Pittsburgh Steelers at Atlanta Falcons (+2.5)
Whichever one is real, the other had us fooled. Either the 2-6 Falcons were one of the worst teams in football, or the 3-2 Falcons, fresh off a 37-point performance and a six-point heartbreaking loss are a valid contender. Only one of these teams could exist.
It’s painfully clear that Atlanta’s defense — last in yards allowed — is unable to stop a nosebleed, and it’s no surprise that wide receiver Julio Jones is a monster — we all would have drafted him higher for our fantasy football teams, had it not been for a potentially lingering injury — but the Falcons’ offense may just be good enough to keep a 5-8 team afloat. In reality, the flotation device used is made in New Orleans, Carolina, and Tampa Bay, but give credit to the Falcons for learning how to operate it when needed.
The irony of Atlanta’s matchup is that it features another team that has not only been more maddening to understand than the Falcons, but has done so on a weekly basis. At least, the Falcons’ transition has been relatively sustained. Therein lies the problem for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Pittsburgh rises to the occasion. It has done so all year, beating teams like the Colts, Ravens, and now Bengals at key points of the year. Winning in Cincinnati was likely a season-saver for the Steelers, but only because the season needed saving. Against Atlanta, it doesn’t.
After beating the Colts and Ravens in consecutive weeks, the Steelers promptly imploded against the Jets. With two weeks to prepare for a non-conference opponent from New Orleans, the Steelers showed up late to the game, trailing by 19 points with minutes remaining in a game they would eventually lose. After winning a crucial game in Cincinnati, what leads anyone to believe the Steelers will be able to match their intensity in a place where the home team generally thrives and has a slim divisional lead to protect?
Atlanta, in its newest form, unleashes its top-ten offense against Pittsburgh’s average defense and wins by a touchdown, beating the spread.