The Atlanta Falcons are the lone undefeated team remaining in the National Football League, and while the Falcons should absolutely take pride in that achievement there's an undercurrent of unease just beneath a smooth surface after another close escape against a bad football team.
For the second time in the past three weeks, the Falcons were given all they could handle by a one-win football team, trailing into the fourth quarter before a late drive engineered by quarterback Matt Ryan led to a Matt Bryant field goal and a 23-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
The game marked the third game in a row that Ryan led a fourth-quarter comeback to get a win for the Falcons. This time the comeback's necessity was facilitated by Ryan himself, who had his shakiest outing of the season with three first-half interceptions.
Falcons' fans will no doubt say that how Ryan began the game isn't nearly as important as how he finished it, and that the only numbers that matter are those on the scoreboard and in the standings.
And they would be right...to an extent.
However, as Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently pointed out, if you look a little more closely at the Falcons' numbers this season they aren't exactly indicative of a powerhouse football team:
The 2012 Falcons rank 15th in total offense, down from 10th in 2011. This team is 21st in total defense, down from 12th last season. A year ago they were eighth in passing, 17th in rushing; this year they’re 10th and 25th. Last season they were 20th in passing defense, sixth in rushing defense; these Birds are 11th and 27th. For those keeping score, the 2012 Falcons have improved over 2011 in exactly one of those six major categories.
That might explain part of the reason why the Falcons have struggled somewhat against "subpar" opponents the past few weeks, and could mean real trouble for the team when their schedule stiffens up and they face better opposition.
The thing is, as things stand today they really won't, at least on paper.
Going by their present records, the Falcons will face only two teams the rest of the way that currently have winning records. One of those teams (the Arizona Cardinals) may not have one for long, and both of those games will be played in the Georgia Dome.
Sure, some of the Falcons' opponents are bound to improve, but it appears that the stars have aligned for the Falcons to cruise through a relatively easy regular-season slate and quite possibly emerge with the NFL's best record this season.
I don't know that that's a good thing for the Atlanta Falcons.
This is a team that's already had plenty of regular-season success under head coach Mike Smith, including just two years ago when the Falcons entered the playoffs as the NFC's top seed with a 13-3 record.
What the Falcons haven't had of late is any sort of success in the postseason, getting trounced each of the last two years, and I don't know that it serves the Falcons well if the first adversity they face against a good football team doesn't occur until January.
This isn't to take anything away from the Atlanta Falcons, who have done what they are supposed to do (win), nor is it to say that they aren't one of the better teams in the NFC and capable of winning the conference.
However, as the Falcons enter their bye week there are still questions to be answered and work to be done. As both their squeaker against the Raiders and the blowout losses by San Francisco and Houston demonstrated this week, parity is alive and well in the National Football League.
Great start aside, the Falcons had better remember that, or another season in Atlanta that starts with promise will end in disappointment.