Falcons best in NFL? Pump the brakes

Dear Jason:

Now that the election is over, I can finally admit I screwed up in the first debate because I spent most of my preparation time reading your football columns. Michelle prints them out and saves them for me.



Here are your week 10 NFL Truths:

10. Matt Ryan and the Falcons are not frauds. Matt Ryan belongs in the MVP race. But Matt Ryan is the reason I don’t believe the Falcons will reach the Super Bowl.

For my money, there’s something missing with Matt Ryan. I can’t put my finger on it exactly. I just know when I watch him, I don’t believe I’m watching a Super Bowl quarterback. He’s not overrated. He’s just not as good as he should be.

Think about it. No QB has a better supporting cast. Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez are the best receiving trio in the league. Hell, they might form the best receiving trio in league history. Gonzalez is going to the Hall of Fame. Jones has Hall of Fame talent. White is on pace to finish with Hall of Fame numbers.

Atlanta also has a dangerous running game led by Michael Turner.

Matt Ryan is blessed with every weapon imaginable. Plus, he gets to play half his games inside a dome. He has the necessary tools to challenge Tom Brady’s 50-TD, 8-INT season. Yet Ryan is on pace for 34 TDs and 12 INTs. He’s averaging just 7.9 yards per pass attempt.

There’s something missing. This is not a rip job. Ryan has been terrific in the clutch. I’d name him MVP of the league right now. But it’s my belief he’ll get beat in the playoffs —  thanks to a critical INT or two — by one of the thoroughbred NFC QBs (Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning) or the 49ers.

9. Can we please fix the NFL’s pass-interference rules? Please!

This is my annual plea for the league to address the biggest problem in professional football. Pass interference is the most difficult judgment call in all of sports. Receivers are sprinting full speed down the field and middle-age men are chasing after them trying to determine if illegal contact stopped the receiver from catching the ball.

It’s a guessing game and too many refs are guessing wrong. We need to help them by making pass interference subject to replay. And we need to help by having flagrant and non-flagrant pass-interference calls. Flagrant would be a spot-of-the-foul penalty. Non-flagrant would be a 10-yard penalty.

8. My sleeper pick for MVP is Big Ben Roethlisberger. On Sunday, Roethlisberger beat the Giants and the worst officiating crew since Green Bay-Seattle.

Big Ben is my favorite NFL player. He’s the modern-day John Elway. Roethlisberger is never going to put up Peyton Manning-like stats. But Roethlisberger is a winner. His willingness and ability to hang in the pocket, move around in the pocket and deliver the ball downfield is unmatched.

Pittsburgh’s more conservative, dink-and-dunk offense has Big Ben on pace for the best season of his illustrious career. He’s completing 67 percent of his passes and has thrown just four interceptions.

There are a lot of good candidates for MVP: Peyton Manning, JJ Watt, Matt Ryan. Let’s add Big Ben to the list of contenders. In my opinion, he’s leading the best team in football.

7. I’ve always believed Mike Shanahan got too much credit for riding John Elway’s coattails to two Super Bowl victories. Shanahan has never been one of my favorite coaches. But he needs another year with Robert Griffin.

It’s too early to give up on Shanahan, even though he’s ready to give up on the Redskins. Frustration and embarrassment made Shanahan announce he was ready to start evaluating the 2012 Redskins based on how they fit into the 2013 season.

Shanahan’s record in Washington is 14-27. That’s not good. What’s worse is his employment of his son as offensive coordinator. There are reasons to sour on Shanahan. However, a coaching change and new system could stunt RG3’s development. ‘Skins fans should be patient and give Shanahan one more season.

6. Two AFC West teams, San Diego and Kansas City, likely will try to land Andy Reid once he’s fired.

Make no mistake, Reid deserves to be fired in Philadelphia. The juvenile decision to fire defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and promote Todd Bowles is a fireable offense. But what should really get Reid fired is his insistence on being a pass-first team with a makeshift offensive line and an undersized quarterback. With LeSean McCoy and rookie Bryce Brown, the Eagles should be a run-first, play-action-pass offense.

Reid has a great reputation among football media. He won a lot of regular-season games and a few playoff games during the Donovan McNabb era. Reid will be an attractive coaching candidate when he’s dumped in Philly.

Coaching changes in KC and San Diego seem inevitable at this point. Both organizations believe they have playoff talent and will want an experienced coach who can win right now.

5. Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli whined during a one-on-one interview with KC sports anchor and Hall of Fame QB Len Dawson that expectations in Kansas City were too high.

Yes, Chiefs fans were delusional for thinking that in Year 4 of Pioli’s rebuilding plan that the Chiefs would hold a lead in the first half of the season. Expectations were just too high!

Eight games in and the Chiefs have yet to lead a game in regulation play. They beat the Saints in overtime.

Pioli has hired two head coaches in KC: Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel. Haley was in over his head trying to serve as head coach and offensive coordinator. This week, Crennel finally acknowledged he was in over his head trying to serve as head coach and defensive coordinator.

It will be interesting to see if owner Clark Hunt allows Pioli a third strike.

4. My money is on Sean Payton leaving the Saints for the Cowboys for $10 million a year.

I think the Cowboys have better personnel than the Saints. New Orleans’ god-awful season is about more than Payton’s absence. Payton is an offensive guru. He can’t fix the Saints’ defense.

Jerry Jones has that brand-new stadium to fill. Paying Payton $10 million to fill it is a bargain. Payton will help Tony Romo reach his potential. Payton is a cult figure in New Orleans. It will be tough to leave. But he brought the city a Super Bowl. He’s already repaid New Orleans for its loyalty.

3. I’ve never been offended by good-natured food jokes, so I wasn’t remotely upset by Terry Bradshaw’s “chasing chicken” quip as he talked over a Reggie Bush highlight.

Bradshaw says his comment was directed at colleague Jimmy Johnson, who likes to eat fried chicken on Sundays before NFL games. I accept Bradshaw’s explanation. But I also don’t really care who the comment was directed at. There was no malicious intent. This wasn’t Fuzzy Zoeller trying to demean Tiger Woods’ victory at the Masters. This wasn’t Howard Cosell screaming look at the “little monkey” run. Bradshaw was trying to be funny and said something stupid and harmless. It’s just not a big deal.

I don’t get the whole food thing. Just about everyone I know — regardless of color —  loves chicken, especially fried chicken. Hell, baked chicken is pretty healthy. I try to eat it three or four times a week.

OK, I’m a foodie. But I’ll never understand the hurt feelings about food jokes.

2. I absolutely loved the way Les Miles coached his football team on Saturday.

The Mad Hatter is often criticized for taking too many chances and coaching foolishly. Last week, he tried several high-risk plays in an attempt to upset No. 1 Alabama. None of Miles’ trick plays or gambles paid off. Alabama came from behind and won in the closing minute.

So what? It was an instant classic. Miles’ throw-the-kitchen-sink coaching style inspired his team to stand toe-to-toe with the best college team in the country. That’s the right way to lose to Nick Saban and Alabama.

1. As of right now, the Colts and the Broncos both made the right decisions this offseason.

Andrew Luck has the Colts at 5-3. Peyton Manning has the Broncos at 5-3. Colts owner Jim Irsay and Denver president John Elway both made the right decisions for their franchises.

Maybe we will be saying the same thing about the Rockets and the Thunder by the midpoint of the NBA season?