowl potential. The Cowboys will need all of that to survive a schedule that includes games at Indianapolis, Green Bay, Houston and Minnesota. The Saints also visit Cowboys Stadium.

3. Baltimore: The Ravens have always won with defense. They reached the AFC semifinals last season with the NFL’s third-ranked defense and figure to be even stronger in 2010 with the additions of pass rusher Sergio Kindle and nose tackle Terrence Cody with their first two draft picks. But the offense is no longer just a spare tire – not with the emergence of Ray Rice as a Pro Bowl running back and the arrival of WR Anquan Boldin this offseason in trade. They will help accelerate the development of QB Joe Flacco, who passed for 3,613 yards last season.

4. Green Bay: The Packers finished sixth in the NFL in offense and second in defense last season with the youngest roster in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers emerged as a Pro Bowl quarterback, and Green Bay re-emerged as a playoff contender, winning seven of its final eight games to qualify as a wild card. Twenty-one of the 22 starters return with only Aaron Kampman defecting in free agency. First-round draft pick Bryan Bulaga bolsters the blocking front.

5. San Diego: LaDainian Tomlinson was the face of the franchise for the last decade. But he left this off-season after averaging only 3.3 yards per carry and gained a career-low 730 yards. The Chargers had already transitioned to a pass-first attack with Pro Bowl QB Philip Rivers and went 13-3 in 2009 with that approach. San Diego used a first-round draft pick on RB Ryan Mathews to balance the attack.

6. Minnesota: Pencil Brett Favre in at quarterback. Officially, he remains undecided on his future. Unofficially, Favre underwent ankle surgery last month to restore his mobility. Don’t look for Favre to walk away from football following a 4,202-yard, 33-TD passing season. But he’s 40. When do his wheels start to wobble? The 21 other starters are back from a team that finished 12-4 and played into overtime in the NFC title game. This team has unfinished business.

7. Atlanta: The Falcons return all 22 starters from a 9-7 team, and young QB Matt Ryan has another year under his belt. A healthy RB Michael Turner will energize the NFL’s 16th-ranked offense; he missed five games because of injury last season. Coach Mike Smith addressed the NFL’s 21st-ranked defense by signing CB Dunta Robinson in free agency and using his first two draft picks on that side of the ball (OLB Sean Weatherspoon, DT Corey Peters).

8. New Orleans: The Saints enjoyed a magical season in 2009 – starting with a 13-game chase of perfection and finishing with a first-ever Super Bowl championship. But can New Orleans rebottle that magic? Offensively the Saints will be fine with Drew Brees at the controls. But defensively the Saints took a hit with the free-agent defection of LB Scott Fujita.

9. Houston: The Texans have never made the playoffs in their eight years of existence. But Houston has strung together three consecutive nonlosing seasons, highlighted by a 9-7 finish in 2009. The Texans have a Top 5 offense, featuring the game’s best WR in Andre Johnson, and some defensive standouts in DE Mario Williams, LBs DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing and SS Bernard Pollard.

10. NY Jets: The Jets reached the AFC title game last season with a rookie quarterback. They are sparing no expense to take the next step, signing RB LaDainian Tomlinson and DE Jason Taylor and trading for WR Santonio Holmes and CB Antonio Cromartie. Gone is 1,400-yard rusher Thomas Jones, which will put greater pressure on QB Mark Sanchez.

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

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249 comments Add your comment

TONE

June 16th, 2010
3:09 pm

Bob Didier caught here

June 16th, 2010
3:12 pm

The TONE??? No way…..

JS, I like the birds chances in 2010. I truly believe that Matty R will shine and the defense will be much improved. My question mark is still with our receiving corps…..your thoughts on our receiving corps?

TONE

June 16th, 2010
3:13 pm

I hope he is right about michael turner it seems that running backs can go from elite to backup in a year because of the pounding. stay healthy burner

Delbert D.

June 16th, 2010
3:14 pm

Jeff – Are the contracts on Hawley and Franks guaranteed, or just the bonus money?

