The NFC title runs through Atlanta

Grimes is a sleeper for NFC Defensive Player of the Year. Getty Images

No situation illustrates the year of transition that is the 2010 NFL season like the battle for the top spot in the NFC. At various times since Sept. 12, you could make a case that the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles were up there -- but injuries and inconsistency have stopped them all from moving away from the pack.

Those teams' inability to play up to their talent level could be leaving the door open for the Atlanta Falcons to make a run for the conference title. The Falcons have, for the past couple of years, been a star-studded team that didn't play up to its abilities, but a breakdown of the game tapes and metrics from this season shows this Atlanta team isn't like its predecessors.

It turns out that three of the Falcons' big-name veterans are stepping up their games in unheralded ways, along with an unsung candidate for defensive player of the year.