The Atlanta Falcons are, arguably, the hottest team in the NFL right now.Without question they are the league’s best Cinderella story in quite some time.Left for dead after last season, when their coach abandoned them in mid-season and their star quarterback went to prison, the Falcons finished the regular season 11-5 and are headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.The franchise went 14-2 in 1998, advanced to Super Bowl XXXIII and were defeated by the Denver Broncos.In 2001, owner Arthur Blank gave a nearly blank check to Mike Vick, an athletically gifted thug but a thug nonetheless, and, the following season, it appeared his was a wise investment.Vick had his best year. His team went to the playoffs and lost to Philadelphia. It seemed all was well on the Falcons front and they would be a perennial playoff contender with Vick’s ability and Blank’s money.The next season, Vick broke his leg. The Falcons went 5-11. Vick healed but the Falcons did not. Seasons of 8-8 and 7-9 went into the ledger in the run-up to Vick’s arrest and imprisonment.It seemed the Falcons would be a doormat again. People were not surprised really. The franchise has a legacy of low expectations and pitiful performances. I remember well the team’s first kickoff in its first game. With huge fanfare at the old Atlanta Stadium, the kicker approached the ball – and missed it!That set the tone for the team’s early years.Things have changed now!Blank hired a young wizard named Thomas Dimitroff as his general manager. They then hired a low-profile, hard-working coach in Mike Smith.That brain trust then took quarterback Matt Ryan with the third pick in the NFL draft. Many questioned that selection but Ryan is a shoo-in for rookie of the year and is only the seventh QB in NFL history to lead his team to the playoffs.In his best season, Vick had an 81.6 quarterback rating. He completed 231 of 421 passes for 2936 yards and 16 touchdowns. His completion ratio was 54.9%.Ryan has a quarterback rating of 89.7. He has completed 255 of 413 passes for 3280 yards and 15 touchdowns. His completion ratio is 61.7%.Both on the field and statistically, Ryan is the better quarterback. Vick may be the better athlete, he did rush for 777 yards and eight touchdowns in 2002, but Ryan is the better leader and, like it or not, the better person.That is the reason the #7 jerseys are disappearing from the stands at the Georgia Dome.No matter how the Falcons fare in the playoffs, 2008 has been a very good year for them.The lesson there for all of us as we prepare for 2009 is this. The Falcons ushered in an era of success by dumping their excess baggage – Vick and other bad apples – and working hard.With clouds on the economic horizon, we can emulate them by dumping our baggage and getting back to work.Hard work is never easy but it is always necessary in order to realize personal success.Best wishes for a happy and prosperous 2009 from all of us here at your hometown newspaper.