Stevester

June 16th, 2010
3:22 pm

heck I want football season to get here ASAP…does anyone else?
anyway everything went wrong for the Falcons last year and they went 9-7…I am expecting big things in 2010

Jeff Schultz

June 16th, 2010
3:25 pm

Delbert D — General NFL rule: Base salaries are not guaranteed, signing bonuses are.

Jeff Schultz

June 16th, 2010
3:26 pm

Bob Didier — I also have quest on the receiving corps, primarily where it pertains to Michael Jenkins.

Formul8or

June 16th, 2010
3:26 pm

This guy is way too high on the Colts. Take Manning off that team and they are awful. You saw it the game in which they did. I hate the Saints but I don’t think the Colts were necessarily better.

cdog

June 16th, 2010
3:29 pm

YES THEY CAN BE BUT THEY NEED TO ADD A WIDE RECIEVER THAT WILL TAKE THE PRESSURE OFF OF RODDY WHITE.THEY ARE BANKING ON HARRY DOUGLAS RETURNING BUT THATS A GAMBLE.THEY ALSO NEED TO ADD A QUALITY RUNNINGBACK IF TURNER GOES DOWN AGAIN, ALSO THE SECONDARY MUST STEP UP AND PLAY. FINALLY, THEY NEED A RELIABLE KICKER WHO CAN BE CONSISTENT ON FIELD GOALS

Let's Go Bravos!

June 16th, 2010
3:32 pm

Bob Didier- I have the same questions about our receivers. We’ve got a Great #1 in Roddy White, and a good and fast slot receiver in Harry Douglas. But I really feel we need a legitimate #2 receiver, unless Jenkins can start getting open and catching the ball better!

realheavyd

June 16th, 2010
3:32 pm

I don’t care how long this guy has been “covering the league”, he doesn’t know the Saints like loyal hard-core Saints fans like myself do and he’s way off in his prediction of how they will fare this coming season. To say that the better two teams both lost to a “magically lucky” Saints team in the NFCCG and the SB is just nonsensical and foolhardy. How about giving credit where it’s due by acknowledging the fact that plays were made by skilled defensive players on the Saints’ side of the ball to cause those “better” teams to fall short in both of those key championship games? Think what you will, but the Saints’ defense will be even better this year than it was last year and the offense will even improve with all it’s key players back to full health again. Atlanta better than Saints, yeah right! Now that’s a funny joke!!!

ATL Fan

June 16th, 2010
3:36 pm

Can’t believe how high he has Baltimore.

ATL Fan

June 16th, 2010
3:38 pm

Had the Falcons been healthy last year, I don’t think that the Saints could have gotten into the Superbowl.

Dirty Bird Zone

June 16th, 2010
3:45 pm

We played them well head to head last year in both games. So why not win both this year? We Dat team gonna beat them saints, We Dat!

Jt

June 16th, 2010
3:45 pm

I think overall they have better talent. Got to put it together and MAXIMIZE what you have. If you have equal talent, you must prepare better than them. If you have inferior talent, you must work much harder and prepare better than them. So, that on game day, you execute better. That’s who wins!

We shall see.

TMoney

June 16th, 2010
3:47 pm

I’m really thinking the NFC South is going to be an extremely tough division this season. Right now, the Saints have to be the front runners for the division, but I’d only give them the edge because they won it last season. If you don’t include that, I put the division as a toss up between the Falcons and the Saints.

As for Super Bowl predictions, I think I’d go with the Colts in the AFC, but not the Cowboys in the NFC. I just don’t think they are going to be as good as Gosselin expects. I’d say the likely representatives are the Falcons, the Saints, the Packers, or the Vikings. I think the Cowboys will win the NFC East, but that’s mainly because I expect fall offs from the Giants, Redskins, and Eagles.

