On Sunday night, the Falcons beat the Green Bay Packers rather easily with a 34-23 victory. Though Atlanta stumbled to a 23-17 win against the Bears in Week 1, the game was in Chicago and scores are often wonky in season-opening games. The Falcons have won eight straight games against NFC opponents, including routs last season against the Cardinals, Rams, Niners, and Panthers, plus easy playoff victories over the Seahawks, and Packers. The closest game was a 38-32 win over New Orleans in which Atlanta led 38-13 headed into the fourth quarter.
Of course it's too early to crown the Falcons as conference champions, and a Super Bowl loser hasn't returned the following year since the Buffalo Bills in 1993, but Atlanta still looks strong through two weeks. Which NFC team could stop them first, and how?
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs are still a longshot to finish atop the NFC, but after their opener was postponed due to Hurricane Irma last week, they came back to Tampa and easily beat Chicago, 29-7. Jameis Winston is good enough to make the plays necessary to beat anyone and has two exceptional weapons in Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. They have defensive stars like Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David, and were quietly first in third down stop percentage last season.
4. Carolina Panthers
The positives for Carolina are that Ron Rivera and Cam Newton went to the Super Bowl the year before the Falcons did, so they're clearly capable, plus the fact that they've given up zero touchdowns and two field goals through two games. But Newton is still an inaccurate passer behind an inefficient offensive line and lacking reliable weapons, which at this point still includes super-rookie Christian McCaffrey (tight end Greg Olsen broke his foot during Sunday's game and will miss at least six weeks). McCaffrey was anything but super this week, touching the ball 12 times for 44 yards.
3. Seattle Seahawks
With Wilson and a usually-elite defense, the Seahawks are absolutely still contenders to unseat the Falcons and return to the championship game for the third time in five years … but they'll need to start playing a whole new ballgame by December. Seattle has scored one touchdown in eight quarters, a desperate scramble pass from Wilson to Paul Richardson. The Seahawks may have found another running back gem in Chris Carson, but he may need to break the broken tackles record to gain a sense of confidence behind this woeful offensive line. Don't count out Seattle, but don't count them all the way in until they prove they can score 20 points in an NFL game this season.
2. New York Giants
We didn't get to see New York's defense against Atlanta's offense last season, but had we seen it in the playoffs, that might have been the one thing that would have stopped Dan Quinn from winning the conference. The two teams are not scheduled to meet in the regular season, but a postseason head-to-head might be inevitable -- it's just a matter of whether or not the Giants can out-seed the Falcons and get homefield advantage. The NFC South could be the second-best division after the AFC West, so New York might have a better opportunity to win more games than Atlanta and set themselves up in any potential playoffs showdown. However, the Falcons defense is also rapidly growing into one of the best in the conference -- and perhaps won't suffer the same second half collapses that they did a year ago. The Giants, Seahawks, and Panthers all have defenses that could slow down Atlanta just enough, but New York's might be a tick better than the other two and they also have the most dangerous offensive weapon in the NFC.
1. Green Bay Packers
Yes, things might be so lopsided in the NFC that the team with the best shot at upsetting the Falcons is the team that just lost to them by 11 points.
Despite the Packers losing on Sunday, consider that they were on the road. And that their two starting tackles were out, and that the backups to those tackles are not considered to be very good. Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari should not be out for that long. Also, Jordy Nelson missed basically the entire game with a quad injury and Randall Cobb came out later in the game with a shoulder injury. Green Bay does have some premier defensive players in Mike Daniels, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and HaHa Clinton-Dix.
In a re-match, the Packers might still have the best shot at defeating the Falcons in a playoff game. But for now, Atlanta is clearly still the best overall team in the conference, with the offensive line, running back, tight end, safety, cornerback, linebacker and defensive line units all boasting premier players.
28-3 could remain a meme forever. Or it could be motivation for revenge. For Atlanta fans, so far, so good.