FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes expert picks for Week 5 as well as Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones among the NFL best veteran-rookie duos.
Week 5 picks:
Neither the Falcons nor the Steelers have had the start to the season they had hoped for, but each team has the chance to move back in the right direction on Sunday. Given that the Steelers are playing at home, they've been given the edge by the experts at CBS Sports. Five of the seven expert pickers like the Steelers over the Falcons. Those five do not include senior writer Pete Prisco who thinks the Falcons will emerge with a 37-34 victory.
"This will be a shootout," Prisco writes. "Both defenses have major issues and both quarterbacks have the ability to light them up. I think we see that here. The air will be full of touchdowns passes. Enjoy this one. Falcons win a close shootout."
The prediction model at FiveThirtyEight often favors the home team and it does so here, giving the Steelers a 57-percent win probability. The Falcons do have one of the highest win probabilities among road teams this weekend, however.
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
NFL.com: Top rookie-veteran duos
The Falcons appear to have a very good read on receivers coming out of Alabama. Their previous two draft picks that fit that bill are currently the NFL's leading receiver in yards (Julio Jones) and touchdowns (Calvin Ridley). It's been an impressive start for Ridley, the team's first-round draft pick in April, and he could help create a bit more breathing room for Jones on the other side if he keeps up this pace.
Atlanta's dynamic receiving duo has started to open up some eyes around the country, and it landed atop Gil Brandt's list of the top rookie-veteran duos for NFL.com.
"Ridley did not begin his career with a bang, logging zero catches (on just two targets) in Week 1," Brandt writes. "But while he has yet to start a game, the first-round pick has ramped up the pace considerably, collecting an astonishing six touchdown receptions in three games since -- the most in the league, and an NFL record for a rookie in his team's first four games. His reception and yardage totals (15 and 264, for a healthy 17.6 average) are nothing to sneeze at, either. Ridley is an excellent route-runner who also brings loads of speed and outstanding hands to the table.
"He's undoubtedly helping to open things up for Jones -- who, oddly, does not have a touchdown catch yet, though he leads the NFL with 502 receiving yards -- and the rest of the Falcons' offense. I think Ridley will continue to cede starts to veteran No. 2 receiver Mohamed Sanu, but Ridley is a more potent big-play threat than Sanu, having outgained Sanu by 80 yards despite playing 51 fewer snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Right now, Ridley looks like a strong candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year."
AJC: Any chance Falcons defense can overcome injury curse?
For the Falcons to accomplish the goals they set out to accomplish this season, the defense will have to find a way to overcome some very serious injuries. Atlanta is relying on the players it has in-house, and the Falcons are looking for the players who do have experience, like Vic Beasley, De'Vondre Campbell and Takk McKinley to take the lead, writes Steve Hummer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
To read Hummer's piece, click here.