Gris Gris Man

June 16th, 2010
3:49 pm

You cats must be sniffing my grisgris powder…Saints no. 8! Well we can blow this nonsense back to where it belongs when we beat up on the ViQueens week 1……..at best Atlanta will split with us this year…probably not though. WHO DAT ! DREW DAT ! TRUE DAT !
GGM, World Champion Voodoo Surgeon General

extremus

June 16th, 2010
3:57 pm

We’ll see what happens, but if the Falcons can stay healthy and have a solid return to previous production levels for Turner and Abraham, yes, I think they will win the NFC South and perhaps even the Superbowl. Ryan is, I believe, too good and studies the game too hard to repeat last year’s struggles, which were often due to a lack of protection. There are several really good teams in the NFC, including the Saints, but as Gosselin said, so much went right for them last year; almost no adversity to have to fight through. The Falcons were able to put that so-called “curse” of having never had back-to-back winning seasons forever behind them despite all of the injuries and a brutal schedule full of tough opponents coming off bye weeks.

We’ll see who has bragging rights after this season, but as I stated last year, I predict a Falcons sweep of the Saints in this year’s season series. GO FALCONS!!!!!

thebighairybeast

June 16th, 2010
3:57 pm

I dont think the NFC south is that tough. It will basically be a two horse race. Carolina is mediocre at best, and Tampa’s ship is sinking faster than its owners bank accounts. I see us with a 10-6 0r 11-5 season and depending on which. finishing just ahead or behind the Saints for the division.

gdawginkalamazoo

June 16th, 2010
3:59 pm

Jeff, where are the Lions on that list?

GT Alum

June 16th, 2010
4:00 pm

realheavyd and GGM, this is a Falcons blog, not a hurricane-displaced Cajun blog.

Seriously, though, I liked his last line about Minnesota. “This is a team with unfinished business.” You think?

gdawginkalamazoo

June 16th, 2010
4:00 pm

I mean 10 years of having the 1st or 2nd pick in the draft has to start having a positive impact at some point. Doesn’t it? Of course I don’t know what kind of losing hangover efffect that Matt Millen has.

bsoonerdave

June 16th, 2010
4:01 pm

@Jeff … Like yourself, Mr. Gosselin has at least lost parts of his faculties. Manning’s Pick Six in the SB was on a drive that would have potentially tied the score, not put the Colts ahead.

GT Alum

June 16th, 2010
4:05 pm

He has Detroit ranked 24th. I can’t say I disagree with his rankings at the bottom. All of them have so many questions, they could finish anywhere in the bottom 10.

gdawginkalamazoo

June 16th, 2010
4:10 pm

24th Whoo hooo!

hiramsaint

June 16th, 2010
4:13 pm

he had atl at 6 and n.o. at 14 last year. yep…his ranking really do matter. jeffy , time to wake up with something real

TMoney

June 16th, 2010
4:17 pm

hiramsaint, do you have a link to his 2009 rankings? I’ve been looking online but can’t seem to find them.

Jeff Schultz

June 16th, 2010
4:17 pm

Formula8or — “Take Manning off that team and they are awful.” Could you not say the same thing about most teams?

Misses Mike Kenn

June 16th, 2010
4:17 pm

The Ravens are the NFL’s best team. Mark my words.

Jeff Schultz

June 16th, 2010
4:18 pm

Atl Fan — I agree, too high. But I do like the Ravens, definitely top 6 or 7.

Jeff Schultz

June 16th, 2010
4:20 pm

Gdawginkalamazoo — Lions are 24th, one spot ahead of the Redskins.

TONE

June 16th, 2010
4:23 pm

where are the mighty raiders I have them 12th in my huddle house rankings , they will be a suprise team this year

Jeff Schultz

June 16th, 2010
4:23 pm

Bsoonerdave — Actually, that was my edit. I was thinking they were down by 6 but just doublechecked and you’re right. I’ll change parenthetical.

hiramsaint

June 16th, 2010
4:24 pm

rick gosselin 2009 power rankings—google it

Delbert D.

June 16th, 2010
4:25 pm

Gris Gris Man – Yeah, but you got to watch out for dat loup-garou.

Jeff Schultz

June 16th, 2010
4:25 pm

Hiram (and all): He nailed it. Saints were his No. 1 team.

Hillbilly Deluxe

June 16th, 2010
4:26 pm

I’d take Aaron Rodgers over Tony Romo in a tight spot.

