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With all due respect to the Miami Dolphins, who won only one of 15 games a season ago and could still win the AFC East, the Atlanta Falcons have completed an even more stunning turnaround, rocketing from a nightmare season in 2007 to a playoff berth in 2008. Though the Falcons won a few more games last year than did Miami, the Atlanta franchise was in shambles, thanks to the incarceration of Mike Vick and the December disappearance of coach Bobby Petrino. The search for a new coach and a new G.M. began badly, with an oversized cast of characters having a vested interest in keeping their jobs interviewing candidates. Eventually, the Falcons hired Thomas Dimitroff without a face-to-face interview. Then came the superficially curious decision to hire Jags defensive coordinator Mike Smith to be the next coach. Smith was on no one’s short list for a head-coaching position, and it appeared to be a reach when the Falcons reeled him in. Then came the giving of a huge pile of money to running back Michael Turner, a career backup who might or might not have been ready to become a workhorse tailback. Then came the decision to put a new face on the franchise by picking Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan with the third overall selection in the draft. The move had the fingerprints of owner Arthur Blank all over it, and in the end Dimitroff had to leave defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey on the board. Fifteen games later, the Falcons are 10-5 and guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. By the time it’s all said and done, they could be returning in two weeks to the place where they’ve now secured two of the biggest wins in franchise history. Ten years ago, the Falcons earned their only Super Bowl berth by beating the Vikings in overtime at the Metrodome. Though Minnesota generally outplayed their visitors, only one stat ever matters -- points scored versus points allowed. And the Falcons were on the right side of that equation today, and their season will continue regardless of what happens in Week Seventeen. So congratulations to the franchise and its fans, all of whom have been through a lot in the past 20 months. Brighter days aren’t just coming, they’re already here.