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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, September 17, 2011 at 8:09 PM

All the talk this week about Sunday Night’s Philadelphia/Atlanta game on NBC has been about the return of Michael Vick to Atlanta. Yes, that’s a big story. But, it’s not the ONLY story in this game. And, if you’re a handicapper trying to pick winners…we think there’s a story that you should be paying much more attention to.

The Atlanta Falcons looked to be a team on the rise last season. But, there may have been so much helium in their 13-3 record and #1 seed in the NFC that analysts have a false impression of where this group really stands in the big picture.

It’s great to be a #1 seed and all. What happened once the Falcons took the field in the playoffs? They were squashed at home by the eventual Super Bowl champions.

GREEN BAY 48, ATLANTA 22

  • Total Yardage: Green Bay 442, Atlanta 194
  • Rushing Yardage: Green Bay 96, Atlanta 45
  • Passing Stats: Green Bay 31-36-0-346, Atlanta 20-29-2-149
  • Third Downs: Green Bay 67%, Atlanta 30%
  • Turnovers: Green Bay 1, Atlanta 4
  • Yards-Per-Play: Green Bay 6.6, Atlanta 4.5

Atlanta was a home team that had enjoyed a bye week to get ready. Green Bay had to beat Philadelphia in Philadelphia the prior week just to get to this game. Yet…it was an absolute rout. Aaron Rodgers passed for almost 350 yards with only 5 throws touching the ground. The Packers moved the chains at will and found the end zone with little getting in their way. Atlanta couldn’t move the chains on big plays, and lost the ball four times.

Yes, it’s only one game. But, it’s a meaningful game that shows Atlanta was still well below championship level.

The Falcons hoped to put that season ending debacle out of everyone’s minds in the 2011 opener vs. the Bears. Instead, more questions were raised.

CHICAGO 30, ATLANTA 12

  • Total Yardage: Atlanta 386, Chicago 377
  • Rushing Yardage: Atlanta 110, Chicago 88
  • Passing Stats: Atlanta 31-47-1-276, Chicago 22-32-1-289
  • Third Downs: Atlanta 30%, Chicago 37%
  • Turnovers: Atlanta 3, Chicago 1
  • Yards-Per-Play: Atlanta 5.8, Chicago 5.9

Now, this wasn’t the statistical slaughter that we saw in the Green Bay game. But there were several similarities:

  • *Atlanta couldn’t move the chains
  • *Atlanta was turnover prone against a good defense
  • *Atlanta didn’t force many incomplete passes from their opponent
  • *Atlanta didn’t look anything like a playoff caliber team!

That’s why Sunday Night’s game with Philadelphia is so important. The Eagles are currently favorites to win the NFC along with Green Bay this year. We know Atlanta couldn’t measure up to Green Bay. Last week they turned a statistical dead heat into a bad loss because of turnovers and poor third down rates. If Atlanta loses badly Sunday Night…you can pretty much write them off as a championship threat regardless of that 13-3 mark in 2010. Atlanta badly needs to win if they want to be taken seriously in 2011 as an important team. And, quarterback Matt Ryan has to stop handing the ball to the wrong team!

At the heart of Atlanta’s illusions last year may have been a string of close games that inflated their record.

INSIDE THE WEEK 3 TO WEEK 13 WINDOW

  • Atlanta beat New Orleans by 3 in overtime
  • Atlanta beat San Francisco by 2
  • Atlanta beat Cincinnati by 7
  • Atlanta beat Tampa Bay by 6
  • Atlanta beat Baltimore by 5
  • Atlanta beat Green Bay by 3
  • Atlanta beat Tampa Bay by 4

The media tends to call performances like this “clutch” because a team that keeps winning by less than one score looks like they “know how to win.” Unlike some statheads, we don’t completely discount knowing how to put the odds in your favor in close games. But, you have to be catching SOME breaks to have that many close wins in short order. You’re staying healthy. You’re getting a call here or there. The other team is screwing up at a bad time. Atlanta was a decent team last year…but they were probably a 10-6 type team in an overrated division rather than a 13-3 team.

That would be more in line with their performances at home against a World Champion last year, and on the road last week against a 2011 playoff contender.

Atlanta puts up a double digit win Sunday Night…and we can put them back in the discussion of real contenders. Atlanta loses, and we pretty much know who they are. Maybe they’ll dominate the lesser lights because Ryan can do a lot of damage when not pressured. They’re not a threat to go the distance this year if they don’t beat the Eagles.

So, let the studio shows spend all day talking about the Vick drama. What you learn Sunday Night will help you handicap both teams through the rest of this month and the rest of the season.

JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK may or may not be playing Philadelphia/Atlanta tonight as part of our regular service package. We try to find winners in the big TV games because we know how much you like watching yourself win. Link up with the purchase page before kickoff of the early games Sunday morning to get a full sense of what’s available. We’ll definitely be having our NFL September Stunner today. We’re looking to get involved at value prices in big TV games like Chicago/New Orleans, San Diego/New England, and of course the Sunday Nighter.

Also on the radar:

*Is Detroit for real? Or, are they the kind of team that’s going to slack off when they think an easy win is at hand? It’s been a long time since the Lions were an 8-point favorite over anybody.

*Can Luke McCown keep Jacksonville in the AFC South race? They catch the Jets in a short week off the Sunday Night thriller vs. Dallas. The Jets have been known to take their eye off the ball in games like this.

*Will travel fatigue and a bad body clock kill Oakland? Tough to play an early game in Buffalo when you just had a very late game Monday Night in Denver!

*If Cam Newton can have a huge game against the Arizona pass defense, might Rex Grossman do the same? If Newton and Grossman can have big games against Arizona, what are REAL quarterbacks going to do?!

*Baltimore made a statement last week vs. Pittsburgh. Will they lose their intensity this week in Tennessee? Or, is it finally the year the Ravens step up to play championship level football?  

*How can Seattle stay close at Pittsburgh when they lost so badly at San Francisco?

*Will extra rest help Green Bay against Carolina…or will it make them rusty and lethargic against a team they know they should dominate?

*Tampa Bay or Minnesota is going to start the year 0-2. Neither expected to. Will veteran savvy put Donovan McNabb over the top this week? Or, is it all over but the crying for his up-and-down career?

*Who catches a break in the schedule this week, Cleveland or Indianapolis? We’ll know later today whether the Colts are going to be an aggressive player in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes or not. This is a must-lose game in that regard!

*We talked last week about the poor record Dallas has had with Tony Romo of late. Then, he blew the Jets game! Can he take care of business in San Francisco?

*Houston had a virtual bye last week vs. the Colts. Now they go on the road to face an angry Miami team. You know…whoever loses this game could have a new coach next year.

*Break up the Bengals? If Oakland can run through the soft Denver defense, can’t Cedric Benson? If Jason Campbell can lead his Raiders to a win, can’t former Raider Bruce Gradkowski? Rookie from TCU Andy Dalton could too if he’s healthy…if all he as to do is hand off to Benson.

The September Stunner will either be in a TV game or one of those. It’s going to be something special. Call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453 if you’d like more information. And, enjoy another SUPER SUNDAY from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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