Power Rankings: No. 26 Atlanta Falcons

A weekly examination of the Falcons' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 4 | Last Week: 23 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

A few week ago, the Atlanta Falcons climbed three spots in the ESPN.com Power Rankings after beating the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then, they dropped three spots after a loss to the Arizona Cardinals. And now, following a 34-10 loss to Carolina Panthers, the Falcons are down three spots again to No. 26.

At least the Falcons have been consistent with the threes.

Actually, inconsistency has killed the Falcons during this dismal, 2-6 season. One week, quarterback Matt Ryan has a career-high 148.4 passer rating and then the next two weeks, he throws seven total interceptions. One week, the defense is blitzing and creating turnovers and the next week, it's giving up an 80-yard touchdown run.

If the Falcons could just find some balance and consistency, maybe they would have a chance to put together one of those eight-game winning streaks, as they've done twice under coach Mike Smith. But a season-ending injury to top player Julio Jones is likely to keep that from happening.

Sure, getting Roddy White healthy from hamstring and ankle injuries and the imminent return of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (foot) from short-term injured reserve could help, but that won't solve all the issues plaguing the underachieving Falcons.

Not to mention the schedule doesn't get any easier during the second half of the season with games against Seattle, New Orleans, Green Bay and San Francisco. The Falcons might catch a break if Aaron Rodgers' collarbone isn't healed in time for the Dec. 8 matchup at Lambeau Field.

Whatever the case, the Falcons have to start playing their young players and start planning for next year.