JohnnyB

June 16th, 2010
4:28 pm

First, I’m a Saints fan. 2nd, I believe the Falcons fans should be optimistic about this upcoming season. But, I keep hearing from them statements like, “just wait till we’re fully healthy” and things like that. Well, I want to say 2 things: 1) In the NFL you can’t assume you will not have injuries and will not lose players for a few games, for a lot of games, or all year. Don’t expect to be healthy when we meet this season. 2) The Saints had just as many injuries last year(16 players on IR) as the Falcons, if not more. We lost starters, for the year, on both sides of the ball before the season began and during the season. We lost starters for a few and for many games during the season. Our starting CBs were gone for 4 and 7 games which overlapped. We had at least 4 other starters on either side miss at least 5 games. So, don’t think you guys were the only team who had injury problems. Every team does and its how you deal with them that defines your success. You better hope your backups can do the job, because its almost definitive that they’ll be needed in the season. I know my Saints have quality backups, do you?

hiramsaint

June 16th, 2010
4:28 pm

sorry jeff- he had n.e. at 1 and the vikes at 18 on june 11, 2009

TMoney

June 16th, 2010
4:30 pm

Guess I shouldn’t have expected a Saints fan to do something as simple as clicking “Ctrl-C”, “Ctrl-V”. Like so:

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/spt/stories/061109dnspogooseranks.44197ec.html

Anyway, Gosselin also had the Colts at #9 in those rankings and the Jets #23. He had a lot of teams in the general area of where they finished, but nobody’s perfect.

Matt "Choke" Ryan

June 16th, 2010
4:31 pm

3. Baltimore: The Ravens have always won with defense. They reached the AFC semifinals last season with the NFL’s third-ranked defense and figure to be even stronger in 2010 with the additions of pass rusher Sergio Kindle and nose tackle Terrence Cody with their first two draft picks. But the offense is no longer just a spare tire – not with the emergence of Ray Rice as a Pro Bowl running back and the arrival of WR Anquan Boldin this offseason in trade. They will help accelerate the development of QB Joe Flacco, who passed for 3,613 yards last season.

——————————————————-

Like I have been saying since the 2008 draft:

SHOULD HAVE DRAFTED FLACCO :)

Matt "Choke" Ryan

June 16th, 2010
4:34 pm

I just have my calendar marked for the showdown with the Ravens.

This will put to rest how dumb a draft it was to pick the CHOKE as the 3rd pick…………… CHOKE vs Flacco…………..

I look forward to this matchup. I just hope their are no more phantom turf toe injuries :)

hiramsaint

June 16th, 2010
4:35 pm

sorry i’m not as proficient as you on the computer. i guess i shouldn’t have expected a falcons fan to do something as simple as google some info

Matt "Choke" Ryan

June 16th, 2010
4:36 pm

ATL Fan

June 16th, 2010
3:36 pm
Can’t believe how high he has Baltimore.

——————————————-

Because they have Joe “playoff wins” Flacco and not Matt “CHOKE” Ryan.

Anymore questions?……….ha ha ha.

Matt "Choke" Ryan

June 16th, 2010
4:39 pm

Dirty Bird Zone

June 16th, 2010
3:45 pm
We played them well head to head last year in both games. So why not win both this year? We Dat team gonna beat them saints, We Dat!

—————————————————–

Shall I remind you of the 4-5 picks by the CHOKE?

As long as CHOKE is the quarterback, the Saints have nothing to worry about, except for Brees and the defense missing the game.

TMoney

June 16th, 2010
4:39 pm

Gee, you’re right, when I said I was looking around online, I never considered using a search engine. What was I thinking.

hiramsaint

June 16th, 2010
4:40 pm

it’s ok tmoney– you’ll get one day– glad i could help

GT Alum

June 16th, 2010
4:42 pm

I have a question, Choke. How was middle school today?

Just A Reminder

June 16th, 2010
4:43 pm

Please Do Not Feed The Trolls.

JBFALCON

June 16th, 2010
4:44 pm

It is a good thing seeing all these Ain’ts fans interloping into the Falcons’ site. I’ve always heard the best way to defeat a superior enemy is to go behind the lines and hope to get some inside information. Can’t blame them for trying!