Two teams that had rough Septembers will try to start October with a win, as the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Atlanta Falcons. Game time is set for 1:00 EST on Sunday, October 7, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Fans in local markets can watch the game on Fox.
This week’s NFL betting odds indicate that Pittsburgh is a 3-point favorite at home. However, early action as favored Atlanta after the Steelers opened the week at -3.5. The over/under for the game is listed at 57 points.
The Steelers are shockingly in last place in the AFC North heading into October. They’ve lost both of their home games early in the year, albeit to the Chiefs and Ravens. The Steelers also had to settle for a tie with the Browns in Week 1.
If the Steelers hadn’t hung on to beat Tampa Bay a couple of weeks ago, they could very easily be winless right now. Nevertheless, Pittsburgh now has the challenge of playing catch up with both the Ravens and Bengals, two teams that sit atop the AFC North at 3-1.
The Falcons are in a similar position, as they are just 1-3 coming out of September. They have also lost two games at home, both times after holding a lead in the 4th quarter. If it matters, the Falcons have played a difficult schedule, playing teams that are a combined 10-5 this year. But that doesn’t change their record.
Atlanta’s biggest problem early in the year has been their defense. The Falcons have been devastated by injuries on that side of the ball, already losing two starting safeties and a linebacker to injured reserve. However, while that may explain the team’s struggles, the fact is the Falcons have to find answers and start winning games before they get buried in the competitive NFC South.
This is a tough game to call with these two teams essentially being a mirror image of one another. Both teams have been able to score points at will this season, but both have also struggled to keep opposing teams out of the end zone. In such a game, I feel a little more comfortable with the underdog and the points, so I’ll lean toward the Falcons on the road.
One area that separates these two teams could be the running game. With Le’Veon Bell still not back with the Steelers, their running game has suffered. James Conner has had some promising moments, but he’s obviously a drop-off from Bell. Pittsburgh is averaging just 72 yards rushing per game and only 3.6 yards per carry. Perhaps more importantly, Conner isn’t quite as dangerous as Bell in the passing game. The Falcons have been burned by pass-catching backs this season, so this would have been a game in which Bell was likely to excel.
The Falcons, meanwhile, have been a little more productive on the ground, averaging 96 yards per game. After missing the last three games due to injury, Devonta Freeman is ready to return, giving the Atlanta backfield a big boost. He and Tevin Coleman could provide trouble for a Pittsburgh defense that’s struggled against the run this year. To be fair, the Falcons have struggled to defend the run as well. However, the Atlanta offense is more likely to exploit that weakness, especially with two backs getting carries rather than one.
If the Falcons can have just a little bit of balance in their offense, Matt Ryan will become that much more dangerous. He’s been outstanding the last three weeks, albeit against poor defensive teams. With the emergence of Calvin Ridley the past couple of weeks, he and Julio Jones may be just as dynamic as Pittsburgh’s duo of Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Obviously, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers are capable of matching anything Ryan and the Falcons do. However, unlike the Steelers, the Falcons have created more plays of 20 or more yards than they’ve given up, which is an important distinction and could signal a slight edge for Atlanta in this matchup.
One of Pittsburgh’s other flaws this season is their play in the 2nd half of games. The Steelers have been held scoreless in the 2nd half the last two weeks. Part of the credit belongs to the defenses they’ve faced. But it’s still hard to ignore the hot-and-cold nature of an otherwise dynamic offense. I don’t expect the Steelers to go scoreless in the 2nd half this week against Atlanta’s defense. However, Pittsburgh’s recent track record makes me think the Falcons may have better success holding a lead this week.
On the surface, taking the over on 57 points may be the best bet in this game. However, that’s a lot of points for an NFL game, even for two teams that have had profound struggles on defense this year. I’m honestly a little more comfortable leaning toward the Falcons and the points in this game. I think Atlanta’s offense is a little more balanced, which I think will help them hold off the Steelers and at least beat the 3-point spread.