Atlanta Falcons vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Analysis and Pick – Betting Odds

Atlanta Falcons (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS), 1:00 p.m. EST, Sunday, September 12, 2010, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.
by Ryno of

Betting Odds: Atl -2.5/Pit +2.5
Over/Under: 38

When the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl in February 2009, they had Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, Willie Parker at running back, and Santonio Holmes at wide receiver. When the Steelers open their season at home against the Atlanta Falcons, none of those three players will be on the field. Parker is with the Washington Redskins, Holmes is with the New York Jets, and Roethlisberger is suspended. The Falcons, on the other hand, have a very talented team ready to compete among the elite teams in the NFL.

The Falcons have a ton of talent on offense with Matt Ryan at quarterback, Michael Turner at running back, Roddy White at wide receiver, and Tony Gonzalez at tight end. The Falcons went 9-7 last season, missing the playoffs by two games, but they hope to improve upon that this season as the young players like Ryan, Turner and White are a year older. Last season, Ryan threw for 2,916 yards, 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 14 games. Turner ran for 871 yards and 10 touchdowns in 11 games. White played all 16 games and had 85 receptions for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Last season, the Steelers went 9-7 and barely missed the playoffs. With Roethlisberger out of the mix for the first few games, they will be missing a quarterback who threw last season for 4,328 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His replacement will be either Byron Leftwich or Dennis Dixon (Leftwich went down with a knee injury in Sunday’s preseason game, no word yet on the extent). Either way, it will be a significant downgrade. Leftwich has not been a sufficient starter at all the last few years, while Dixon has yet to prove he is capable of being an NFL starting quarterback. Whichever quarterback it is will have to throw to Hines Ward and Mike Wallace primarily. Ward is always a solid, consistent option at wide receiver. Wallace is a young promising receiver who had 39 receptions for 756 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie last season. Ward is 34 years old but had 95 receptions for 1,167 yards last season, his highest totals in both categories since 2002. He will have to step up just as much or more this season with Holmes gone.

A player who will really have to step up for the Steelers is running back Rashard Mendenhall. Expect the Steelers to run the ball a lot while Roethlisberger is suspended. In his second year in the NFL and first year as a starter last season, Mendenhall ran for 1,108 yards and seven touchdowns.

Both teams’ defenses were pretty even last season. The Steelers allowed 324 points, while the Falcons allowed 325 points. The offenses were also very similar, as the Steelers scored 368 points and the Falcons scored 363 points.

The Steelers were 6-2 at home last season, while the Falcons were 3-5 on the road.

The key for both of these teams defensively will be stopping the run. Turner and Mendenhall are the keys for their respective offenses. The Steelers were third in the NFL last season against the run with only 89.9 rushing yards per game allowed. The Falcons were 10th in the league, allowing 106.8 rushing yards per game.

If the Falcons are able to limit Mendenhall’s yardage, they will have a huge advantage. Leftwich or Dixon likely won’t be able to beat the Falcons alone. The Steelers need to have a good mix, starting with a good run game, to control the game. If the Falcons slow down Mendenhall and Turner is able to run well, the Steelers will have a tough time coming anywhere close to the Falcons, even at home.

The Steelers won their only game ATS as an underdog last season but were 2-5 ATS at home. The Falcons were 5-3 ATS on the road last season and 6-2 ATS as a favorite. The last time these teams met, the Falcons won 41-38 at home on October 22, 2006.

Ryno’s Pick to Cover the Spread: Expect the Steelers
to come out fired up and win straight up as a 2 point undedog in their season