Looking at NFC South Power Rankings

The Atlanta Falcons have cracked the top five in the latest ESPN.com Power Rankings.

They’re the highest-rated team in the NFC right now, but I wouldn’t go calling them the best team in the NFC just yet. I think they could end up with that distinction when all is said and done, but that crazy third quarter against Cincinnati showed me the Falcons aren’t completely dominant just yet.

Nevertheless, they are one of only three NFC teams in the top 10 and the other two come in at Nos. 9 and 10. With a bye week to get healthy, the Falcons are sitting pretty right now.

The same can’t be said for the New Orleans Saints, who had a disastrous home loss to Cleveland on Sunday and face the No. 1 Steelers in a prime-time game this weekend. The Saints came in at No. 14, which I thought was a bit generous on the part of the voters after a debacle like the Cleveland game. Heck, even John Clayton, who New Orleans fans think has something personal against the Saints, voted them No. 13. If the Saints lose to the Steelers, they could be headed out of the top 20.

Respect, or lack of it, is a common gripe I hear from fans. I usually think it’s a pretty hollow concept. But in the case of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I think they’re being sold short with their spot at No. 18. They’re 4-2 and coming off another one of those miracle finishes by Josh Freeman, which are becoming the norm. I think Tampa Bay deserves at least to be rated in the top half of the league.

Finally, there are the Carolina Panthers. With their first win of the season, they climbed out of their usual spot at No. 31, which also is known as “one spot better than the Buffalo Bills’’. The Panthers vaulted all the way up to No. 29, which seems pretty fair.