The Atlanta Falcons are kind of like the NFC-based, red-colored second-cousins of the Steelers. They have individual talent, they're playing a lot of young players with a bunch of old players and they have a high-powered offense gunning each week to make up for a defense with shortcomings.
The Steelers are a bit further along in that process than the Falcons are, and perhaps that reflects the gap in their records. If the Steelers get a strong, fundamental performance from Atlanta on Sunday, the game will be decided late and it could go either way.
If the Steelers could nab a player of theirs beforehand, it would shift the tide considerably; that's how thin this team is. But for the sake of discussion, if we were to take only one player from the Falcons to play every game for the Steelers, it's not even really an argument.
Wide receiver Julio Jones' biggest weakness is also his biggest strength - his own body.
Jones is ridiculously athletic and has as much talent as a receiver as anyone in the NFL today. As we've seen in his 458 receiving yards in Atlanta's last two games, he's capable of making plays anywhere on the field, and the Falcons aren't shy in getting him the ball. The problem has been injuries. He has been banged up for a good chunk of his four years in the league, and that's really the only thing holding him back from the top of most statistical categories at his position.
He has 4,165 career yards in 47 NFL games. In comparison, Steelers WR Antonio Brown will crack 5,000 career yards at some point against the Falcons Sunday in his 68th game. And they each have 26 career touchdowns.
Amazingly, Jones has a catch of at least 79 yards in all four of his NFL seasons, and he's averaging 15.1 yards per catch. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would nearly faint if he heard he was going to have Julio Jones and Antonio Brown on his side of the line of scrimmage.
The Falcons might not play Jones against the Steelers, and that, in and of itself, is enough to swing the points-spread further to the Steelers' favor. Pittsburgh's secondary was torched by Bengals receiver A.J. Green last week, and Atlanta, equipped with a better passer and better overall passing offense, could do some serious damage with Jones in this game. They're in the thick of the NFC South division race, and with divisional opponents coming in Weeks 16 and 17, they may opt to not push Jones, who was injured late in the team's Monday Night loss to Green Bay, back onto the field in the short week.
For the Steelers' sake, let's hope they elect to rest him. But it would be nice to see him in a Steelers uniform.