I'll have more detail on this when I focus on the Falcons rebuilt offensive line in this week's Between the Lines on Thursday, but the Football Outsiders have a solid piece today explaining how the Falcons have gone from laughing stock to second place in the NFC South.
As FO points out, the biggest difference between last year's debacle and this year's turnaround (besides getting rid of Bobby Petrino) is the much improved running game. Obviously replacing Warrick Dunn's 770 yards (3.2 yards per carry) with Michael Turner has been a big part of that, but having a relatively healthy offensive line with more talent (thank you Sam Baker and Harvey Dahl) have played a big part as well.
And of course, Matt Ryan has played better than you can expect a rookie quarterback to play.
The schedule gets a lot tougher in the next two months--there are no Lions or Chiefs-style patsies on the schedule until the Rams in Week 17--but this Falcons team has already shown that it's a lot better than people expected. While they may not be a playoff team, it does look the rebuilding effort is ahead of schedule.