Falcons, Steelers appear poised to grab tough road wins

  • By Jason Feller NFL.com
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It takes a lot to win on the road in the NFL, but there are four teams that possess the ingredients necessary to pull off the difficult feat in Week 3. These four are in a unique position to get a difficult road win based on trends, past history and surrounding circumstances entering this weekend's action.

The Falcons, Steelers, Raiders and Packers all appear to be in position to claim road victories. The Falcons travel to New Orleans to square off against the defending champion Saints, the Steelers are taking on the undefeated Buccaneers, the Raiders face the Cardinals and the Packers will do battle vs. the hated Bears. Each matchup provides an opportunity for the visiting team to get a win.

Game: Atlanta at New Orleans (1 p.m. ET)

Venue: Superdome

Last time at site: On Monday night in Week 8 last season, the Falcons put up a valiant effort, but Matt Ryan's desperation heave with three seconds left was picked off by Saints safety Darren Sharper, preserving New Orleans' 35-27 victory.

Reason for road optimism: The Atlanta Falcons are by most accounts a team on the rise. In coach Mike Smith and GM Thomas Dimitroff's first season on the job in 2008, they took advantage of their last-place schedule and posted an 11-5 record and made the playoffs. Last year, they played a much tougher slate and still managed to go 9-7 for the first back-to-back winning seasons in club history. With such up-and-coming teams, there is usually one final hurdle to overcome before becoming an elite contender. For the Falcons, that hurdle is the Saints, and after two close calls last year, they should have confidence they can finally win at the Superdome for the first time since 2002.

New Orleans has started the season with two tough wins and comes into this contest already battle tested. The Saints have also owned the rival Falcons since Drew Brees arrived, going 7-1 against them since 2006. This year could be different, however. The Saints lost Reggie Bush, who has been a Falcons killer over the past couple years. He has scored a touchdown in four consecutive outings against Atlanta, and the lone Saints' loss to the Falcons over the past four seasons was when Bush sat out with an injury. Additionally, New Orleans has been living off of turnovers this year, but Atlanta takes excellent care of the ball and is unlikely to make as many mistakes as San Francisco did on Monday night.

Game: Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay (1 p.m. ET)

Venue: Raymond James Stadium

Last time at site: Pittsburgh QB Tommy Maddox passed for 236 yards and a touchdown as the Steelers knocked off the Buccaneers, 17-7, in a tight defensive battle.

Reason for road optimism: The Steelers have defied the odds in the first two weeks, coming up with victories over formidable teams, despite getting almost nothing from the quarterback position. This week, veteran Charlie Batch will get the start under center, but it might not matter with Pittsburgh's defense playing so well. The Steelers completely discombobulated young quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Vince Young in the first two weeks, and if they are able to do the same to Josh Freeman, they will have a great chance at improving to 3-0.

Tampa Bay has surprised many by starting the season 2-0, but it has yet to face a team the likes of Pittsburgh. While the Bucs' first two opponents, the Browns and Panthers, also have unstable quarterback situations like the Steelers, neither possess as formidable a defense. The Bucs are very young on the offensive side of the ball, and Pittsburgh's defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is typically at his best designing schemes to confuse inexperienced foes. Being at home will help Tampa Bay, but it might not provide enough of a boost to beat Pittsburgh.

Game: Oakland at Arizona (4:15 p.m. ET)

Venue: University of Phoenix Stadium

Last time at site: At Sun Devil Stadium, Rich Gannon passed for 340 yards and three touchdowns as the Raiders clobbered the Cardinals, 41-20, in Week 12 of the 2002 season.

Reason for road optimism: Oakland turned to Bruce Gradkowski as its starting quarteback this week. While Gradkowski is not exactly a Hall of Fame caliber signal-caller, he does seem to ignite the Raiders whenever he lines up under center. He took them into a hostile environment at Pittsburgh last year and rallied them to a victory, so he's fully capable of leading his team to a win at Arizona. History is also on his side. The Raiders are 3-0 all-time on the road against the Cardinals.

Arizona has been tough at home under coach Ken Whisenhunt, but that was with Kurt Warner slinging the ball around. While Derek Anderson did win in his Cardinals home debut two weeks ago, they had to survive a desperation heave from rookie Sam Bradford as time expired. Arizona was blown out in Atlanta last week and was dominated in every phase of the game. They have come back from such embarrassing defeats in recent years with impressive wins, but doing so without Warner won't be easy.

Game: Green Bay at Chicago (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)

Venue: Soldier Field

Last time at site: Ryan Grant rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Packers past the Bears, 21-14, in Week 14 last season.

Reason for road optimism: While the Packers trail the all-time series against their arch nemesis, they have dominated the series since the turn of the century. Green Bay is 12-8 in the new millenium, including an impressive 7-3 mark at Chicago. That recent success means the Packers will go into Soldier Field this Monday with no shortage of belief they can get a victory. Plus, the Packers have a not-so-secret weapon: Clay Matthews. He leads the league with six sacks and could feast on a Bears offensive line that has struggled to protect Jay Cutler.

Chicago is riding high with its 2-0 start, but a closer examination reveals some concerns. Cutler has posted a league-best passer rating, but he has taken a beating in the first two weeks. The Bears are also 26th in third-down conversion rate and 27th in pass defense. Those stats are very worrisome against a Packers team that posseses one of the league's best aerial attacks. It could be a long day for the Navy and Orange faithful if they can't extend drives or slow down Aaron Rodgers.



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