Theres a big difference between the team with the best record in the NFL and the best team in the league. There is no guarantee its the same team.
Through six weeks, Atlanta has the best record at 6-0. But if youve watched the Falcons the past three games, you know they are not the best team in football.
At least not yet.
The games against Carolina, Washington and Oakland left a lot to be desired. Atlanta didnt look great, despite winning. And compared to the more impressive victory in San Diego in September, the past three games made you think Atlanta might simply be lucky.
The Falcons can be the best team in the NFL. They have great talent. But maybe the lucky part of the past three weeks has been the lesson the Falcons learned about what they must do to be better.
Theyve got to run the football, and theyve got to stop the run. That was what Mike Smith said his teams would do the day he took over as head coach almost five years ago. Its almost ironic that the Falcons have the best record in the league, and yet those two facets of the game are the weakest thus far.
Atlanta has the 12th-worst rushing offense in the NFL and the fourth-worst rushing defense. Last year, the Falcons had 17th best rushing offense and the sixth-best rushing defense.
Michael Turner is 30 years old, and, yes, we all know what happens to running backs when they turn 30. But Turner should be a young 30. Remember, he didnt really start until he got to the Falcons four years ago. He was a backup in San Diego. So if any running back in the NFL is a young 30, its Turner.
But his production is off, and its mainly because of deficiencies along the offensive line. The starting five has done well protecting Matt Ryan, but the run blocking has been awful. Even if Turner has lost one step, its hard to show what you have left in the tank when there are no holes to run through.
New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter must find ways to have a more balanced offense. Even with tremendous weapons for Matt Ryan to throw to, the passing game wont be effective if its a one-trick pony. Put in a productive running game to complement what Ryan can do, and youll have an unstoppable offense.
The defense could be helped by the pending return of tackle Corey Peters, who has missed the first six games with a foot injury. He has been the best player on the line the past two years, and if Peters is healthy he should help do a better job of slowing down the opponents running game.
Winning games in the NFL is not easy. Ask Dallas or New Orleans. So we cant discount what the Falcons have done so far. And, yes, there is something about winning games you perhaps should have lost. Its good that even when they dont play particularly well, the Falcons still win.
But thats going to get harder when the season resumes next week. And it wont get any easier when the Falcons get to the playoffs. Thats when they need to have everything clicking at the same time.
The past two years, the Super Bowl champions have been the hottest team in the league. Green Bay and the New York Giants both beat Atlanta on the way to hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy, and when the playoffs started you might not have predicted they would have gone all the way.
So will Atlanta do what it did two years ago and have the best record in the NFC and then have another disappointment? Or will they simply get better as the season moves along and be the one team no one wants to face in January?
This fan base is ready for something more than just another playoff appearance. It wants wins, and while these wins right now are nice, the Falcons must continue to get better so we wont see another January letdown.
Then maybe the Falcons can have the best record and the best team at the same time.
Listen to The Bill Shanks Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill on Twitter@yahoo.com.