Atlanta Falcons and 5 NFL Teams We Already Can Mark Down as Playoff-Bound

Brandon Alisoglu@@BrandonAlisogluCorrespondent IOctober 7, 2012

Atlanta Falcons and 5 NFL Teams We Already Can Mark Down as Playoff-Bound

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    At the quarter mark of the 2012-13 NFL season, the Atlanta Falcons can safely make plans for the playoffs.

    Mark it down with a pen. Etch it in stone. Inscribe it however you want, just make sure it's permanent.

    Click through to check out the Falcons' case as well as the other five teams that are virtual locks for the 2012 playoffs.

The Atlanta Falcons Are Cruising

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    As one of two unbeaten teams remaining, the Atlanta Falcons have been the class of the NFL.

    Or, at least the class of the AFC West.

    Atlanta has squared off with the Chiefs, Broncos and Chargers, with only Denver making things interesting. Every other game was over before halftime.

    The NFC South's other residents make this pick easy. The Saints are in the midst of a lost season, Carolina is too inconsistent and the Buccaneers need a little more time with Greg Schiano.

    Atlanta has had plenty of success in the regular season over the past few years. However, the playoffs haven't exactly been a gravy train for the organization.

    In 2012 (actually 2013, but humor me), the Falcons certainly will get another shot. Let's see if they can make it count.

Defense Will Get the Chicago Bears over the Hump

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    The offense got most of the new toys, but the defense is the reason the Chicago Bears will be a postseason invitee.

    2012 first-round pick Shea McClellin hasn't gone HAM (two sacks), but he hasn't had to. The Bears stalwarts have continued to be as dominant as they have been in years.

    Henry Melton already had four sacks heading into Week 5, and Julius Peppers had 2.5. Additionally, you can't discuss the defense without mentioning Lance Briggs (22 tackles, four passes defensed, one interception) and Tim Jennings (19 tackles, nine passes defensed, four interceptions).

    The offense has all the components, except for a starting left tackle. If Jay Cutler doesn't stand in the way of the offense, this team will challenge all others for the NFC crown.

    Don't be shocked to see a few thousand Brian Urlacher jerseys on Bourbon Street come February. 

The Houston Texans Are the Most Complete Team in the League

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    There isn't a better team in the league than the Houston Texans. They lack any major holes, and the "flaws" they do have are easily overcome by their wealth of positive attributes.

    The Texans have the big receiver (Andre Johnson), two solid starting running backs (Arian Foster and Ben Tate), a competent quarterback (Matt Schaub) and a decent offensive line.

    On the other side, Houston has the Defensive Player of the Year in J.J. Watt. For a 3-4 defensive end to lead the league with 7.5 sacks in four games isn't impressive—it's impossible. Yet, Watt has done that while also knocking down five passes and recovering two fumbles.

    Brian Cushing leads an underrated linebacking corps, and people seemed to have forgotten that the Texans persuaded Johnathan Joseph to relocate last offseason. 

    Finding any holes is like a game of Where's Waldo. Houston's Week 8 bye won't be for the Texans' benefit, it'll be an opportunity for the league to rest and recuperate.

The San Francisco 49ers Have Revenge on Their Minds

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    All of a sudden, the NFC West is a competitive division with four teams at .500 or better at the quarter mark of the season.

    The San Francisco 49ers will be there at the end of the season, though. 

    The Rams are tough at home, but need at least one healthy wide receiver before they can be considered a division contender. The Cardinals defense is a solid unit when healthy, but the offense can't be counted on to score when it counts. The Seahawks have a stout defense as well, but Russell Wilson is a little too much rookie.

    San Francisco's defense is still crazy-good, having given up only 54 points in four games. The offense can run on anybody (third in the league), while the passing game is still a work in progress. 

    The Niners have a couple holes on offense. However, the defense is too good for this team not to make the playoffs.

When Don't the New England Patriots Make the Playoffs?

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    Seriously, aside from a fluke that left the 11-5 2008 Patriots at home, when is the last time the New England Patriots didn't make the playoffs?

    You have to go back to 2002 for the answer, and even then, they finished with a winning record. All this team does is make playoff appearances—and this season won't prove any different.

    The AFC East is arguably the easiest in football. The Jets are a mess, the Bills have proven that money can't buy wins, and the Dolphins are the Dolphins.

    The Pats have an underrated rushing defense that laid the foundations for their success last postseason; it only allows 85.3 yards per game. New England isn't nearly as dominant against the pass, but the offense is high-powered enough to overcome that deficiency. 

    As usual, the New England Patriots will be playing postseason football.

The Baltimore Ravens Always Are Talking About the Playoffs

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    The only other team as adept at making the playoffs as the Patriots are the Ravens. Baltimore has attended every postseason party since 2008, and it certainly will be crashing this year's shindig.

    Out of all the teams in this slideshow, the Ravens will have to deal with the toughest schedule, which includes the New York Giants, Houston Texans and the bulk of their divisional games.

    That won't stop them, though.

    The new and pretty passing attack has been as deadly as advertised, ranking fourth in the league with 310 yards a game. Joe Flacco has made the leap to elite with seven touchdowns against only three interceptions.

    The defense has handled the loss of Terrell Suggs better than could be expected. The unit would be better with him, but the Ravens generally get stops when they need them.